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Five to follow

The 2017/18 National Hunt season has been smouldering away in the background for a few weeks now, a mere warm glow behind the fireworks that Enable and Cracksman and Aidan O’Brien have been generating on the Flat.  Before very long, however, the National Hunt kindling will generate the winter blaze, and here are five horses who may fan the flames as the season develops. 

Road To Respect (Noel Meade)

Road To Respect was a highly progressive novice chaser last season.  Winner of his beginners’ chase on his first attempt over fences at Naas last November, he ran some good races in defeat before going to the Cheltenham Festival in March and winning the big two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase.  Then he came back to Fairyhouse in April and beat Yorkhill in the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.

The Gigginstown House horse was undoubtedly aided by Yorkhill’s left-leaning tendencies at right-handed Fairyhouse that day, but he still battled back well from the final fence to get up and win by a neck over a distance that was probably shorter than ideal.  Stepped up to three miles on his debut this season at Punchestown 10 days ago, he put up a nice performance to win the Grade 3 Irish Daily Star Chase, when he had 160+ rated horses Sub Lieutenant and Minella Rocco and Carlingford Lough behind him.

It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Noel Meade’s horse could morph into a Gold Cup contender this season.  He has to improve significantly in order to do so, but he has the potential to do that.  He is only six years old, and there is no telling how high these six-year-old staying chasers can go when they start to improve.  Sizing John and Kicking King and War Of Attrition were all merely six-year-olds with potential five months before they won their respective Gold Cups. 

Road To Respect stays three miles, goes on good ground and is proven at the Cheltenham Festival and, a three-parts brother to the Noel Meade/Gigginstown House horse Road To Riches, who finished third in the Gold Cup in 2015, even if he does not prove to be good enough for the Blue Riband, it should still be worth following him through the season.

Coney Island (Eddie Harty)

Like Road To Respect, Coney Island is a six-year-old staying chaser who is bursting with potential.

A progressive staying novice hurdler two seasons ago, JP McManus’ horse ran just three times last season.  Second in his beginners’ chase at Punchestown in November, he stepped forward significantly from that to win the Grade 1 Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse in December.  Then he ran a cracker to finish a close-up second to Our Duke in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, when a more fluent round of jumping might have seen him home. 

That form looks even better now than it did then, with Our Duke going on to win the Irish Grand National, and third-placed Disko winning the Grade 1 Flogas Chase at Leopardstown in February and the Grade 1 Growise Chase at Punchestown in April. 

From the family of Wichita Lineman and Rhinestown Cowboy, the Eddie Harty-trained gelding stays well and jumps well and has a touch of class.  He goes on good ground and he goes on soft ground, and he will be of interest in all the top staying chases.

Total Recall (Willie Mullins)

Total Recall improved significantly on anything that he had done before in winning the JT McNamara Munster National at Limerick three weeks ago on his debut for Willie Mullins.

Strong in the market all day, he jumped well for Ruby Walsh as he made his way stealthily through his field, avoiding the fallers along the way.   He and Alpha Des Obeaux came clear from the top of the home straight, but Total Recall appeared to always have the measure of Mouse Morris’ horse, and he stayed on strongly to win impressively.

The handicapper raised him by 18lb for that win, which was not insignificant, but he still may be better than his current rating of 147.  He could be a horse for the Ladbrokes Trophy (the old Hennessy Gold Cup) at Newbury in early December, but he will be of interest in any of the big staying handicap chases that he contests now. 

Charbel (Kim Bailey)

Winner of two of his three bumpers for Tom Mullins in the spring of 2015, and a progressive novice hurdler two seasons ago, Charbel continued his progression last season over fences. 

He beat Le Prezien and Top Notch on his chasing bow at Uttoxeter last October and, second to the mighty Altior in the Henry VIII Chase at Sandown in December, he was in the process of giving Nicky Henderson’s horse a real race in the Arkle at Cheltenham in March when he came down at the second last fence.

A bold-jumping front-runner who likes to race aggressively, Kim Bailey’s horse is effective over two miles, but he would also be interesting going out in trip to two and a half, which might not be a bad plan anyway, with the monsters Altior and Douvan swimming in the deep two-mile waters.

Sutton Place (Gordon Elliott)

Winner of his bumper and of two of his three hurdle races two seasons ago, the plan to send Sutton Place over fences last season was postponed because he was just a little late coming in.  He spent another season over hurdles, winning a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 contest before being pulled up in the Grade 1 Champion Stayers Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. 

That was worrying at the time but, built to jump fences, he is reportedly fine now and all set to embark on his chasing career.  He has plenty of pace, four of his five wins to date have been over two miles, but it may be that he will excel over staying trips, and he could take a high rank among the top staying novice chasers this season. 

© The Sunday Times, 29th October 2017