Racing journalist and blogger Stu 'Jimbo' Williams identifies 10 National Hunt horses to follow as the new season goes through the gears this week.
FERNY HOLLOW 4-y-o b/br g
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Envoi Allen carried the familiar red, white and blue silks of Cheveley Park Stud to victory on each of his four visits to the racetrack last season, culminating in Grade 1 success in the Cheltenham Festival bumper. Naturally the big-spending owners would love nothing more than to emulate that success in 2020, and in Ferny Hollow they may have a very lively contender.
This well-built son of Westerner led from pillar to post at Knockanard in February, where he displayed a high cruising speed and sizeable engine that saw him prevail in spite of some less than fluent leaps. The manner in which he took lengths out of his opponents between each fence was very pleasing on the eye, as was the way in which he bounded clear to record an impressive 15 lengths success after safety negotiating the final obstacle.
Harold Kirk was suitably impressed and readily bid £300,000 to secure the four-year-old on behalf of Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins, who would most certainly have been impressed by the pace that he displayed in a two-and-a-half-mile point-to-point - an asset that will undoubtedly serve him well in bumpers this season. The master trainer will also have been taken by the way in which he quickened clear and galloped all the way to the line, which indicates that he won't lack for stamina either. Ferny Hollow rates a top prospect in bumpers this winter.
GRANDADS COTTAGE 4-y-o ch g
Trainer: Olly Murphy
Grand National-winning owner John Hales has never been afraid of investing big money on winning pointers, and the prominent owner didn't flinch when taking out his chequebook and signing over £200,000 to secure this promising chestnut son of Shantou following a smooth six lengths victory at Portrush in March.
This promising four-year-old is a full brother to Cheltenham Festival runner-up Super Duty, who was a 148-rated chaser at his peak. Both John Hales and Olly Murphy will be hopeful that Grandads Cottage can emulate his sibling in the fullness of time, however, it would be no surprise to see him make a splash in both bumpers and novice hurdles in the meantime.
Grandads Cottage comfortably defeated a horse called Kilbrook in March, who made a hugely promising debut under rules when placing third behind the incredibly game Make Me A Believer at Chepstow two weeks ago. Hopefully Olly Murphy's new recruit can go two places better on his first visit to the racetrack this winter.
MASTER DEBONAIR 5-y-o br g
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
This exciting son of Yeats displayed a great deal of ability in bumpers last season, and he could easily develop into a graded novice hurdler over the minimum trip this winter.
Colin Tizzard is perhaps best known for his affinity with staying chasers, which is completely understandable given the exploits of Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River, King George hero Thistlecrack, and, of course, fan favourite Cue Card in recent years. However, the former dairy farmer turned top-class racehorse trainer is equally adept with young hurdlers, as proven by the top level victories of Finian's Oscar, Pingshou, Elixir De Nutz and Reserve Tank in recent times.
Master Debonair defeated recent Grade 2 Persian War Novices' Hurdle scorer Thyme Hill in Listed company at Cheltenham last season and a glance at his form would would suggest that he is seen to best effect on decent ground, which allows him to utilise his potent turn of foot. Therefore, he it one to keep on-side when the sun is shining.
ASK FOR GLORY 5-y-o b g
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Paul Nicholls had only saddled one runner in the last eight renewals of the Champion Bumper prior to March, which is a ringing endorsement for Ask For Glory and Flic Ou Voyou, who both represented the champion trainer in this year's contest. The latter made a pleasing hurdling debut at Chepstow two weeks ago, however, the former is arguably the more exciting of the duo given the ability that he displayed prior to Cheltenham.
This promising son of Fame And Glory sauntered to a bloodless 10 lengths success on his solitary start between that flags at Bartlemy last year, and he looked just as exciting when comfortably forging clear of seven rivals on soft ground at Chepstow in December. It is yet to be determined whether the five-year-old is ground dependent, however, it is safe to say that he enjoys winter ground and he should therefore find plenty of opportunities in which to excel.
The master of Dicheat does not tend to over-face his novice hurdlers - especially those whom he considers to be top class chasing prospects. However, this scopey individual can still make his presence felt in good company this winter, and the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Registered As The Prestige Novices' Hurdle) may prove an ideal target given the likely ground at Haydock during February.
BREWIN'UPASTORM 6-y-o b g
Trainer: Olly Murphy
This highly promising six-year-old is one of the more commonly known names amongst this list following his smart efforts in Grade 1 company at both Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring. However, I simply couldn't leave him out as I feel that the transition to fences will allow him to finally fulfil his undoubted potential.
Brewin'Upastorm has been held in high regard from the very moment that he crossed the line in front at Quakerstown in April 2017, and although he only managed to register one success over timber last season, he did accumulate plenty of rock solid form against horses such as Champ, Getaway Trump, City Island and Reserve Tank.
Olly Murphy has a number of nice prospects to go chasing with this winter, including Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up Thomas Darby. However, connections have been waiting for the day that this exciting son of Milan jumps a fence in public, and I am very optimistic that they will not be disappointed.
TWO FOR GOLD 6-y-o b g
Trainer: Kim Bailey
This promising son of Gold Well has always looked at chaser in the making and can hopefully develop into an above average novice this winter.
It's not often that Kim Bailey elects to debut those in his care at Grade 2 level, however, the Cotswolds based handler saw fit to pitch Two For Gold into such company on his hurdling debut last term, and he was far from disgraced when finishing fourth - beaten a shade over 4 lengths - behind subsequent Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle scorer Elixir De Nutz.
The six-year-old won his next two starts at Wetherby and Bangor before disappointing on his handicap debut at Sandown in March. However, that experience will not be lost on Two For Gold and he has the size and scope to make his presence felt in staying novice chases this winter.
HUMBLE HERO 5-y-o b g
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Dan Skelton once again demonstrated his prowess for landing valuable handicaps when saddling Flash The Steel to land the Grade 3 Silver Trophy at Chepstow two weeks ago, and this promising youngster caught the eye when placing third behind the hugely exciting Getaway Trump in competitive handicap company at Sandown on the final day of last season.
The promising son of High Chaparral was the chosen mount of Harry Skelton in Esher, which is interesting given that the aforementioned Flash The Steel (fifth) also represented team Skelton. To run so well in such deep waters on just his fourth start over hurdles is highly encouraging indeed, and it provides sufficient reason for optimism that he can improve with both that experience and a nice long summer at grass under his belt.
The strong travelling five-year-old is open to any amount of improvement after just four starts over hurdles and the manner in which he stayed-on doggedly up the testing Sandown hill demonstrated both his sound attitude and determined nature. Therefore, he has the required characteristics to develop into a solid handicap hurdler this winter.
WAR BRIGADE 5-y-o b g
Trainer: Ian Williams
Ian Williams and The Dttw Partnership enjoyed a hugely productive season with First Assignment in 2018/19 and they may be able to replicate that success with War Brigade this winter.
The promising son of Manduro achieved a respectable level of form in just four outings last winter, placing second twice and beating a subsequent dual scorer at Market Rasen in December. His runner-up effort behind subsequent Supreme Novices' Hurdle second Thomas Darby at Taunton was particularly eye-catching, and although Olly Murphy's charge wouldn't have been firing on all cylinders that day, there certainly wasn't 27lbs difference between the pair as the official ratings would suggest.
War Brigade was shade disappointing when encountering vastly more experienced rivals on his final outing last term, however, the experience will not be lost on him and I have a suspicion that there is plenty more to come from this dual-purpose performer when stepping up in trip.
SPIRITOFTHEGAMES 7-y-o b g
Trainer: Dan Skelton
Spiritofthegames picked up valuable experience in competitive handicap company during his first season over fences, and he is most certainly in the right hands to profit from that this term.
The classy seven-year-old improved markedly in his second season over hurdles, placing second in the Listed Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton and third in the ultra-competitive Betfair Hurdle at Newburyprior to a solid fifth placed effort in the 2018 County Hurdle. If Spiritofthegames can find even a fraction of that improvement in second season over fences then he should be very competitive off his current rating - especially after undergoing wind surgery during the summer.
Dan Skelton's charge ran with great credit behind classy operators such as La Bague Au Roi, Lostintranslation, Kildisart and Siruh Du Lac last term, and he is certainly one to follow in competitive handicaps this winter. He is set to reappear in the BetVictor Gold Cup at Cheltenham next month - a contest in which he is likely to prove popular after making a successful reappearance in each of the last three seasons.
WHITE MOON 7-y-o gr g
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
This scopey son of Sholokhov was highly touted heading into his novice chase campaign but was ultimately disappointing and indeed costly to follow. However, I feel that he could have a much more productive second season over fences if granted the right set of circumstances.
The seven-year-old's solitary success last term came in a two-miles-one-furlong novice chase at Exeter when sent off the 4/6 favourite, and I was somewhat puzzled to see that his both of his subsequent outings came over three miles - when placing fourth of four and fourth of seven at Warwick and Kempton respectively.
While there is clearly stamina in his breeding, I have a sneaky suspicion that the giant grey may be seen to best effect over trips ranging from two to two-and-a-half-miles, where he could bounce out in front and put his bold jumping and stamina to good use. Both his victory between the flags and his solitary chasing success last term were achieved in such a manner, and a mark of 137 may prove lenient if granted the above mentioned circumstances.