Over the next two weeks I am going to be giving you ten horses who should be followed over the duration of the forthcoming National Hunt season. These classy beasts will be sure to get your blood running and your wallet thickening.
Hurricane Fly:- Willie Mullins stable star bounced back to fitness last season to defeat Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle by one-and-a-quarter lengths under the magnificent Ruby Walsh. Barring any repetition of injury setbacks this term, this son of Montjeu will be difficult to beat in the top class hurdle events in the UK and Ireland. There will be an array of top novices gunning for the seven-year old but it’s difficult to see the “Fly“ losing his crown. Successfully defending his Rabobank Champion Hurdle in May when routing a strong field the “Fly” ended the season undefeated and has now gained nine Grade One races . With a great turn of foot and at home on both soft and good going it’s hard to see him being beaten in the 2012 Champion Hurdle.
Long Run:- 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run brought down the old order when storming to success in defeating the Cheltenham legends Kauto Star and Denman. Under a patient Sam Waley-Cohen ride, Long Run stalked the old masters from the Paul Nicholls yard before sweeping them aside with aplomb to mark himself down as jump racing’s new number one. Long Run is still an improving youngster at six years of age and is the top rated jumps horse in training in the UK on 182 and with good fortune on his side will continue to dominate the top class chases for years to come. Never having fallen in his career and never out of the first three in 18 jumps races, the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park and his ultimate target, the retention of the Gold Cup at Cheltenham next March looks within his grasp. It’s difficult to see where a challenge will emerge from in the Gold Cup as the Irish are struggling for a genuine contender and the old guard led by Kauto Star – their best days are behind them.
Big Bucks:- Impossible to leave out from any list of National Hunt horses. Under the shrewd guidance of leading jumps trainer Paul Nicholls, Big Bucks has rejected the fences route following a poor showing in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup to remain over hurdles. This has proved a very shrewd move as Big Bucks has racked up twelve consecutive hurdle wins including the Cheltenham World Hurdle on three occasions and remains unbeaten over hurdles over the past four years. The owner of a tremendous engine and a marvellous stayer – Who would be brave enough to bet against him making it four World Hurdles in 2012? Last year many were saying the King Is Dead, Long Live The King when the upstart that is Grand Crus took on Big Bucks at Cheltenham. Despite Big Bucks jockey Ruby Walsh dropping his whip as Grand Crus came to challenge in the final furlong the reigning champion simply galloped on to win again.
Connections of Grands Crus are now looking for options over fences after again locking horns with Big Bucks in the 2011 Liverpool Hurdle immediately after Cheltenham. This was one-way traffic as Big Bucks won with five lengths to spare over Grands Crus without coming off the bridle; he’s an exceptional racehorse rated 174 on official figures and he may never be beaten over hurdles.
Peddlers Cross:- Ginger McCain is a massive loss for racing and it’s sad he never got the opportunity to watch the mighty Peddlers Cross run competitively over fences. Potentially a great chaser in the making, over hurdles Peddlers Cross was unbeaten in 8 races seeing off Binocular in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle before a battling second in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle to the aforementioned Hurricane Fly. Peddlers Cross had shown his aptitude for the Cheltenham track in 2010 when landing the Neptune Investment Management Novice Hurdle. This season’s Cheltenham target looks likely to be the Arkle and he should be followed in novice chases prior to that engagement with the Maghull Novices Chase looking a likely target given his strong record at Aintree.
Spirit Son:- A second horse to follow from the Nicky Henderson yard. A grand looking sort this five-year old won on his only start in France before embarking on a hurdling campaign in the UK last season. His official rating is currently 149 though that will jump if you forgive the pun, in the months to come. Spirit Son looked the winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle this year when trading at 1.23 in running before being caught on the run-in by the fast finishing Al Ferof from the Paul Nicholls yard. Spirit Son proved he is gritty when landing the John Smith’s Mersey Novice Hurdle at Aintree the following month, a track where so many horses bounce after the demands of the Cheltenham Festival.
Spirit Son should be followed in the major 2m hurdle races throughout this season. His ultimate aim looks to be the Champion Hurdle and he can hit the frame in that race though Hurricane Fly may be a bridge too far.
Look out for next week’s article where I will add another five horses who should be followed in season 2011-2012.