(7 minutes read)
For Jump Racing fans, the long summers watching the flat racing social calendars unfold at Newmarket, York and Ascot can be arduous and torturous!
They wait for when the clocks must change, the evenings to get darker, the squally misty rain to envelope national hunt institutions like Wincanton and the sight of jockeys wiping thick mud off their goggles after slogging 3 miles around Chepstow.
Not to mention of course, the roar that heralds the start of The Cheltenham Festival in March. The Pimm’s, strawberries, champagne and ice cream are now gone, to be replaced by a more comforting diet of pasties, pies, Guinness and hot toddies.
The jumps season has finally returned and with the welcoming return of crowds, the anticipation for the next 6 months is feverish to say the least.
However, despite the excitement there is a slight whiff of apprehension in the air. After last year’s utter decimation by the Irish contingent, British trainers are scratching their hands and wondering where the winners will come from when The Cheltenham Festival thankfully opens the doors to the crowds once again next March.
In this preview we take a visit to the yard of Nicky Henderson and check on the progress of the highly progressive Shishkin, who at the present time, looks to be the sole shining hope of any British trained Cheltenham glory.
We’ll also assess the Irish scene and look at Henry De Bromhead’s chances of a repeat of the yard’s astonishing antics from last March where victories in the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup set unprecedented new records.
We’ll also take a sneak preview of the big races to come and check out the ante post markets whilst also identifying some early fancies for The Cheltenham Festival.
Nicky Henderson: Shishkin Takes Top Billing at Seven Barrows
The enigmatic Altior finally ended months of speculation when Seven Barrows announced in the summer that the dual Champion Chase winner would retire and see out his years at the stables of former jockey and ITV pundit, Mick Fitzgerald.
Therefore, all focus at Seven Barrows is now on the very progressive Supreme Novices and Arkle winner Shishkin who by completing this double, has now almost emulated the mighty Altior.
Whether he can go further and win the Champion Chase is arguably a tall order as his novice era chief rival Energumene and last year’s Champion Chaser Put The Kettle On, who clearly revels at Cheltenham, will prove very tough opposition whilst Chacun Pour Soi could easily race to his very best this time round.
Speaking to the Racing Post over the summer, Nicky Henderson had some reservation but plenty of praise for his superstar and was quick to point how he has matured:
“He’s grown and I think he’s got that arrogance of Sprinter and Altior, although he’s got to earn that. You can only be arrogant when you are the top dog and he’s got to prove it.”
The Tingle Creek at Sandown is an obvious target on the usual 2m route as he would probably avoid the Irish big guns as they rarely travel before The Cheltenham Festival. Shishkin is currently 6/4 best (bet365, Betfred, Boylesports) for The Champion Chase.
Chantry House & Champ
Chantry House finished off last season in splendid fashion, winning the Marsh Novices’ Chase (arguably taking advantage of Envoi Allen’s dramatic fall) and following up more impressively with victory in the Mildmay Novices’ Chase at Aintree staying 3 miles.
The plan, according to Henderson, is an intermediate chase at Sandown although the path will have to be carefully devised as to avoid a clash with stablemate Champ. Both are owned by JP McManus.
Champ was a major disappointment in last season’s Gold Cup which was put down to a back problem but is reported to be in fine fettle after a clean bill of health given by Ger Kelly, the Seven Barrows’ vet.
Chantry House is a 12/1 best for The Cheltenham Gold Cup with William Hill whilst Champ is 20/1 best with bet365.
The Exciting Prospect Of Jonbon
However, one of the highest profile talking horses at the yard is the full brother to Douvan, Jonbon who cost JP McManus £570,000 after he won his first point-to-point.
He subsequently won a bumper at Newbury and Henderson believes he could be a mid-distance stayer at 2m 5f. Currently 12/1 best for the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (bet365, Bet Victor, Betfred)
Others to note
Buzz entered the notebook after a very gutsy win in the recent Cesarewitch at Newmarket and holds an entry for The Stayers Hurdle where is a 20/1 best with bet365.
Buveur D’Air is in Ireland recovering from injury and the long term plan is staying hurdle distances whilst Nicky Henderson was particularly praising of his mare Blue Heaven who despite not running to her best at a recent Ludlow bumper, is held in high regard.
Paul Nicholls: Clan Des Obeaux and Frodon leading the Ditcheat charge
The dual King George hero is most likely bypassing The Betfair Chase this time round as the Ditcheat handler felt the demanding trip was too close to Boxing Day last year. The plan is to go straight to Kempton to bid for a third title.
His price was as generous as 5/1 for the race which didn’t hang around long:
now 11/4 best with bet365, Bet Victor, Betfred.
Having recently impressed everybody with his tenacious victory over Minella Indo in the Grade 1 Ladbrokes Champions Chase at Down Royal, Frodon heads straight to Kempton in a bid repeat to regain his King George title. 11/2 best with bet365 and William Hill.
Long held in very high regard but has really failed to live up to expectations considering he has been sent of favourite 10 times out of 12 races. Started to show potential with two Grade 2 wins (including a defeat of On The Blind Side) last season but disappointed in The Aintree Hurdle. The plan is to go novice chasing and worth watching first time round.
Next Destination and Bravemansgame
This staying chaser had a great season last year after considerable time off, winning two Grade 2’s before running a fine second in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham. Could be a revelation in The Betfair Chase at 13/2 (William Hill) with many big guns unlikely to turn up and the ground likely to be favourable for the 9-year-old.
Third in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle, Bravemansgame could be an interesting prospect in the novice chasing division.
Paul Nicholls’ dark horse: Matterhorn
This 3-year-old recently imported from France is regarded as a dark horse by the Ditcheat trainer in a recent interview with The Racing Post. One run under his belt at Auteuil, finishing 3rd of 15. Worth keeping an eye on.
The Vice Like Grip Of Ireland At Cheltenham
28 wins over 5. Surely even the most rose-tinted optimistic Irish punter didn’t see this coming. The domination of Ireland over Britain in last March’s Cheltenham Festival was simply astonishing.
A lot of talk has reverberated over how the top rivals spend all season avoiding each other. The Irish predominantly stay where they are until March whilst the British trainers only send entries for the Down Royal Grade One 3-mile chase in early autumn and the Punchestown festival in April once Cheltenham is done.
Therefore, the British trainers get a murky idea of how their good horses are. This can certainly be said of horses like Bravemansgame who didn’t look quite near the standard of Ballymore winner Bob Olinger whilst Epatante, the reigning Champion Hurdler was simply swept aside by the wrath of Honeysuckle.
The Gold Cup was a write off although the British challenge was always relatively weak as Champ and Santini were in and out all season, Frodon doesn’t stay more than 3 miles and Native River didn’t get his favoured ground whilst in the twilight of an illustrious career.
The only glimmer of hope came from Shishkin and Chantry House and even the latter’s win in the Marsh Novices Chase came in slightly fortuitous fashion as hot favourite Envoi Allen fell in the race early on.
It is fairly evident that Irish trained horses are far excelling the British entries when and where it matters.
The Irish Challenge 2021-2022
Henry De Bromhead
The trainer had a Cheltenham Festival last season that his rivals could only envisage in their wildest dreams as he won The Champion Hurdle, The Champion Chase and saddled the first two home in The Gold Cup, And if that wasn’t enough, he rounded off this exuberance with victory in The Grand National with Minella Times.
Honeysuckle was arguably the best of these triumphs and is probably the nearest thing to bombproof for retaining her Champion Hurdle crown in March at 7/4 best with bet365, William Hill, Bet Victor. This price could look exceptional once her season gets going.
Minella Indo (6/1 William Hill, Betfred) and A Plus Tard (7/1 bet365) unsurprisingly lead the Gold Cup markets whilst new recruit Envoi Allen (8/1 bet365, Bet Victor) could also be a threat if the form is revitalised under De Bromhead.
Put The Kettle On faces plenty of tough rivals in his bid to retain his Champion chase crown and is great value at 14/1 with bet365 and William Hill.
The County Carlow handler will be hoping to erase the Champion Chase hoodoo and after Chacun Pour Soi’s demise up the hill in last year’s competition, a lot of reliance will be on Energumene’s shoulders who looks a tantalising prospect after his demolition of rivals at the Punchestown Festival.
Chacun Pour Soi remains a 6/1 shot for the Champion Chase with bet365, Bet Victor and Betfred whilst Energuneme is 5’s best with bet365.
However, the most enticing prospect from the yard could be Supreme Novices’ winner Appreciate It who will embark on a career with novice chasing if this is decided. 3/1 favourite for The Arkle with bet365.
Early Pointers For The Cheltenham Festival
We’ve identified three horses who could be progressive types and make an impact at The Festival next March!
Espoir De Romay
One to follow in the 2m 5f chasing division as he developed admirably in the novice chasing ranks last season. Lightly raced and certainly open to plenty of improvement for the re-emerging Kim Bailey yard. He could follow the Imperial Aura trail and take in the 1965 Chase at Ascot before a crack at the Ryanair (33/1 bet365).
Looks a very exciting French import talent under the Rich Ricci-Willie Mullins partnership. Only one race under his belt but this was an impressive 8 length win in Auteuil last year. However, the form of that race has been given some worthy credibility where the 3rd placed horse went on to win by 30 lengths. Holds an entry in the Supreme Novices where he is a tempting 33/1 with bet365.
The Dan Skelton team did well last season giving the impression that they could be top trainer title contenders in the making especially with their shrewd approach to the handicaps.
The big hope lies in My Drogo who notched up 4 wins on the bounce and was dutifully rewarded with the Mildmay Novices Hurdle over 2m 4f at The Aintree Festival after bypassing Cheltenham.
The plan is to go novice chasing where he is a solid 10/1 for The Festival Novices Chase with William Hill.
The big action to come! November & December
The Betfair Chase, Haydock, 20th November
The first leg of the National Hunt triple crown has some eye catching entries although the market should be treated with upmost caution as the Irish are unlikely to travel whilst Paul Nicholls has all but ruled out Clan Des Obeaux in favour of a seasonal reappearance in The King George on Boxing Day.
Next Destination is our best pick at this early stage.
A Plus Tard 5/2 (William Hill)
Bristol De Mai 7/2 (Bet Victor)
Royale Pagalle 4/1 (William Hill, Bet Victor)
Next Destination 13/2 (William Hill)
Waiting Patiently 8/1 (bet365)
Champ 8/1 (William Hill, Bet Victor)
The King George Vi Chase, Kempton, 26th December
Clan Des Obeaux is being very strategically aimed at retaining his title last year after he failed to reel in stable-mate Frodon in last year’s renewal of the 3 mile Kempton Grade One. This was reportedly down to a hard race in the Betfair beforehand in tough conditions. The trainer has indicated very strongly that Clan will go straight to Kempton and that is unlikely to change.
Please note all odds are correct at the time of publishing (6:30pm 9th November 2021) and are subject to change.