The Ryder Cup is seriously warming up in Illanois. Europe is trying to overturn a four-point deficit in the last day singles. An uphill struggle. And as I stagger to comprehend Rory McIlroy almost being late for his tee-time, I realise that I’m almost late with my 40 to follow. For me the jumps season starts tomorrow, 1st October, a long time after the Ryder Cup is won and lost at Medinah.
It’s not just about personal pride and private income. These forty raggle-taggle hurders and chasers carry my credibility into the Annual Atkinson Challenge which, in five years, I have failed to win. Nevertheless, last season’s stats are good. I aim to match or better that performance with these. Last year’s list had too many odds-on shots at unbackable prices. I’ve tried to redress the balance here with a few more unexposed types, a few more handicappers and a little less focus on the big end of season festivals. It remains to be seen whether that proves to be the case.
1. Alfie Spinner – Nick Williams
Campaigned above his level last season, always finding one too good in top novice chases. As a handicapper over extended trips in the mud, he’s expected to come into his own. Trainer is gleefully eyeing up the Welsh National for him.
2. Ambion Wood – Victor Dartnell
A graduate from last year’s list and a horse with a bright future over fences after some compelling performances as at up to three miles. Untested on anything better than good-soft. I like him very much though rumours that my skinny beans are already down for the RSA Chase are a touch exaggerated.
3. Arctic Ben – Henry Daly
Good progress over hurdles in the mud at around 2-2½ miles. Shows a willing attitude in a scrap, an essential for this list, and further progress is keenly anticipated.
4. Back In Focus – Willie Mullins
Formerly with Howard Johnson, this good looking hurdler made an impressive debut over fences for Willie Mullins at Listowel recently. Will now be aimed at all the top novice chases in Ireland and then probably the Festival in March, though questionable whether much value can be squeezed from this.
5. Barbatos – Ian Williams
Top drawer staying novice form last season on good ground. Missed the second half of the season with a small leg injury. The bold grey is expected to resume his career this Autumn.
6. Benheir – Rebecca Curtis
Take out the Albert Bartlett at the Festival and this one’s profile is ascending. Unlikely to be top-ranked amongst this season’s staying novice chasers, but this improving trainer can be relied upon to find decent opportunities.
7. Big Occasion – David Pipe
Dual purpose campaigner putting an interesting cv together over 2½ -3 miles on soft. His trainer, a master of the dark arts of handicap placement, is sure to find appropriate opportunities.
8. Bold Sir Brian – Lucinda Russell
Great progress through novice and handicap route last term, before one race too many at Haydock in March. Pick of the form is on soft or worse at 2½ - 3 miles. Not fully exposed yet.
9. Call The Police – Willie Mullins
Exceeded the expectations of many (but not me, smugly clutching an ante-post voucher) in the RSA Chase at the Festival in March. Further modest improvement was seen at Punchestown and though he may be one of Mullins’ lesser lights, I’m going to stick with him in staying chases as he emerges from novice company.
10. Cotton Mill – John Ferguson
I wept bitter tears of pain when he ran out at the Festival in the Neptune. Only later when I watched the reply did I realise he was never going to get close to Simonsig. Found out over 3 miles at Aintree, but nevertheless, a classy one to follow back down in trip.
11. Daffern Seal - Dermot Weld
Another foray across the Irish Sea brings this Weld gelding into the list, who at 8 years old is remarkably lightly raced. He has shown a bit of quality and stamina in his 5 starts, notably at the Galway Festival and then when staying on well behind Teaforthree in the Festival fourmiler and is fancied for staying handicap chases this season.
12. Dodging Bullets – Paul Nicholls
Strong evidence that he was a slow learning juvenile last year, being very green behind Grumeti on his British debut at Newbury in February, before running a very good 4th in the Triumph and then being badly hampered by falling stablemate Hinterland. Not seen the best of him yet.
13. Fascino Rustico – Ronald O’Leary
Not much to go on, but easily won a Carlisle bumper with previous winners behind him and could be fun to follow. Evidently well-liked by his yard. However, if I ever use the term ‘apple of his trainer’s eye’ you are invited to poke me in mine with a sharp stick.
14. Fashion Faux Pas - Paul Henderson
Experienced mare in Irish points and although a slow start last season, there was enough promise in her most recent novice hurdles to suggest better things when she attains her handicap mark at around 2m 5f and over.
15. First Fandango – Tim Vaughan
Hardly unexposed, but competed well last season and improved from race to race, Cheltenham excepted. Displayed the requisite likeable attitude and picked here to take advantage of an anticipated upgrade over fences this Autumn.
16. Get Me Out of Here – Jonjo O’Neill
I’ve been close to including this boy in previous lists and as an exposed sort it’s a risky decision now. But though I will argue he can improve again, this is really about heart ruling head. His weight carrying performances earn my maximum respect but I want to see him campaigned away from big handicap company at up to 3m now.
17. Go All The Way - Jim Dreaper
17. Go All The Way - Jim Dreaper
Has been beset with injuries and has recently recovered from two pelvic operations to land back to back chases at Killarney. His trainer says he needs to go left-handed and wants good ground. That could be a challenge in Ireland. Top prospect if handled sensibly, as expected.
18. Greyfriars Drummer – Charlie Mann
4 from 5 since last Spring and his last effort in August at Market Rasen winning a 2m3f hurdle was a good performance. Only a 4-y-o and surely scope to improve on good ground.
19. Hazy Tom – Charlie Longsden
Looked like he was going to be special after he won well at Wetherby in November. Things didn’t pan out that way and he didn’t match that performance again until Aintree in April when staying on behind Attaglance. It could be that 3 miles is his trip and I fancy him to pick up from there.
20. Hidden Cyclone – JJ Hanlon
Won very well on his debut over fences last December. I was initially disappointed that he only finished 3rd in his next outing, but considering what Sir Des Champs has done since and where he sits in the Gold Cup betting, that length or so defeat reads much better now. Preference for soft ground.
21. Ifyouletmefinish – Jeremy Scott
Consistent performances in moderate novice hurdles before being found somewhat in the County Hurdle. Resumed progress at Haydock and enough potential shown to stay loyal this season. Might step up to 2 ½ miles.
22. Il De Re – Donald McCain
McCain found remarkable improvement in this one’s flat form this Summer and we can anticipate similar progress when he makes his hurdles debut for his new trainer after switching from Ian Williams.
23. King Of The Wolds – Malcolm Jefferson
After his best season for years, I really wanted a Jefferson horse in this list. This one is likely to fit the profile of many of his horses, plying their first season in bumpers before stepping up.
24. Kuilsriver – Nick Gifford
A quiet one for novice chases around the gaff tracks. Nice attitude and expected to improve for the switch to fences. Unlikely to set the world on fire, but likely to be handy to follow.
25. Lackamon – Sue Smith
25. Lackamon – Sue Smith
Decent staying handicap chaser up to 3 ½ miles. Won’t want anything too soft and assuming his jumping issues can be sorted out, should pay his way this season.
26. Mae’s Choice – Gordon Elliot
Never out of the first three in six runs and landed the odds on four occasions. Still possesses plenty of potential (although often needs rousting along in her races), particularly if she goes chasing now that her handicap mark has risen.
27. Melodic Rendezvous - Jeremy Scott
An improving trainer and improving horse. MR beat some well-touted prospects from the big stables at Chepstow in March and bettered that on shocking ground in the Grade 1 Champion Bumper at Punchestown Festival behind he deeply impressive Champagne Fever.
28. Native Gallery – Ben de Haan
Racked up a great strike rate: 6 wins from 11 starts including point to points. Improved quietly in competitive handicaps for the most part last season and will revert to chasing now.
29. Pendra – Charlie Longsden
The same day as Finian’s Rainbow was carving up Sizing Europe in the Champion Chase, this one was just beginning his career in no more than an ordinary bumper, but with some horses from good trainers represented, three of whom have gone on to win again.
30. Problema Tic - David Pipe
Won at Kempton in March and sold by his owner Robert Ogden who is now concentrating solely on the flat. Pipe picked up the reins and he then won impressively at Ayr over 3 miles. Scope for improvement, possibly over even further.
31. Raya Star – Alan King
Deeply impressive in a string of competitive handicap hurdles last season. I like his pluck and one to follow this year in the top handicaps or more likely over fences.
32. Red Rocco – Donald McCain
A quiet improver from McCain junior. A lot of 2nds in his profile, but I saw most of them and he is not wanting for guts and tenacity, so I’m persuaded to give him another go this season in handicap hurdles (most likely) on the basis that he’s a slow burner.
33. She Ranks Me – Donald McCain
Fast improving novice hurdler, already been on the go in late Summer and the type to rack up a sequence.
34. Smad Place – Alan King
Signs of an Alan King recovery last season. This one was just short of top-notch in the staying hurdle division and will be an interesting novice chaser to follow.
35. Sustainability – Venetia Williams
Simply had to have a Venetia Williams handicap hurdler in the line up. She’s not the force of old but I’ll look forward to her campaigning this decent sort softish ground over about 2 ½ miles.
36. Swinging Sultan – Keith Reveley
Should make his mark over middle-ranking hurdles this winter after some impressive bumpers last season, competing well against New Years Day who was then 2nd in the Champion Bumper. Flirted with the flat in the Spring and pleased to see that experiment was curtailed.
37. Trifolium – Charles Byrnes
Finished a close third in last year’s Supreme after I’d talked myself out of backing him e-w. No great surprise as I’d had the same debate with every runner in the field. Looked unlucky to lose to Alderwood at Punchestown in a strong but select renewal. No dithering this year. I’m backing him for the Arkle. Or possibly the Jewson. Or maybe he’ll stay over hurdles…
38. Umadachar – Warren Greatrex
Eye-catching frame finishes in big bumpers at Aintree (mares) and Sandown. Might want a stamina test over hurdles, but clearly possesses a touch of potential.
39. Up To Something – Charlie Longsden
Unbeaten in three bumpers, making all in a class 2 affair at Newbury. Loved the way he dominated (though almost running out of gas) and picked purely on that promise.
40. Urbain De Sivola – Nick Williams
Reasonable progress in juvenile ranks last season before exposed on good ground at the festival. Won a couple in France since and should go on when kept to soft and worse. Could make full use of chasing allowance if tackling the big ones.