The first two classics kicks off this weekend at Newmarket with the 2000 guineas looking like a match between Dawn Approach & Toronado. Richard Hannon was quoted as saying as much during the week and he should know. The big question is has Dawn Approach improved from last year? There is no way to know until he runs but even if he just runs to his best level from last year he should win.

The bookies have priced it up as a two horse race with Dawn Approach 11/8 & Toronado 5/2 with the next best 7/1 or higher. Personally, I would love to see Jim Bolger’s Colt win to justify the faith Godolphin have showed in Jim by leaving the horse in his care since purchased.

Sunday sees the fillies take centre stage (1000 guineas) which is a much more open race. The French filly “What a Name” has been very popular in the betting the last few weeks along with the recent impressive winner Hot Snap. It is just the starting point of the season for these fillies and with so many unknowns this is not a race I like to bet on. However, I will be keeping a very close eye on this race as it will be very, very informative regarding future engagements.

 

Punchestown & Sandown finished the National Hunt season off in style last weekend. I am just about recovered from the Punchestown festival having attended everyday except on Wednesday’s Gold Cup day. The crowds hit a record for the week at well over 100k. The racing was as competitive as I can remember but it is puzzling that more English do not travel over for the lucrative prize money on offer. Sprinter Sacre drew huge crowds on Tuesday and I cannot remember a crowd twelve deep all round the pre parade and parade ring before a race. Fair Play to Nicky Henderson & the horses connections. Sizing Europe made Sprinter Sacre work hard for his victory but it is fair to say that Sprinter Sacre ran a little flat becoming the first horse since Istabraq to win at all three spring festivals (Cheltenham, Aintree & Punchestown).

There were many highlights to my National Hunt season but the few that stand out are Quevega winning from an impossible position at Cheltenham. Tidal Bay squeezing through a gap to win the Lexus Chase, the best Supreme Novices Hurdle run for a long time, The New One confirming Nigel Twiston-Davies faith in him & Our Conor running away with the Triumph Hurdle.

Please let me know your highlights from last season and which horses you are tracking and hoping to see out later this year? Add your comments at the end of this post.

 

Eye Catchers Report for the weekend 27th/28th April 2013

Moyle Park – Trainer Willie Mullins – Jockey Patrick Mullins

This was quite the performance considering how hard he pulled earlier and the big move made 3 furlongs from home to take the lead and switch to the rail. A move like that would empty a lot of horses but not this high class animal. Moyle Park is nothing to look at being quite small and it is easy to see why he sold for 10k as a three year old store horse. He does not look to have the scope for fences but what he does have is an engine. That engine is why Willie Mullins second in command Harold Kirk paid £250k for him at Brightwells Cheltenham sale last January. He runs in Rich Ricci’s colours. He will go close to the top next season in the novice hurdling ranks if learning to settle better and taking to hurdling. The way he kept finding more in this race when challenged three times up the straight was hugely impressive.

Jezki – Trainer Jessica Harrington – Jockey Barry Geraghty

Jezki put up a tremendous performance to win the Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Punchestown easily. He travelled comfortably behind the pace setting Champagne Fever and quickened clear rounding the home turn. He jumped great and put the race to bed quickly as only a top class horse with bags of speed can. As a five year old he is open to more improvement and is very interesting as a champion hurdle contender next year. I do not buy into the general consensus that he does not get up the hill at Cheltenham. He came into the supreme without a run for 11 weeks and jumped the final two hurdles poorly. Jezki finished only a couple of lengths behind My Tent or Yours but is available at twice MTOY’s price for the Champion Hurdle.

Mount Benbulben – Trainer Gordon Elliott – Jockey Danny Mullins

The real Mount Benbulben showed up to rout the opposition in the 3m1f Novice Chase. His jumping was foot perfect for a change and he has stamina in abundance. The key to Mount Benbulben is travelling right handed. He leads with his right leg when jumping a fence and that takes him to the right on left handed courses. He was a high class staying novice hurdler so we know stamina is his forte whilst possessing a good turn of foot. The fact that he needs to go right handed rules out Cheltenham & Aintree but a tilt at Kempton’s King George Chase has been mentioned as a possibility by owner Barry O’Connell. If the ground was soft on the day the current 20/1 available would look great value.

Morning Assembly – Trainer Pat Fahy – Jockey Davy Condon

Pat has found a badly needed top class horse following a few quiet years. He deserved this win for planning a very patient campaign with Morning Assembly who finished ahead on Ted Veale and behind Buckers Bridge in a bumber at the 2012 Punchestown Festival. Pat resisted travelling to the Cotswolds and turned up here with a very fresh horse. Inish Island pushed him all the way but a better jump and the final flight sealed the Grade 1 win this son of Shantou. He looks very strong and has the size and scope to enjoy chasing. All the top staying Novice Chases are there for him next season and he is one that might slip under the radar slightly due to his not so well known trainer.

 Gilt Shadow – Trainer Stuart Crawford – Jockey Stephen Crawford

The Liquidator beat Gilt Shadow by over two lengths in this Grade 1 bumper but looking to the future the horse with the better size and scope for chasing and hurdling over a trip is Gild Shadow. I saw this horse at Navan last December when the finished an unlucky fourth behind Union Dues and he took my eye in the parade ring. He is by this seasons leading national hunt sire Beneficial and there is loads more to come. The chances are he will be sold on to one of the top yards and I would love to see him go chasing rather than hurdling next season. He stayed on really well here to grab second place on the line.

Big Shu – Trainer Peter Maher – Jockey Barry Cash

Everyone including myself was critical of the ride given to Big Shu in the cross country race. He went clear of the field a long way from home and finished very tired all out following a final fence blunder to hold the staying on Another Jewel & Boston’s Angel. Barry Cash was totally innocent as it turns out it was the trainer’s idea to kick for home early and “make them chase us”. The plan worked but there was no need as Big Shu has enough toe to match any runner in these races. He is progressive and improving and will be very hard to beat in the Cheltenham Festival 2014 Cross Country race.

Quevega – Trainer Willie Mullins – Jockey Ruby Walsh

I cannot leave Quevega out of our eye catchers for the season. She may not be a betting proposition all the time but can be added to multiple bets as a guaranteed winner almost. The race was robbed of the showdown that everyone came to see when Solwhit was withdrawn due to a bloody nose at the start. However, I doubt he would have beat Quevega following a busy campaign and with her running better than at Cheltenham sprinting clear of the good yardstick Reve De Sivola. That is her season finished again. She will be wrapped in cotton wool until hopefully trying to win six years on the trot at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014.

 

Arvika Ligeonierre – Trainer Willie Mullins – Jockey Ruby Walsh

This was a huge performance jumping and running the opposition ragged in what looked a highly competitive Grade 1 chase. Oscars Well was the only horse to get close to Arvika and he was beaten an increasing 9 lengths at the finish. The smile on Ruby Walsh’s face told its own story as it is seldom seen following a race. Ruby got a tremendous feel from the horse which must have given him shivers up the spine. This horse is similar to Mount BenBulben in that he is much better travelling right handed and likes ground with soft in the description. The king George looks the only option if Willie decides to travel with him but that looks unlikely. Willie mentioned after the race that “He must be the biggest horse in our yard, he´s so strong. Soft ground and going right-handed are two important ingredients”

Un De Sceaux – Trainer Willie Mullins – Jockey Ruby Walsh

This novice hurdler but in one of the most eye taking performances of the Punchestown festival. He led from flag fall in a very fast run race with the time only a couple of seconds slower than Hurricane Fly ran when winning the Champion Hurdle earlier on heavy ground. He runs with the choke out which is all the more amazing that he can see out his races so well. It will be very interesting to see how Willie will place him next year as he leaves Novice Company next September. It is most likely he will remain running over two miles but how to avoid clashing with Hurricane Fly will be a nice headache for the master trainer Willie Mullins.

 

Novarov – Trainer John O’Shea – Jockey Sean McDermott

Novarov would have won the 3m6f marathon Chase on heavy ground but for some indifferent jumping. He finished 5th but was less than 2.5 lengths behind winner Goonyella. The right horses filled the places with Vesper Bell fading to finish second and consistent Wise Oscar and former Welsh National Winner Silver by Nature third. This was Novarov’s second chase having won his beginners chase at Gowran a few weeks previously. He has huge scope for improvement and has “endless stamina” according to his trainer. Hopefully, he will be looked after as he can surely go close in a Grand National next season especially if run on soft/heavy ground. The Welsh National is an obvious target and one I will keep him in mind for.

 

Martello Tower – Trainer Magaret Mullins – Jockey Patrick Mullins

Martello Tower won comfortably in the final bumper at the Punchestown Festival. The winning margin could of being more but Patrick rode him very confidently. He was giving a stone to the runner up. This former point to point winner will be back novice hurdling next season and can take high rank amongst the staying novice hurdlers. “He’ll make a lovely three miles horse and he handles that ground.” Mentioned Mags Mullins in her post race comments. The ground was heavy.

 

That’s it for this week folks, time to delve into the flat season.

All the Best,

Nicky

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