This article aims to identify ten Irish-trained horses to follow over the course of the season. I have purposely steered clear of the proven really big names and instead have compiled a list of horses who have yet to make it into the winners enclosure at the highest level. I expect some of those named below to become Grade 1 winners while it is hoped others will at least make the most of what I feel are lenient handicap marks.
APACHE STRONGHOLD (Noel Meade)
Noel Meade has had some bad luck in recent years with his star horses spending time on the sidelines, including Apache Stronghold who missed the Cheltenham Festival last year through injury. While he was slightly disappointing on his return at Fairyhouse behind Lieutenant Colonel, he can be forgiven that effort and he bounced back with an excellent run behind Vautour at Punchestown. Placed at Grade 1 level in his bumper season and as a hurdler, I’d imagine chasing will be his game this season and if he stays injury free I think he can become a Grade 1 winning chaser. I imagine all the top novice chases from two and a half to three miles will be on his agenda.
FINE ARTICLE (Paul Nolan)
This half brother to Joncol showed a lot of promise in his three bumper starts last term. He ran a fine race on debut and wasn’t knocked about behind Willie Mullins’ Westhorpe at Fairyhouse, staying on well in the finish. He then took out the solid yardstick Sub Lieutenant and promising Killer Miller at Gowran in comprehensive fashion. I was somewhat surprised to see Paul Nolan run him in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown, but such an entry speaks volumes about how highly he is regarded at home. He ran an excellent race in coming fourth behind Shaneshill, Silver Concorde and Value At Risk. The long term plan with this horse will surely be chasing but it will be fascinating to see how far up the hurdling tree he will climb, if indeed he is asked to do so. The old cliche ‘whatever he does over hurdles will be a bonus’ applies with this one.
FORGOTTEN RULES (Dermot Weld)
Forgotten Rules may have only won his bumper at the back end of the season but he arguably looked as exciting as any bumper horse seen all year. In winning by an extremely easy 13 lengths, one wonders how he compares to his stable companion and Cheltenham Champion Bumper victor, Silver Concorde. Unsurprisingly, Dermot Weld turned his attention to the flat, and Forgotten Rules didn’t disappoint, impressively dispatching the 100-rated Shu Lewis by eight lengths over 1m 6f at the Galway Festival. It remains to be seen if Weld plans to send this horse over hurdles or keep him to the flat, but I’m sure all will be revealed before long as he has an entry in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup on Champions Day. Quotes for the Supreme Novices Hurdle range from 8 to 12/1, but he should have no problem getting further.
GILGAMBOA (Enda Bolger)
On just his fourth start, Gilgamboa won the valuable Boylesports.com Hurdle (formerly the Pierse) at Leopardstown, and given that he’s always been viewed as a chaser by connections, this could be a big season for him. He had previously won a maiden hurdle and handicap hurdle over two and two and a half miles and he will likely be campaigned in novice chases over those trips this season. Many horses struggled with the ground that day in Leopardstown and it’s likely Gilgamboa will once again be seen to best effect in testing conditions. Not a particularly flashy performer, it could be the case that he gets a reasonable chase mark along the way and a decent handicap chase could be a possibility. It’s easy to forget he was fancied by many judges to run a big race in the Supreme Novices Hurdle, but he made a race ending blunder two out and he was probably finding things happening a bit quick on the good ground as well. I expect him to develop into at least a graded performer over fences.
LE VENT D’ANTAN (Elizabeth Doyle)
Le Vent D’Antan has a similar profile to Apache Stronghold. He had a troubled time of things last season with stomach ulcers hindering his progress, but things finally came together for him when he ran out an easy winner of a conditions hurdle at Punchestown, leaving the likes of Cheltenian and Carraig Mor well behind in the process. Liz Doyle said she felt like she’d finally discovered to key to training him and a novice chasing season beckons. He’s another who should have little trouble winning a beginners chase, probably over two and a half miles, before being aimed at bigger things.
SUNTIEP (Willie Mullins)
Suntiep did not enter Cheltenham as one of Willie Mullins’ big guns, but he was only a length and a half away from pulling off what would have been a sensational win in the National Hunt Chase. He looked to be in a hopeless position with only two fences to jump but he made relentless headway in the closing stages to flash home in third. This sort of tenacious finish was nothing out of the ordinary for Suntiep, though. In his bumper and novice hurdle days he showed himself to have a tremendous attitude, and his Cheltenham run confirms he has transferred this to fences. His chasing debut, beaten 23 lengths by My Murphy, was a big disappointment, but he drifted from 6/4 to 11/4 in the betting and improvement was obviously expected. I think a chasing mark of 138 is quite fair and he is capable of landing a long distance handicap chase.
SURE REEF (Willie Mullins)
Sure Reef had been a talented flat horse (rated 90) with Michael Halford before he joined Willie Mullins’ powerful string. His national hunt career did not get off to the best of starts, however, as he unseated Ruby Walsh at the first hurdle at Punchestown. Thankfully, things picked up considerably thereafter, as he won twice at Leopardstown including a Grade 2 on his latest start. The style of that win, a dramatic swoop from last to first in the straight, showed him to have a potent turn of foot for a horse considered by Mullins to be a stayer. I believe his handicap mark, 137, to be very much on the lenient side of things and if he goes down the handicap route I think it will take an very well handicapped horse to stop him from continuing his winning sequence. Long term he could become a World Hurdle candidate
TALBOT ROAD (Arthur Moore)
This lightly raced second season novice chaser has had just three runs over fences, and each has been full of promise. He first ran in a hot beginners chase behind Bright New Dawn and Dogora, and then finished second to Civena at Fairyhouse, where he jumped out to his left throughout. He was then strongly fancied in a Grade A handicap chase over 2m 5f at Leopardstown, where he flew up the hill late on to finish a close up fifth. I have an inkling he’ll be targeted at the Paddy Power Chase over three miles at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting and with improvement expected I think he is capable of winning such a race.
TELL US MORE (Willie Mullins)
Tell Us More arrived at Willie Mullins’ stables with a big reputation, topping Brightwells December Sale at Cheltenham having won his point at Tattersalls despite being hampered. He didn’t disappoint on his first start for Mullins, turning a Gowran bumper into a procession in March. He was due to run again, in a bumper at the Punchestown Festival, but he was a non runner due to being lame on the day. He looks a three mile chaser in the making but could prove capable of making his mark in top novice hurdles over two and a half miles and further.
TURNANDGO (Willie Mullins)
The season before last, Turnandgo confirmed himself as a horse of real potential with a nine length hammering of Captain Cutter in a heavy ground Punchestown bumper. Captain Cutter went on to win a Grade 1 novice hurdle last season but things did not go to plan for the Mullins animal. In November, he ran second to another Grade 1 winner in waiting, The Tullow Tank, over an inadequate two miles in a maiden hurdle at Naas. Despite being turned over at odds of 8/11, there was no shame in being beaten here as The Tullow Tank confirmed himself as a leading novice hurdler, and Turnandgo looked to be crying out for a step up in trip. Things then went pear shaped at Clonmel, where he unseated Patrick Mullins at the second last at odds of 1/10. He has not been seen since so presumably there was something amiss in the second half of the season. If back in full health, he is sure to make a name for himself in staying hurdles, particularly when the mud is flying.