The Great British summer is now but a distant memory as the nights grow longer and autumn takes hold, which can mean only one thing: another National Hunt season is upon us. There will be thrills aplenty in 2016/17, but this season promises to be even greater than the last on the back of rule changes at Cheltenham and increasing prize pots. Here we run through five horses to keep tabs on in the jumps season:
The bay gelding has been an absolute sensation since he blitzed the field in his debut at Gowran Park in November 2014, when he annihilated Sizing John in a novices’ hurdle. Douvan was the best novice around and continued destroying his opponents in steeplechases. He embarked on a magnificent 13-race winning streak that included the Paddy Power Cashcard Chase and the Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase.
His record against Sizing John stands at seven wins and zero defeats. But disaster struck for Douvan in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2017 as the French thoroughbred suffered a broken pelvis, finished seventh, lost his unbeaten status and was forced onto the sidelines. He has not been seen since, while Sizing John has gone on to become the star of the show, winning a trio of Gold Cups. Would he have done so if Douvan were around? Probably not.
Trainer Willie Mullens is positive about Douvan’s chances of returning to his best this season and he is expected to be thrust back into the fold this autumn.
Harry Fry has a stable packed with emerging talent this season and a real standout is Bullionaire, who produced an electrifying performance to win a competitive novices’ hurdle last season. Now four years old and a big runner, Bullionaire has fantastic potential and can really build on his victory in the Goffs UK Spring Sales Bumper at Newbury, his only start to date. He is expected to emerge as a key presence over hurdles this season and you can safely say he will be in the mix in extended trips in 2017/18.
This five-year-old chestnut gelding won all three races in devastating fashion in his debut season and is tipped for big things this time around. The son of Germany and Saddler’s Hall started to justify his £335,000 price tag with an easy victory on his debut and followed it up with another at Navan. But he saved the best for last as he romped clear at Fairyhouse to seize victory by an astonishing 17 lengths. He is another big horse and looks set to develop into a really fantastic chaser. If his stamina holds up, he will be formidable.
The Worlds End
The bay gelding is six years old now and already a household name among punters, but he can really kick on this season. He won his bumper at Chepstow two seasons ago and then lit up the 2016/17 campaign with four wins from five races for Tom George. The one blip was the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, where he was travelling well but fell at the penultimate fence. He recovered in sensational fashion, however, to claim the Group 1 Sefton Novice’s Hurdle at Aintree. He could be in the mix for the Stayers’ Hurdle this season and looks to be a wonderful prospect.
JP McManus wisely added Red Jack to his roster after a hugely impressive debut win at Naas in January, which saw him beat Debuchet. He followed that up with victory in another bumper at Fairyhouse, where he beat the highly-rated Dinnons. He was not risked at Cheltenham last season, but he is certain to be thrust into the limelight this time around as he is such an exciting prospect. It could pay to follow him as a novice hurdler this season, and a stamina test will be in the offing at some point.