BY: Joseph Cahal
Punters and racing fans are getting even more excited about the forthcoming season following the publication of the Anglo-Irish jump classifications.
The strong performances of British and Irish novice horses suggests the 2015-2016 steeplechaser season could be one of the most competitive and exciting in years at the highest level of steeplechasing.
Senior Turf Club National Hunt handicapperNoel O’Brien said: “2014/15 was an exciting year with huge performances from the novices in particular. I don’t remember a time when the likes of Coneygree, Vautour, Un De Sceaux and Don Poli all raced in the same season and there are exciting times ahead from all of these horses.
“Over hurdles, the hugely-progressive Faugheen claimed his first Champion Hurdle and confirmed his class with an emphatic win at Punchestown – it is ironic that his biggest challengers next year could be in his own stable.”
Don Cossack topped the ratings in both the 3 mile plus and 2mile 4 furlongs categories with a mark of 175, while Faugheen ended the season as the highest rated hurdler on 174.Coneygree is the highest-rated novice chaser on 172, the same mark as King George winner Silviniaco Conti. Just behind was another novice, Vautour who scored 171 in the 2m4f rankings.
Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Authority’s head handicapper, said: “On the hurdling front the Irish are undoubtedly enjoying a purple patch at the moment, and producing some quality prospects, especially their novices, but they may not have it all their own way next year as there are some exciting British prospects too, especially the trio trained by Nicky Henderson who filled the first three places in the Triumph Hurdle in taking fashion.”
Don Cossack’s outstanding season which included a superb win in the Punchestown Gold Cup followed by routing the field in the Melling Chase at Aintree earned him the Classification Champion crown.His 175 rating puts him level with legends such as Best Mate and Kicking King but it is the showing of the novices in the ratings that has whetted punters’ appetites ahead of the 2015-2016 season’s big races.
At the Cheltenham Festival, novices smashed the previous record rating twice in the space of two days, beginning with the Willie Mullins trained Vautour’s demolition of the field in the JLT Novices’ Chase. The victory earned Vautour a mark of 171 to beat the previous record of 169 set by Sprinter Sacre in the two mile division in 2011-2012.
Then, just 24 hours later,Coneygree took his place at the top of the classifications when he became the first novice in 41 years to claim the sport’s top prize by claiming the Cheltenham Gold Cup.His outstanding display earned a mark of 172 and displaced Vautour at the top of the rankings, making Coneygree the Champion 3-mile plus Novice Chaser.
Faugheen, also trained by Mullins, is definitely one to watch with his 174 rating leaving him behind only Istabraq (176) and Hurricane Fly (175) since classifications began.Given he is only seven years old, unbeaten Faugheen looks extremely likely to add to his 11 wins in the 2015-2016 season.