Donn's Articles » Six To Follow

Six To Follow

You know that the National Hunt season is upon you when the stable tours are with Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins, and when you see maiden hurdles and beginners’ chases at Punchestown. 

And it stretches out before us now, from the Charlie Hall Chase and the Champion Chase at Down Royal and Cheltenham’s Open meeting and Punchestown’s Morgiana Hurdle meeting to the Hennessy Gold Cup and the John Durkan Chase all the way through the Christmas Festivals and around to Cheltenham and Fairyhouse and Aintree and Punchestown next spring.  Here are six horses who could be a big part of the journey.

Diamond King (Trainer: Gordon Elliott)

Diamond King was a nicely progressive hurdler last season, his first season with Gordon Elliott.  Beaten on his first two runs for his new trainer, he stepped forward at Punchestown last January, when he was impressive in beating subsequent Ascot Stakes winner Jennies Jewel.  Then he stepped forward again when he went to the Cheltenham Festival in March and landed the Coral Cup.

Always a steeplechaser in waiting, Diana Whateley’s horse was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase on his chasing bow at Galway 12 days ago.  Relatively weak in the market beforehand, he travelled really well for Davy Russell, and his jumping was superb for a debutant.  He eased to the front at the final fence and came clear around the home turn and up the hill under his motionless rider.  It was a seriously impressive performance.

His trainer said afterwards that he would probably give the King’s Theatre gelding a small break now, bring him back for the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in early December, and he should be a big player in the Drinmore.  Looking further ahead, the fact that he is a Cheltenham Festival winner means that it is not unrealistic to think Cheltenham thoughts, with the JLT Chase and the RSA Chase both legitimate targets.

Zabana (Andrew Lynch)

Cheltenham has not been a hugely happy hunting ground for Zabana.  At the 2015 Festival, he was beaten a neck by Aux Ptit Soins in the Coral Cup after running his heart out from the front.  Then last March, he was hampered when the tapes went up in the JLT Chase and he dislodged his rider.

But we know that Chris Jones’ horse is a high-class performer.  Third behind Jezki and Hurricane Fly in the World Series Hurdle at the 2015 Punchestown Festival on his final run over hurdles, he was impressive in winning a good beginners’ chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival last year on his debut over fences.  Then, on his final run last season, he went back to Punchestown and landed the Grade 1 Growise Champion Novice Chase under a silk-smooth ride from Davy Russell, proving that he could stay three miles at the highest level.

At his best on goodish ground, the Andy Lynch-trained gelding will have to step up again if he is to join the top echelons of staying chasers, but there is every chance that he will.  He is only seven and he has raced just four times over fences, so he has lots of scope for progression, and he could be flying a little under the radar for now.


One Track Mind (Warren Greatrex)

One Track Mind was a nicely progressive staying hurdler last season, he finished second behind Reve De Sivola in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock in February, and he stepped forward from that to land the Grade 1 Champion Stayers’ Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in April. 

Trainer Warren Greatrex has always maintained that he was a chaser in-waiting and, if he jumps his fences as well as he jumps his hurdles, he could make up into a high-class chaser.  He is only six, and he could take a high rank among the staying novice chasers this season.


Killultagh Vic (Willie Mullins)

Killultagh Vic is a longer-term project.  Trainer Willie Mullins says that he will not be seen out until the second half of the season, but the wait could be worthwhile. 

The Old Vic gelding battled on well up the hill to land the Martin Pipe Hurdle at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, and he stepped forward from that to land the Grade 1 three-mile novices’ hurdle at the 2015 Punchestown Festival, beating Thistlecrack into second place in a thriller, the pair of them clear of Shaneshill and Sub Lieutenant.  That is top class form.

He shaped really well as a chaser last season too, he was impressive in winning his beginners’ chase at Fairyhouse in December, and then there was that remarkable recovery by him and Ruby Walsh in a Grade 2 contest at Leopardstown in January, when they sprawled at the final fence, yet still got back up to beat Blair Perrone by three parts of a length. 

We haven’t seen Killultagh Vic since then, but he is still a young horse who has time on his side.  He has class, he has pace, he has stamina, he is a super jumper of fences and he has Cheltenham Festival-winning form.  All going well, he could be a major player in the latter half of the season.


Identity Thief (Henry de Bromhead)

Identity Thief was well beaten behind Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last March, but he had proven before that, with his Fighting Fifth Hurdle win and his big run in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, that he was a top class hurdler.

Trainer Henry de Bromhead is dynamite with chasers, and there is every chance that Identity Thief could make up into an even better chaser than he was a hurdler.  The Gigginstown House horse made his debut over fences yesterday at Punchestown in a beginners’ chase that de Bromhead won last year with Sizing John, and Identity Thief could use that as a springboard to bigger things.


Sutton Place (Gordon Elliott)

Unusually, Sutton Place won his bumper at Fairyhouse last season after he had run a cracker in belying odds of 50/1 to finish third in a maiden hurdle at Navan on his racecourse debut.

JP McManus’ horse moved on from that to win a listed novices’ hurdle at Naas in March, then went to the Fairyhouse Irish Grand National meeting and landed a Grade 2 contest, getting back up to beat Royal Caviar after making a significant error at the final flight.  

He is another who is going steeplechasing and, still just five and with bags of potential, he could be one of the more exciting recruits to the chasing ranks this season.


© The Sunday Times, 23rd October 2016