A Showcase of stars
The jumps season goes up a notch with The Showcase at Cheltenham and Will Hayler and Ian Ogg nominate 10 horses they're looking forward to seeing in action.
There are a host of interesting horses and potential stars entered for the two days of The Showcase at Cheltenham.
They include Duke Des Champs who was nominated by One Jump Ahead author Mark Howard as one of his six to follow for the season (click here to read why).
Here Ian Ogg and Will Hayler pick out 10 horses that are hoping to see in action over Friday and Saturday…
Two Taffs' loyal and impoverished finally got paid out at Ayr's Scottish National meeting in April after a couple of heartbreaking moments last season and he looks the type to continue his upward curve in the months ahead. Particularly unlucky when running right up a dead end in the big EBF Final at Sandown on his penultimate start, the form of his Ayr victory looks very strong and it's a little surprising that Dan Skelton isn't opting to stay in handicap company with his mark raised only a fair 9lb for that win. However, he starts the season only a little bit short of the standard required to line up in something like the Neptune Novices' Hurdle and perhaps that race might look even more realistic if he wins the contest of the same name on the Friday of this meeting,
A good part of the intrigue with West Approach is that he's a half-brother to Thistlecrack. It will be remarkable if he can achieve as much as his sibling but the early signs have been encouraging with a third place finish in a Grade Two at Cheltenham boding well for his prospects this season. He didn't win over obstacles until May so remains a novice for this season and his experience should stand him in good stead whether that be in novice company or handicaps. The form of his latest win has been well advertised by the runner-up, who has won twice since, including a Listed race, and there should be more races to be won with West Approach.
One of the stories of the summer has been the return to form of Tim Vaughan who is firmly on course to comfortably surpass his seasonal tally for the last two campaigns with 33 winners already under his belt. The trainer's record at Cheltenham is not one that he will want to dwell on and his six-year-old needs several to come out in order to get a run on Friday but he'll be if interest if he does make the cut. He showed modest ability in his first four starts but made a winning handicap debut at Wincanton and caught the eye in a valuable 0-150 at Newton Abbot behind Starchitect, rallying well after a late blunder (watch the replay here). He's from a good jumping family and looks more than capable of progressing through the ranks this winter.
Dan Skelton ran some of his better prospects at The Showcase last year and Asum could well be another. The subject of good reports prior to his debut at Warwick, he found Clondaw Cracker too strong by half a length but arguably should have won having been given plenty to do in a slowly run race (click here to watch the free replay). The third won next time to give the form some substance and it will be disappointing if this son of Kayf Tara can't make a significant impact over hurdles this season.
Not an awful lot went right for Cogry in his second season over fences. It all started well enough at Cheltenham in November but he failed to cope with barely raceable conditions in the Welsh National when sent off the 8/1 favourite. He then ran well enough over an inadequate trip at Warwick before finishing third in the Midlands National, a performance which is best summed up by the handicapper's decision to drop him by 2lbs to 134. That is a mark that the King's Theatre gelding looks more than capable of defying and there could well be improvement to come from a horse that is just seven years of age; he may yet be able to land the decent staying handicap his early efforts suggested that he was capable of.
Having spent most of last season banging his head against the best on unsuitably soft ground, Holywell returned to fom (far from unexpectedly) when second at the Cheltenham Festival and exitedly early in the Grand National when sent off at just 11/1, despite having nearly really looked the type to excel over those testing fences. It's hard to know what the plan might be this season but trainer Jonjo O'Neill has been in fair form over the summer (three winners from his last dozen runners) and the opportunity to line up in the softest handicap he has faced for some time on his ideal conditions might just see him fully revved up first time out this season in the three-mile one-furlong handicap chase that opens proceedings on Saturday.
Ran Cogry close in a staying chase at Warwick in February of 2015 so looks feasibly handicapped on 126 on that isolated piece of form while his early efforts in novice company over hurdles and fences promised plenty. His current mark is a reflection that not a lot has gone to plan subsequently and he was sold after showing very little on his last three starts last season. However, if new trainer Neil Mulholland can rekindle the spark then his new connections could have an awful lot of fun with this son of Presenting who is still lightly raced after just 13 career starts and it will be fascinating to see how he fares if lining up in the Pertemps qualifier.
The season ended in disappointment for Alan King's juvenile who failed to land a blow in the Triumph Hurdle or in the Grade One juvenile contest at Aintree. However, it;s too soon to forget the promise he showed in winning his first three starts and it is well worth remembering that the stable's horses were badly off colour in the spring months. It would be no surprise, therefore, to see a 'different' Sceau Royal this season and although connections will no doubt be hoping that they still have a graded horse on their hands, his handicap mark did drop to 139 from 144 and that looks to be a rating he should be able to take advantage of if he doesn't spoil it on Saturday.
I had Frodon earmarked for the Fred Winter following his British debut behind the progressive Solstice Star but it turned out that Paul Nicholls had another horse for the juvenile handicap and Frodon duly turned up in the Triumph after blowing his mark at Haydock. Nicholls has already earmarked the BetVictor Gold Cup as a potential early season target for the Nickname gelding who has jumped like an old hand in winning races at Newton Abbot and Fontwell. He's already rated 7lbs higher than he was over hurdles and clearly has a bright future over the larger obstacles.
There can't be anyone who doesn't hope that Nick Gifford unearths a good horse or two this season in order to help revive fortunes after a couple of tough years for the trainer. This gelding was bought at the John Ferguson dispersal at Doncaster Sales after just one run in a Cottenham point-to-point where he looked like going close until coming down two out. His dam Sissinghurst Flyer was a particular favourite of mine when a regular runner at Towcester and the other Midlands tracks for Robin Dickin a good few years ago and it would be lovely to think she could breed a really nice horse. According to Gifford's website, Sissinghurst is a chaser for the future, but hopefully he can run well enough in the bumper on Saturday to offer connections encouragement.
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