With the end of the British and Irish Flat turf season nearly upon us, we turn our attention instead to the incoming National Hunt season.
In what has been the weirdest of years, our flat season was squished into three or four months beginning in June and ending months behind schedule.
Now though, the jump season is all but here making it the perfect time to look forward to who could be the best horses we might want to be following over the next five months.
Here, then, in no particular order, are ten horses we have picked out to follow for the 20/21 National Hunt season.
Envoi Allen (Gordon Elliot)
If, as they say, all roads lead to Cheltenham, then we might very well wonder where Envoi Allen might line up come the greatest show on turf next March. One of the leading jumps horses over the last two years, Envoi Allen is now set to take on fences.
All hints, or to put it more clearly Gordon Elliot’s own suggestion, seem to be pointing to the Grade One Peter Marsh (Novices’ Chase over two miles and five furlongs) where he has quickly been installed as favourite despite his lack of experiences over fences.
This, we would have thought, would make him more likely to go in the 2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup in the long run.
Unbeaten so far, the future remains bright for Envoi Allen and his first test of the year will come in a two and a half miles beginner’s chase at Down Royal at the back end of October. From there, hopefully the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase awaits for this one to watch.
Shishkin (Nicky Henderson)
Another horse that looks very, very good for the upcoming season is Shishkin. Of course, that’s easy to say when speaking of last year’s winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Such a win puts him in very esteemed company indeed and Douvan and Altior, to name but two, both took down that very same Cheltenham Grade One before improving over fences, a route his trainer Nicky Henderson is keen to pursue this term with a possible stab at the Arkle.
Last term, he overcame a debut tumble to win three runs in a row at Newbury, Huntingdon and Prestbury Park to show that he can handle 2 mile plus and with his victorious Cheltenham run in the bag is another definite to watch out for.
Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead)
A winner in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle and the Cheltenham Festival’s Close Brothers Mares Hurdle last season, this mare is a must to be followed this time around.
In the above races, she saw off competition from the likes of Benie Des Dieux and Petit Mouchoir, while her unbeaten run now stetches to eight in eight which we would think has a while to run yet.
It seems as though she will be sticking to hurdles this time around which makes her likely to defend her Hatton’s Grace Hurdle crown at Fairyhouse, a course where five of her eight wins have been recorded.
Ultimately, what the aim come Cheltenham is we can’t say. Whether it will be it the Champion Hurdle or Stayers Hurdle or simply defending her Mares Hurdle title, the season will dictate that.
Either way, we’re sure it’ll be a good’un.
Thyme Hill (Philip Hobbs)
The Phillip Hobbs’ trained Thyme Hill won three in a row before Xmas collecting Newbury’s Grade One Challow Novices Hurdle over The Cashel Man by a length and a half.
Hurdles might well be the aim this time around, given his staying prowess and leaping ability. He was unlucky on occasion last year, chiefly the Grade One Albert Bartlett where a string of quality runners – Monkfish, Latest Exhibition and Fury Road – didn’t afford him the space to get in the mix. No real shame there.
Hobbs has said that the Stayers’ Hurdle is the likely Cheltenham target and who are we to argue.
Topofthegame (Paul Nicholls)
Unfortunately, leg injury cost Topofthegame an entire campaign last season, a real shame given his win in the RSA Chase at the 2019 Festival.
A year away from the turf means we can only use Nicholls’ assertion (hint, he is thrilled with the progress his charge has made) and his 2019 form to make a prediction. And, to be fair, that 2019 form was pretty sweet.
He began the year with a couple of near defeats, one of which came after he closed 25 yards, and the other in losing to La Bague Au Roi.
Then came the festival where he saw off challengers from the likes of Delta Work and Santini (below). Come Cheltenham this year, the Gold Cup should be the main target.
The Big Breakaway (Colin Tizzard)
Given just three races to do so, Colin Tizzard’s The Big Breakaway, half-brother of Kildisart, impressed over hurdles last term and looks likely to be moving on to fences this season.
Last year’s festival appearance came in the Ballymore Novices Hurdle where fourth place in a race won by Envoi Allen (above) was all this excellent, but ultimately disappointing, charge could deliver. This to be fair was not out of sync with the majority of his stable mates that week.
That run was preceded by winning runs at Chepstow, his maiden voyage, and again in the EBF Novices at Newbury over two and half miles where he perfectly demonstrated his class as a staying chaser, possibly as far as three miles.
Fiddlerontheroof (Colin Tizzard)
Do not be put off by his disappointing run in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last March where he came home 11th out of 15, Fiddlerontheroof never looked quite cut out for such a run.
Instead, Fiddlerontheroof looks every bit like a chaser as demonstrated by his rating of 152 over hurdles, this and his win in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle. A switch to fences seems to have been ordered as well as a step up to 2 mile 5.
Second in Sunday’s Norton’s Coin Cup Novices’ Chase over 2 mile 5 at Ffos Las will help in laying down a marker for the season ahead.
Third Time Lucki (Dan Skelton)
Fourth in the Champion Bumper behind Ferny Hollow, Appreciate It and Queens Brook last term carries no shame and in fact suggests Third Time Lucki could be a star of this winter’s novice hurdle ranks.
Last season in total, he went off four times, winning two, at Market Rasen and Huntingdon, and placing at Ascot on his debut before his charge at Cheltenham.
Likely, according to his trainer, to start off over two before moving on to two and half all going well, he is surely being geared up for a crack at the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the end of the season.
Sired by the German bred Arcadio, Third Time Lucki seems to enjoy soft underfoot conditions which should be plentiful over the winter and with a little more experience behind him could be real turf hero over the next few years.
Santini (Nicky Henderson)
Second in Cheltenham Gold Cup is not to be sneezed at and given the quality of winner Al Boum Photo and the fact that Santini pushed him all the way to the wire.
Such a run suggests that this is a horse of the upper most quality. It is almost certain that the Gold Cup will again be the targeted race.
The stablemate of Pipesmoker could even go in the Grand National but I wouldn’t count on it.
Either way, Santini is likely to be a front runner in whatever top staying chases his team enter him into this season.
Kimberlite Candy (JP McManus)
Finally, one for the Aintree lovers among you.
Likely to be on many Grand National 2021 shortlists, Kimberlite Candy came second in the Becher Chase back in December at Aintree before going one better in the McCoy Contractors Civil Engineering Classic Handicap Chase at Warwick.
That day in January, Kimberlite Candy powered over the line 10 lengths clear and if the Liverpool ground is soft enough come April then JP McManus’ runner could give Tiger Roll, who is making a return to flat before going over hurdles again, a real run for his money.