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And they’re off! National Hunt horses to keep on your radar this season *H&H Plus*


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  • Hannah Lemieux talks to connections and campaigners preparing for the season ahead to find out which are the National Hunt horses to follow for 2020/21…

    Trainer Kim Bailey’s National Hunt horses to follow

    YARD SUPERSTAR
    “Vinndication is a progressive individual who has won seven races from 10 starts for our yard. We bought him as an unbroken three-year-old and he is now seven. He’s a Grade Two winner and one of his best runs came at the Cheltenham Festival in March, when he finished fourth from a field of 23 in the Grade Three Ultima Handicap Chase. His 2020/21 campaign will start in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby (31 October), if all goes to plan.”

    MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER
    “Ajero is a five-year-old son of Red Jazz and ran very well at the end of September to finish second in a novices’ hurdle at Huntingdon – just his second-ever start. He did pull rather hard and needs to learn to settle in a race, but he’s an exciting prospect. He finished third in a bumper in Ireland and I think he’s a very good horse.”

    THE BIGGEST CHARACTER
    “A horse called Younevercall is nicknamed ‘Johnboy’ at home. He’s a real character and I would describe him as a smiley horse – if you tickle him, he sticks his tongue out. He’s a joy and people love riding him at home.”

    BOUNCING BACK
    “Rocky’s Treasure enjoyed a good season in 2018/19, winning four novice chases. However, he hates running on soft ground and last year’s wet conditions didn’t suit him at all, which resulted in poor form. On his last run in November 2019, he was rated at 145 – he’s clearly talented but needs good ground, so we’re praying it dries up a bit for him.”

    Billy Aprahamian, assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson

    YARD SUPERSTAR
    “It has to be our dual Champion Chase victor Altior. He didn’t have a great season last year, which included him having wind surgery, but that’s just horses and racing for you. He has a phenomenal record and won 19 consecutive races – for a horse to achieve that kind of form is unparalleled. He’s 10 now, but he’s certainly still the horse he was and looks great at home. He’s a machine.

    “I should also mention six-year-old mare Epatante, who won the Champion Hurdle at the 2020 Festival – she has won seven of her nine runs to date.”

    MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER
    “Flinteur Sacre is a five-year-old full brother to Nicky’s former stable star Sprinter Sacre. He won his second bumper – and second-ever race – very well in February. He’s a smart type and has been schooling nicely at home.

    “We’ve had three brothers to Sprinter Sacre at Seven Barrows so far and they have all looked very similar to their superstar brother – big, tall and handsome. They have all had big boots to fill of course, but if Flinteur Sacre can fill just one of those four boots, he’d be doing well.”

    THE BIGGEST CHARACTER
    “I am torn between three horses at Seven Barrows; The Cashel Man, Janika and Santini. You know when all three are about because there is plenty of bucking and squealing – they like to make their presence known.

    “Janika, in particular, always has a squeal when trotting past the boss in our indoor warm-up ring. I ride Santini each morning and whenever he has done a good piece of work, he likes to tell people about it, as there will be some legs flying about. He is always showing off and loves an audience.”

    BOUNCING BACK
    “It is brilliant to have the 2017 and 2018 Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air back at Seven Barrows, having recovered from injury. During the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November 2019 – in which he finished second – he splintered his coronary band at the second-last hurdle. He spent time at Donnington Grove Equine Vets and they did a superb job with him. He then went back to his owner JP McManus’ Martinstown Stud in Ireland to recover. He has just returned to training and is the same old professional as before.”

    Trainer Emma Lavelle’s horses to follow this season

    YARD SUPERSTAR
    “Paisley Park has been a wonderful winner for us in the stayers’ hurdle division, including winning the 2019 Grade One Stayers’ Hurdle at the Festival and Ascot’s Grade One Long Walk Hurdle in 2018. He’s a fantastic horse who has taken us all on an incredible journey. His owner, Andrew Gemmell, has been blind from birth and adores the horse.

    “He finished a disappointing seventh in the Stayers’ Hurdle in March and was found to have an irregular heartbeat afterwards. He is now back in full work and feeling very fresh.”

    MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER
    “Gold Link is a four-year-old son of Rail Link and finished second in a bumper in France when trained by Adrien Lacombe. He was due to have his first run for us in the spring, but then Covid-19 happened. He does everything easily at home and is a very exciting horse. He will begin his campaign in novice hurdle races.”

    THE BIGGEST CHARACTER
    “Dagueneau is the sweetest, kindest horse and the class clown really. Once he’s finished his food, he will always throw his feed manger out of his back window. So when it comes to feed time, the poor person has to walk all the way round to the back of the stables to retrieve it – which he finds highly amusing. He always has his tongue sticking out, there is no badness in him at all – he loves to entertain and he is enjoyable to ride at home, too.”

    BOUNCING BACK
    “Buster Thomas had 18 months on the sidelines following a tendon injury, but is now back better than ever before. He’s a big horse and probably has the biggest head in the yard. He’s lovely to deal with and is as hard as nails – he’s come back stronger and more determined. He also should have run back in springtime, but actually lockdown has meant we’ve given him more time and that has been a huge positive for him.”

    Trainer Harry Whittington’s National Hunt horses to follow

    YARD SUPERSTAR
    “It would have to be Saint Calvados. He’s a top-class chaser and finished second in the Ryanair Chase at the Festival in March, when he was beaten by a neck. He will go up in trip this season and should improve. We will possibly aim him at the Gold Cup. He’s arrogant and knows he is good, but he’s also a professional and easy to train.”

    MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER
    “Docpickedme is a four-year-old gelding who won his debut point-to-point in Ireland in March, his only race so far. He has speed and turn of foot in a race and has impressed at home. He will start off in a bumper before going novice hurdling, for which he has plenty of speed.”

    THE BIGGEST CHARACTER
    “Emerging Force has returned after a lengthy lay-off. He’s a smart horse, but unbelievably cheeky and knows how to unclip anything – including his hay rack, which now has to be wired together. He’s a very cool horse.”

    BOUNCING BACK
    “Anemoi is a very talented half-brother to the Karl Burke-trained Laurens. He had an operation on his spleen, which is very unusual, and then had 18 months off. He’s won three races to date so we’re looking forward to having him back on the racecourse.”

    Trainer Chris Gordon’s horses to follow in 2020/21

    YARD SUPERSTAR
    “Highway One O Two is so far unbeaten over hurdles, having won all three of his novice hurdle races. He won a Grade Two hurdle at Kempton in February and will be aimed at novice chases. We are full of hope for him. He can be strong, but he enjoys life and is a joy to have around at home.”

    MOST EXCITING NEWCOMER
    “Lord Baddesley ran in two bumpers last season and recently enjoyed his debut win for us at Fontwell in a novice hurdle. He bolted up and won nicely for an inexperienced horse. He’s a lovely type and will remain in novice hurdle company this season. We will keep him at the smaller racecourses for now, just to give him a bit more experience and he will go chasing the following season.”

    THE BIGGEST CHARACTER
    “We bred Jimmy with co-owner Les Gilbert. He is a great character but conformation-wise, I wouldn’t spend £50 on him at Ascot sales! He was bred for Fontwell, let’s just say, and all of his races have been at the West Sussex track, bar one win at Plumpton. He enjoys Fontwell and could probably drive the lorry there himself, he’s been so many times. Everyone loves Jimmy at home.”

    BOUNCING BACK
    “Highway One O One has had a wind operation since last season, but during his recent run at Fontwell he flipped a soft palate when running on well three out – I think a tongue tie will help him. He’s run in multiple Graded races for us and fingers crossed we can get back to some level of consistency with him.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 15 October 2020