With Christmas nearly upon us, we are down to the business end of the National Hunt season. In 2015, we have both the Cheltenham Festival and the Grand National to entertain us. As has been the case for the past 19 years, it seems a certainty that AP McCoy will be claiming the Champion Jockey title – he’s currently 58 wins ahead of second-place Richard Johnson. The betting suggests that Paul Nicholls should be named Champion Trainer for the ninth time in his storied career.
Thankfully, this is horse racing and, although we agree that jockeys and trainers get commended for their work, it doesn’t bother us too much. The horses is where we take an interest. They are the ones that win us money. So which horses should you look out for at the turn of the year?
You shouldn’t look much further than Vautour in the upcoming years. The five-year-old has enjoyed a stellar year, winning both the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and the Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in May.
With another win coming this November, it is clear that Vautour is in fantastic shape; when you are from Willie Mullins’ stable you wouldn’t expect anything less. With Ruby Walsh in the saddle, Vautour is very much a force to be reckoned with. Walsh can put his injury-plagued season behind him and get back to winning ways with this horse.
A fantastic horse, combined with a phenomenal trainer and a brazen jockey really make backing Vautour a no brainer. It is already the red hot favourite to win the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham 2015, which should tell you all you need to know about this horse.
Jonjo O’Neill will certainly have the Gold Cup on his radar next year. After tasting success back in 2012 with Synchronised, he will be hoping that Holywell can do the same.
Last season, the horse was campaigned at a low level for most, however, a head-turning performance at Cheltenham – the horse clung on to win the Grade 3 handicap Pertemps Final (3m 1/2f) – and victory in Mildmay Chase at Aintree – a race which saw him beat novice rivals like O’Faolains Boy, the winner of the RSA Chase – got people’s attention.
The Aintree race showed the pedigree of the horse’s jumping capabilities, barely putting a hoof wrong from for 3m 1f. Also, with McCoy in the saddle, the sky really is the limit; here is a jockey who can squeeze every last drop out of a horse. The Gold Cup betting is wide open right now; there is no horse clearly out in front. Holywell can jump like the best of them and right now offers tremendous value in the Gold Cup betting.
Another from the impressive Mullins stable, Briar Hill announced itself magnificently at Cheltenham this year, winning the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdles (3m). Mullins also admitted earlier in 2014 that he has high hopes for the horse.
However, what really makes Briar Hill is not his Cheltenham performance, but his performances at tracks all over the UK. In sum, Briar Hill manages to sustain his success phenomenally. In the gelding’s race career, he has won five of his six races.
Briar Hill has the stature, build, mentality and scope to become one of the dominant forces in chasing type and will be key in Mullins’ plans. If his jumping can hold over larger obstacles, he may just take high rank in the novice chasing.
A Vos Gardes
Hopes are rightly high for four-year-old A Vos Gardes. The French gelding races out of C E Longsdon paddock and really could be on the way to the top. In his debut in 2013, the horse showed brilliant aptitude and mental strength to get the better of Foryourinformation – a horse that won in its next outing – to claim victory in Bangor.
Even a penalty at Ascot in February could not stop him from finishing first. While in his most recent race, Southampton in November, it placed a respectable third out of 14. The bigger tests will be faced in the upcoming months.
Will A Vos Gardes be able to handle the longer distance and the bigger obstacles? Gut instinct says yes. Here is a plucky horse that has shown great mental attributes over the past 12 months. It has pace to burn and hasn’t looked too bad over the jumps.