Wizard to cast spell
One Jump Ahead author Mark Howard with several horses to follow this season.
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Nicky Henderson claimed his first trainer's title since the 1986/87 campaign last season. Not surprisingly, the head of Seven Barrows is short odds to retain it this winter and arguably his most exciting novice hurdler is the once raced WEST WIZARD.
A French bred gelded son of King's Theatre, he beat two subsequent winners by upwards of six lengths in a Kempton bumper during the spring and looks Supreme Novice Hurdle material.
Look out for stablemate CLEAN SHEET, too. Successful in his sole Irish point for Enda Bolger, the Oscar gelding won by four lengths at Dromahane in March before being acquired by champion owner J.P.McManus. A half-brother to Nelsons Bridge, he was mightily impressive according to the best pointing judges and looks a 'Saturday' horse in the making.
Paul Nicholls may have relinquished his crown but there is no shortage of firepower at Ditcheat. The seven times champion is particularly keen on the prospects of JUST A PAR now his attentions are turned to chasing.
An expensive purchase in November, he finished runner-up on both his starts over hurdles for Nicholls, including in Grade One company at Aintree. A point and hurdle winner in Ireland, he was acquired with chasing in mind and looks one for the RSA Chase at the Festival.
Alan King endured a wretched first half of last season but rounded off the campaign with a flourish, claiming victories at Cheltenham, Aintree and a Scottish National win. The Barbury Castle based handler will surely have the RSA Chase on his mind, too, for the 144 rated TWO ROCKERS.
A three times winner over timber last term, he found conditions too quick at the Cheltenham Festival in March. Soft ground may be a necessity for the six year old but he looks sure to take high rank amongst the staying novice chasers.
Donald McCain will once again fly the flag for the north and he is looking forward to sending the unbeaten DIAMOND KING over hurdles. Twice a winner at Wetherby and Bangor, he won his bumpers by an aggregate of 35 lengths. A €95,000 buy, the son of King's Theatre is expected to start off over the minimum trip but is likely to come into his own over further. He is another with Festival apsirations.
Another northern novice hurdler to keep tabs on is OSCAR ROCK. A dual bumper winner for Harry Fry last season, his form is outstanding having won a Listed event at Newbury by eight lengths. He beat the subsequent first three home in the Grade 2 Aintree championship bumper. Unfortunately for Harry Fry, the former pointer has joined Malcolm Jefferson since. No Refuge (2005) and Peddlers Cross (2010) have provided the North with Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle glory this century - the five year old could make it three in March.
Willie Mullins looks all set to rule the roost in Ireland, once again, with an embarrassment of riches in all divisions. The likes of Hurricane Fly, Mikael D'Haguenet, Quevega and Sir Des Champs were all bought in France.
One of his latest acquisitions from across the English Channel is the former Guillaume Macaire trained VAUTOUR. A four year old by Robin Des Champs, he will be sporting the famous pink silks of Rich Ricci this winter. He may be an unfamiliar name at present but that will have changed by the spring.
Mark Howard is the author of One Jump Ahead and a regular pundit on Racing UK.
This year's edition of One Jump Ahead is now available to buy from www.mhpublications.co.uk priced £7.99.
It includes stable interviews with Gordon Elliott, Harry Fry, Nicky Henderson, Philip Hobbs, Alan King, Donald McCain, Paul Nicholls, David Pipe, Keith Reveley Lucinda Russell and Evan Williams as well as the Top 40 Prospects for the new season, Anthony Bromley's best buys, horses switching from the flat to jumps and the pick of the former Irish pointers.