Here is the latest list of horses who have caught they eye and are well worth following. Recent winners from previous lists include CHRIS PEA GREEN (12/1), OUR CONOR (100/30), CHAMPAGNE FEVER (2/1) and MELODIC RENDEZVOUS (5/4).
BLACKMAIL (WON, Leopardstown Jan 29)
Somebody spotted something when this horse finished second in the Boxing Day Bumper at Leopardstown. For the winner, Moyle Park, was subsequently bought for a whopping £250,000 and sent to be trained by Willie Mullins. The very next day, the form was franked in no uncertain style by Tony Martin’s five-year-old, who made all under a very polished ride by Ross McNamara. He never came off the bridle in a deeply impressive display that left Martin in no doubt that he’s good enough to go for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.
BUDDY BOLERO (WON, Leicester Jan 30)
This time last year, David Pipe was preparing this horse for a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival. He was balloted out, but their thinking underlined how highly they regard the seven-year-old son of Accordion, who is really justifying their faith now after impressive back-to-back victories. Thrown into a handicap here on only his second start over fences, he jumped with terrific aplomb and surely has a big race or two in him, which would emulate his full brother, Finger Onthe Pulse.
DEFY LOGIC (WON, Fairyhouse Feb 5)
We had to wait almost three months for the hurdling debut of Paul Nolan’s JP McManus-owned six-year-old. But it was well worth the wait as he spreadeagled and demolished an albeit-ordinary field with a powerpacked display of front running. He wears headgear and might be a shade quirky but boy, does he have an engine! He also jumped with athleticism and accuracy, and it will be fascinating to see where they take him next.
DISCOTECA (4TH, Leopardstown Feb 9)
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott likes little more than a crack at the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival, and providing the ground dries out, it might be worth keeping an eye on this five-year-old. Formerly with Andrew Balding on the Flat in this country, he never sniffed the impressive all-the-way winner in what was a competitive handicap. But considering he gave him 6lbs, prefers a better surface and gets further than the 2m trip, he showed enough to prove he’s in fine fettle for the spring, running on strongly.
FATCATINTHEHAT (WON, Leopardstown Jan 26)
Willie Mullins boasts a strong team of juvenile hurdlers this season, and while a couple had their bubbles burst in a Grade One last weekend, this Rich Ricci-owned son of Derby winner Authorized is still lurking in the wings for a tilt at either the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter at the Cheltenham Festival. He failed to deliver the goods on his first two outings, but here, he unleashed a blistering pillar-to-post performance, jumping straight and true and merely needing to be nudged out at the death.
GLENS MELODY (WON, Leopardstown Jan 27)
There will come a time eventually when Quevega WON’T win the David Nicholson mares’ race at the Cheltenham Festival! And one of the up-and-coming mares perfectly poised to assume her mantle is this five-year-old from the same Willie Mullins yard. She travelled and quickened up in grand style here to reverse form with another stablemate, Zuzka, and appears to be improving with every outing. Ideally bred for the game, she’s a daughter of King’s Theatre out of an Orchestra mare.
HADA MEN (WON, Doncaster Feb 7)
It won’t be long now before we’re all scratching our heads over the weights for the handicaps at the Cheltenham Festival. And one horse well worth seeking out in the Pertemps Hurdle Final will be Venetia Williams’s ultra-tough eight-year-old who confimed his return to form by defying top weight in a good, competitive heat. The field was full of rivals on the up, but under a confident hold-up ride by Liam Treadwell, the son of Dynaformer ran out a taking victor and showed an attitude on the run-in that suggests he’s not to be messed with.
HIDDEN JUSTICE (WON, Catterick Feb 1)
Brilliant dual-purpose trainer John Quinn is forging a reputation as an expert handler of juvenile hurdlers who, this season, include this six-year-old half-brother to High Heeled, a Group winner on the Flat. Although he won on his debut at Wetherby, the son of Lawman improved dramatically to follow up here in eyecatching fashion, powering home. Providing his jumping holds up, he’s the sort, blessed with pace and stamina, who would relish the demands of the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
INISH ISLAND (WON, Clonmel Feb 7)
Regular HORSES TO FOLLOW readers will know how much I like the runner-up of this race, Venture Capital. But he was firmly put in his place by Willie Mullins’s seven-year-old, who appears to be rapidly improving into a staying hurdler of some substance. When coming over to Cheltenham in December, he found only the subsequent Grade Two winner, At Fishers Cross, too good. Here, he made no mistake, travelling and changing gear like a horse you wouldn’t want to oppose wherever he goes in the spring.
LAC FONTANA (2ND, Newbury Feb 9)
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is still insisting that the pick of a decent bunch of four-year-old hurdlers at his Ditcheat stable is Far West. But I’ll be surprised if this recruit from France does not make it to the Cheltenham Festival alongside him next month after an informative UK debut performance. A lengthy, athletic sort, he was badly squeezed between rivals when just about to deliver his run, yet still recovered to pick up most takingly and chase home a smart winner.
MANY CLOUDS (WON, Exeter Feb 10)
The dogs were barking Paul Nicholls’s favourite, Just A Par, before this decent novices’ hurdle. But his guns were spiked by Oliver Sherwood’s likeable and consistent six-year-old, owned by Trevor Hemmings. Even though he was too keen early doors, the son of Cloudings stayed on strongly when pulling clear alongside his market rival and is improving with every outing. His main target this term is the EBF Final at Sandown before switching to fences next term.
MOZOLTOV, WON, Punchestown Feb 3)
When Willie Mullins’s seven-year-old triumphed on his seasonal debut at Thurles in January 2012, I felt I’d rarely seen an easier winner of a Bumper. He didn’t quite fulfil that promise during the rest of the campaign, but he’s back on his pedestal now after grinding out victory in this Grade Two novice hurdle to shrug off a huge step-up in class. In what is shaping up to be a thrilling Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, this fellow should not be ruled out of the reckoning.
MR MOLE (WON, Taunton Feb 7)
Paul Nicholls’s JP McManus-owned novice hurdler was called many rude names other than Mr Mole when his wayward antics cost him a race at Wincanton in November. But given an 89-day break since then, he looked a totally different horse here, bolting up in a fair race, despite pulling a bit too hard for almost the entire contest. It could be that he’s best fresh but natural talent exudes from the son of Great Pretender, who might just be a dark one for the strongly-run 2m handicaps in the coming weeks.
MY TENT OR YOURS (WON, Newbury Feb 9)
No points for originality here, but I couldn’t resist including Nicky Henderson’s latest new star after a jaw -dropping performance to demolish a wonderful field for the Betfair Hurdle. A big, lengthy, imposing gelding, he looked on a stiff mark of 149 for a novice, especially considering the ground was testing. But he won with comsummate ease, even though the steady gallop was against a horse who has struggled to settle properly. Given that he is certain to improve again, it was a display that would, in my opinion, give him a golden chance of winning the Champion Hurdle next month if owner JP McManus opts to go down that route after the tragic loss of his chief contender, Darlan.
RED SHERLOCK (WON, Towcester Jan 31)
The Champion Bumper is shaping up into one of the hottest races of the Cheltenham Festival next month, and I’ll be surprised if one of the leading UK challengers is not David Pipe’s four-year-old. Towcester on heavy ground is probably the stiffest test in the country for any horse, let alone a youngster making his debut. Yet he bounded clear up the hill in the style of a star of the future. He’s just the latest talented progeny of that marvellous racemare, Lady Cricket.
ROCK CRITIC (WON, Fairyhouse Feb 5)
It could be argued that Dermot Weld’s Moyglare Stud-owned eight-year-old only beat a Grand National horse (Seabass) running over hurdles at a wholly inadequate trip of 2m. But then again, he was conceding 7lbs to that rival, a chaser rated as high as 149, on only his second start over timber, so it was quite some performance to win so cosily. Although his age would probably be against him at Cheltenham, he wouldn’t be far away in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, especially if he jumped as slickly and quickened as readily as he did here.
ROLLING STAR (WON, Cheltenham Jan 26)
When this attractive youngster arrived from France, trainer Nicky Henderson left him alone for fully five months to help him acclimatise. Such patience looks set to be rewarded handsomely because the gelding could hardly have made a more impressive UK debut, which propelled him to the head of the market for the Triumph Hurdle. Stalking a smart Paul Nicholls-trained favourite throughout, he quickened by up the hill after the final flight, with the pair fully 30 lengths clear of the rest. A most exciting recruit for battle-hardened owner Michael Buckley.
SALUBRIOUS (WON, Musselburgh Feb 3)
Talented conditional jockey Harry Derham made the long trek from Somerset to Scotland for one ride in the last at Musselburgh’s high-quality Sunday meeting of Cheltenham Festival trials. Not only did it pay off, but I just wonder if it also paved the way for glory at Prestbury Park for Derham himself next month, on this same horse in the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle. A Festival ticket to that race, or the Coral Cup over the same trip, was surely booked by Paul Nicholls’s useful six-year-old after a polished victory to defy top weight. The son of Beneficial remains well handicapped and will improve again for better ground.
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