Friday, 25 October 2019

Five Horses to Watch This National Hunt Season

Excitement is mounting among fans of jumps racing as we enter the early stages of the 2019/20 National Hunt season. Old heroes will return for another crack at glory in some of the biggest races in the calendar, from the Cheltenham Gold Cup to the Grand National at Aintree. New titans of the National Hunt scene will also emerge, and fans will be treated to a great deal of excitement, intrigue and drama along the way. Here are five horses to look out for over the course of the season:

Altior

Nicky Henderson’s superstar nine-year-old remains unbeaten throughout his magnificent jumps racing career. He announced himself as a force to be reckoned with when he surged to victory in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016. He then won the Arkle in 2017 and he has triumphed in the Queen Mother Champion Chase – the leading minimum-distance chase in the National Hunt calendar – for the past two years, becoming the punters’ darling in the process. 

Now Henderson has decided to take Altior in an interesting new direction. “After plenty of input from everyone, we have decided that we are going to go down the King George route,” Henderson announced. “Therefore the obvious race to start in is the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot on 23 November.” 

That will put Altior on a collision course with Cyrname, who became the highest rated chaser in Britain when he secured a couple of seriously impressive victories at Ascot early in 2019. Cyrname and Altior were due to lock horns at Sandown earlier this year, but Cyrname’s connections decided to skip it due to quick ground. By November, Ascot should be ripe for a thrilling battle between these two brilliant chasers, and Altior’s backers insist he will make a mockery of his official rating of being 1lb weaker than Cyrname. 

For those who get in early, Altior is the favourite to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. He is priced at 5/2, while Cyrname is 5/1 and 2018 winner Clan Des Obeaux is 11/2. It remains to be seen which race Henderson will send Altior to at Cheltenham, and much will depend on his performances in the Christy 1965 Chase and the King George.

Lostintranslation 

Colin Tizzard’s seven-year-old began 2019 with an eye-catching win in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. He followed it up with a strong performance to finish second to Defi Du Seuil in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown. He was then second to the same horse in the JLT Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, but he relished the step up in trip for the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices’ Chase over 3m 210y at Aintree in April. 

He finished comfortably clear of 10/11 favourite Topofthegame to clinch victory. That marked him out as a potential Gold Cup winner, and he is among the ante post favourites to land the biggest race of the season. Tizzard has indicated that Lostintranslation will return to action in an intermediate race at Carlisle, before working up to the big races taking place this season. “For the next few seasons, we hope he will be running in top races every time,” said Tizzard. “He was a big block of a horse when he came to us. But when we first ran him at Chepstow he very nearly won, and the good ones often take you by surprise.” 

If he resumes his fine form, Lostintranslation will go to Haydock, then the King George and have one more run before the Gold Cup. “Everything points to him getting the Gold Cup trip,” added Tizzard. Another horse from his stable, Native River, won the Gold Cup in 2018 and finished fourth last year, so he knows a thing or two about saddling a contender in the most prestigious race of the year. 

Tiger Roll 

Tiger Roll will bid to become the first horse to win the Grand National three times in a row at Aintree in 2020. His owner, the Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary, famously referred to him as “a little rat of thing” and never expected him to cope with the rigours of the most intense steeplechase of them all. Yet Tiger Roll, the smallest horse in the field, soared to victory in 2018 and then delighted many punters by defending his crown earlier this year. That made him the first horse since Red Rum to win the famous race twice in a row. 

Red Rum won it a third time in 1977 and he remains the leading horse in Grand National History. Tiger Roll will now aim to move level with that legend. He has also won the Glenfarclass Cross Country Chase at the Cheltenham for the past two years, and it will be fascinating to see how he gets on this time around. Elliott will certainly be careful with his little superstar. 

“We are going to have to mind him now and pick and choose where we go,” said the trainer. “He will probably have one run over hurdles, maybe something like the Boyne Hurdle [at Navan in February] again. He will go back to Cheltenham for the Cross Country race and then we’ll go for the Randox Health Grand National.” 

Chacun Pour Soi 

The exciting Chacun Pour Soi won by 31 lengths on his debut at Naas in March and that inspired Willie Mullins to catapult him up to Grade 1. The task facing him was formidable as he lined up alongside recent Cheltenham festival winners Defi Du Seuil and Duc Des Genievres for the Ryanair Novice Chase at Punchestown. 

A few early errors did not help his cause, but Chacun Pour Soi contested the lead three out and then surged to the front of the field. He was pressed by Defi Du Seuil going into the last, but he held on for a strong four-length victory. 

There are now high hopes for Chacun Pour Soi this season. Mullins always has a large collection of superstars, and the likes of Klassical Dream, Al Boum Photo, Camelia De Cotte and Duc Des Genievres will be keenly followed this season, but Chacun Pour Soi looks like a really special talent. He is already the second favourite behind Altior for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and he should have great things ahead of him. 

Topofthegame 

Paul Nicholls’ imposing stayer has gone from strength to strength in recent years and he romped to victory in the Grade 1 RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March. The field was extremely strong for a race that is frequently dubbed “the novice’s Gold Cup”, but Topofthegame saw off competition from big names like Santini, Delta Work and The World’s End to clinch a famous win. He followed it up with another strong performance when second behind Lostintranslation in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree the following month. 

Topofthegame has proven quality at Grade 1 level, and he should continue on an upward curve this season. The huge son of Flemensfirth is a magnificent looking racehorse and he should have the power to thrive at Cheltenham again in 2020. Nicholls believes he has all the right qualities to become a leading Gold Cup contender. “He strikes me as an ideal Gold Cup horse,” said the Ditcheat trainer. “We’ll train him with that race in mind. He travels beautifully, jumps and stays, and those are the qualities you need.”