DALLAS DES PICTONS
Dallas Des Pictons progressed nicely in the novice hurdler ranks for Gordon Elliott last season. He finished second to Ballymore winner City Island over two miles at Leopardstown at Christmas, before improving when upped in trip, winning his next two starts, most significantly the three-mile handicap hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Backed into clear favourite for the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham, he tanked into that race for Donagh Meyler before getting mugged late on by Early Doors. It was interesting that Elliott said he thought the horse got to the front too soon - through no fault of jockey Donagh Meyler - and therefore had no time to react to the winner’s late surge.
This was noticeable again for the son of Spanish Moon’s chasing debut at Gowran Park, where he was left on his own in front and jumped very slowly at the fourth last. He still won by 20 lengths and should have learned plenty. That he has been sent out so early could be significant and the Drinmore Chase, which Elliott won with Delta Work last season, could be a target.
ELIXIR DE NUTZ
Elixir De Nutz missed the Supreme Novice Hurdle late in the day last season, however he remains a potentially top class horse and there is lots to look forward to.
All of his form suggests he’d have been bang there in the Supreme - he finished second to Thomas Darby (runner-up in Supreme) on his debut and he beat Itchy Feet (third) in a Grade 2 Supreme Trial last December. Both of those runs came at Cheltenham and he won again at the track before going on to win the Grade 1 Tolworth at Sandown. That race also worked out well with the runner-up Grand Sancy winning in open company in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle and Southfield Stone claiming the scalp of Angel’s Breath in a Grade 2 Dovecote at Kempton.
The Tizzards have reported he won’t be back until around Christmas. Off a mark of 153, it makes a lot of sense to aim him at a big handicap hurdle and the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap Hurdle (previously the Ladbroke) could be an option for him.
Henry de Bromhead
It was also a huge pity that a small setback ruled Honeysuckle out of Cheltenham last season because as the form transpired, she probably would have won the Mares' Novice Hurdle easily. That’s because she had the winner and third of that Festival race, Eglantine Du Seuil and Tintangle, well behind her when she absolutely bolted up in the Grade 1 Mares Novice Championship Final at Fairyhouse in April.
Although racing against her own sex, that rates as one of the best pieces of novice form on both sides of the Irish Sea last season. The runner-up Elfile went on to win comfortably at the Punchestown Festival and Eglantine Du Seuil, who was third at Fairyhouse, went on to fill that placing again when just three lengths away from Reserve Tank in the Champion Novice Hurdle, also at Punchestown.
Honeysuckle is an unbeaten four from four and has lots of scope to progress further. I’m not sure what route connections will go down but if she is staying over hurdles, the sky is the limit and a return to Fairyhouse for the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle would make a lot of sense given she has been impressive over that course and distance twice.
She is rated 150 which means she isn’t far away at all from the 160-rated Klassical Dream when you take a 7lb mares’ allowance into account. Willie Mullins’s horse is 7/2 for the Champion Hurdle and you can 40/1 about Honeysuckle.
Last season’s National Hunt Chase caused a lot of negative headlines and perhaps the effort of Jerrysback went a little under the radar. The J.P. McManus-owned chaser was all but brought down when Whisperinthebreeze fell in front of him at the 14th, the fence coming down the hill on the second time around. His rider Declan Lavery lost an iron and the pair were shuffled back to last place, having raced prominently up to then. For that reason it was remarkable that Jerrysback got himself back into the race and he looked to have as good a chance of any coming down the hill, racing alongside Discorama and the winner Le Breuil, before his early exertions kicked in and led to him finishing a distant third.
The seven-year-old recorded some smart form earlier in the season. He was only beaten a length and a half by Vinndication at Ascot and though disappointing when second to Castafiore in a Grade 2 at Haydock, he still ran with credit, given Le Breuil finished well behind him and the third Crucial Role bolted up his next start. The son of Jeremy has only had five starts over fences so remains open to further improvement, especially coming back in trip. He could have a big handicap chase in him off a mark of 147.
The coast could be clear for Min in the Champion Chase this season \Healy Racing
Even after winning the Melling Chase by a gaping 20 lengths, it must have been frustrating for Min’s connections, thinking of what could have been in the Champion Chase. At Cheltenham, in perhaps something of a desperate, try-anything attempt to thwart his life nemesis Altior, Min was held up with the aim of arriving later than usual and not set the race up for Nicky Henderson’s star. As it transpired, Min took an age to settle, pulled his chance away and Altior only just won, with his least impressive performance of the season.
At Aintree, Min was allowed to stride on and he showed the benefit of that by absolutely destroying Politologue - turning around that Champion Chase form to the tune of 30 lengths.
There has been talk of Min going up in trip this season but with Altior already confirmed to be doing just that, it would be bizarre to go follow him. The same connections have a Champion Chase possible in Chacun Pour Soi but his fragilities have been well documented and 14/1 about Min gaining an elusive Cheltenham Festival win over the two-mile distance look overly generous.
When Real Steel won the EMS Copiers Novice Handicap Chase at the Punchestown Festival, he was giving Willie Mullins back-to-back wins in the race. Twelve months earlier, the Irish champion jumps trainer won the same race with Kemboy and, while it may be dreaming to imagine Real Steel following a similar path to that stablemate this season, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that he could progress into a very good horse.
The French recruit was a highly-touted novice hurdler and was indeed sent off 11/4 for the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown, where he led at the last before falling alongside Sharjah. It has reportedly taken the horse a long time to get over that fall and indeed he started his chase career off in the worse possible fashion when falling again at Leopardstown. However since then he’s won three of his five starts, finished second in a Grade 1 and finished sixth in a crack renewal of the JLT Chase.
He saved his best for last at Punchestown where both he and Hardline, the two horses with Grade 1 form, easily conceded weight to a good handicap field, coming clear late on.
Real Steel was comfortably best on the day, and was actually winning off a 4lb higher mark than Kemboy the previous year. Owner Jared Sullivan has said the six-year-old is likely to go up in trip now, which will be interesting. He may also be better going right-handed, given all four of his wins have come going that direction.
Tom Lacey reported that Sebastopol had a lot of problems last season which explains why the son of Fame And Glory was only seen twice. Previously he won a Larkhill point-to-point by 15 lengths and had made a winning start to his track career in an Ayr bumper. This may be the first time Lacey has got a clean run with him and off a mark of 127, the five-year-old bolted up at Wincanton last Thursday. He recorded a very good time during that win, all of 10 seconds faster than two novice contests run over the same distance earlier on the card, of which the winners were carrying 10lb less. And that’s significant, because while Sebastopol was running in a handicap hurdle, he remains a novice, so he has the option of going into open company in that status.
In the meantime, he could go for the Greatwood Hurdle - he’s a 12/1 shot for that and with his lightly-raced profile, it’s not difficult to see him starting at a much shorter price if indeed that was the plan.
Sixshooter made a winning start to his hurdling career when accounting for You Raised Me Up at Punchestown last week and he looks worth following now. He travelled nicely through the race for Rachael Blackmore but was challenged by Martin Brassil’s horse in the straight and looked vulnerable heading to the last, before digging in and going on to win by just over a length. A four-year-old,he received a 5lb concession from the runner-up but that could be offset by the fact that he was conceding race fitness, so it was pleasing that he was able to stay on so well.
A son of Well Chosen, he won both of his two bumper starts last season and the form of each looks strong. He accounted for subsequent winners Soviet Pimpernel and Dewcup in a Leopardstown bumper in March and then the well-regarded The Big Getaway and Fury Road at the Punchestown Festival.
He is likely to go to Navan now and the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle, run over two and a half miles, could be a target.
It bodes well that Thomas Darby’s best two performances last season came at Cheltenham. The first was a three-length win over subsequent Grade 1 scorer Elixir De Nutz and the second was an excellent second to Klassical Dream in the Supreme Novice Hurdle, even more significant given Olly Murphy thinks he is a much better horse on a sounder surface. Klassical Dream boosted that form further at Punchestown and is now clear favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
Thomas Darby is set to go novice chasing and the Arkle is his long-term target which makes a lot of sense. A €160,000 Derby Sale purchase, he is a lightly-raced six-year-old that can progress through the season and odds of 20/1 make plenty appeal even at this early stage.
There must be a big prize in Tower Bridge this season off a mark of 143. Last seen in the Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase at Cheltenham, he was no match for runaway winner A Plus Tard that day but came through to finish a clear second on what was just his fourth ever run over fences. Previously, there was no shame in him finishing a 15-length second to subsequent Arkle winner Duc Des Genievres in a beginners chase at Gowran Park.
Both of those runs came over two and a half miles and he looks to be crying out for a step up in trip now. He was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles when taking the two-mile-six-furlong Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle, before going on to finish a close fifth to Kilbricken Storm in the Albert Bartlett and third to Santini in the three-mile Grade 1 at Aintree. He has bundles of scope to improve and races like the Troytown and Paddy Power Chase could be in the pipeline.