Every day that passes brings us closer to the National Hunt racing season, which for enthusiasts of the 'jumps' like myself only sees excitement levels increasing. I previously posted five horses you must follow, which focused on the stars of the sport. It's now time to take a look at five of the exciting novice hurdlers we need to keep an eye on this season.
Picking out novice hurdlers is always fun, as typically they only raced in bumpers (flat races) last season, the form of which isn't guaranteed to translate to hurdles and eventually fences. This is where breeding comes in to play, i.e. some horses are bred to perform better on the flat, whilst others will only fulfil their potential when they tackle obstacles. So without further ado, let's crack on with the list.
First up is Milsean, a horse who I am really excited about. So much so, he was the first bumper horse to feature on my Cheltenham Zone horses to follow list. This strapping Milan gelding won two of his three starts last season, with his only defeat coming to another smart bumper horse in No More Heroes, with circumstances favouring No More Heroes.
An emphatic 25-length winner on his third and final start of the season, Milsean marked himself out as a horse of enormous potential. This certainly didn't go unnoticed, as despite not contesting the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham or Punchestown, Milsean still achieved the highest Racing Post Rating (RPR) for a bumper throughout the season. If this one isn't in your notebook already make sure he is.
Next up is a less obvious choice in Simon Squirrel. Only once-raced last season, it's a tougher task to quantify his ability with any real degree of certainty. In what looked a well above average bumper at Chepstow back in April, Simon Squirrel showed bags of class as he defied his odds of 12/1 to run out a ready 4-length winner over a well-backed rival.
This performance hasn't flown under the radar, as he now finds himself with Champion Trainer Paul Nicholls, having been purchased by leading owner Graham & Andrea Wylie. There's no way of knowing how good Simon Squirrel is at this stage, but on impressions alone he looks like he could be very smart.
Another once-raced bumper winner, this time it's Gaitway, trained by Nicky Henderson. This son of Medicean impressed with the manner of his victory in a Newbury bumper, winning a touch cosily despite clear signs of inexperience.
Plenty is expected of Gaitway, who again features on my Cheltenham Zone list, as well as several other lists created by racing fans. He will need to have matured and strengthened over the summer given how raw he looked last season, but that sort of progression is expected. He could be a big player in the top 2m hurdle races.
Tell Us More:
Like Milsean, Tell Us More is trained by Willie Mullins and owned by the powerful Gigginstown operation. (Gigginstown is owned by Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary. However, unlike Milsean he only raced once last season, when smashing his rivals in what was admittedly only a moderate contest at Gowran Park in March.
It can be tricky to try and work out the best bumper horses Willie Mullins has himself, such is the depth of his team at present. Again we're taking somewhat of a guess here with little evidence to go on, but the way Tell Us More traveled and quickened at Gowran Park had the hallmarks of a potentially very useful horse.
Lastly we finish with No Dice, who ran a race full of promise in what was a good bumper at Ascot back in February. Despite racing very keenly for a large period of the race No Dice stuck to his task gamely, in the end finishing third just over 3 lengths behind the winner A Vos Gardes.
Both the first and second that day had previous racecourse experience that ultimately kept them in good stead. It stands to reason that there should be plenty more to come from No Dice, who should prove to be part of a strong team for trainer David Pipe.
For more thoughts on the National Hunt season and the Cheltenham Festival you can find me at Cheltenham Zone