Ed Chamberlin: Art the value
Ed Chamberlin reflects on returning to broadcasting in front of the ITV cameras and has five horses to follow this season.
Minella Rocco: Could develop into a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse
It's been a long five months since I broadcast from the car park during the bomb scare at Old Trafford and then presented the re-arranged fixture between Manchester United and Bournemouth two days later. Therefore it was great to get back in front of the camera as the ITV team did a test day at the Showcase meeting at Cheltenham.
It was an invaluable experience for me having never presented live racing before and re-affirmed what an excellent team the ITV hierarchy have put together both in front and behind the camera.
There's a lot still to be done before January 1st but it's a hugely exciting challenge.
I'm really looking forward to returning to Cheltenham this weekend for three of the most entertaining days of the year. I've already backed Art Mauresque each way in the showpiece on Saturday. He was sixth in the race last year as a five-year-old novice and it was interesting to hear Paul Nicholls say this week he's a much better horse this time around. He won at Chepstow last month despite looking in need of the race and is one in the field guaranteed to thrive on a sound surface.
With the Melbourne and Breeders' Cup done and dusted it's all eyes on the jumpers now and the season steps up another gear this weekend.
Great stories look guaranteed through the winter. Nicholls has come flying out of the blocks and made a huge statement in the trainers' championship. The defending champ means business. I'm very much looking forward to visiting his Ditcheat yard with the ITV team in a couple of weeks time.
In Ireland, Joseph O'Brien is set to make a major splash especially with his JP McManus owned battalions, with which he made a flying start at Fairyhouse on Monday.
Headlines will be made by the Gigginstown horses that left Willie Mullins and the success of their new trainers. Valseur Lido certainly made a big impression on Sunday.
Closutton have had some wretched luck over the last few days. The loss of Vautour must have been devastating. What a wonderful horse he was. Vautour's performance in the JLT at the Festival was the most breathtaking performance and round of jumping I have ever seen at Cheltenham.
Despite the setbacks for Team Mullins, the yard remains the National Hunt powerhouse and in compiling a list of horses to follow I could have got all ten from Mullins' yard. On our recent recent visit it was hard not to to be blown away by their wealth of talent. Annie Power is the star and it still looks impossible for any horse to give her 7lbs in a Champion Hurdle. The same probably applies to Vroum Vroum Mag who looks set to play the 'super sub' role and step in over hurdles or fences if any of the big guns pick up an injury. Both are very, very special.
Here are my first five to follow over the next few weeks and months:-
1. Minella Rocco
33/1 for the Timico Gold Cup makes plenty of a appeal. Minella Rocco could be a monster. He's the one horse AP McCoy said he would miss when he hung up his saddle and the way he finished his campaign at the Festival confirmed AP's thoughts/fears.
The National Hunt Chase looked a really good race and I'd put money on it working out better than the RSA. Native River (2nd) and Vicente (5th) have already given the form major boosts.
After struggling in deep ground during the winter the penny finally dropped with Minella Rocco and he's now open to a stack of improvement. He has the size and scope, plus is in the right hands, to go right to the top over fences.
2. Noble Endeavor
The unlucky horse in the four miler was Noble Endeavor. He was making stealthy headway until coming down two from home. It would not surprise me if he was given a similar campaign to Cause Of Causes last season, which culminates in glory in the Kim Muir at the Festival.
3. Messir Des Obeaux
Sceau Royal is rapidly becoming one of my favourite horses in training. What a terrier he is and he can scale even greater heights in our Champion Hurdle trials if the Irish stay at home. Like so many Alan King horses, Sceau Royal was wrong for the Festivals last season and has returned a different horse. As a result of that bad luck in March and April, King now has the fortune of some well handicapped horses in the yard and he's the trainer to follow over the next few weeks, notably with Winter Escape in the Greatwood on Sunday.
As well as Sceau Royal, Team Munir/Souede have an exciting recruit with Alan King called Messire Des Obeaux. A big rangey juvenile hurdler last season he showed a great deal of promise on his UK debut at Haydock and then in the Fred Winter when he figured prominently for a long way before finishing a creditable 7th. He's one for the future but more immediately makes considerable appeal off 128 to break his maiden tag at Bangor tomorrow.
Highclere are normally associated with high class flat horses but speaking to Harry Herbert recently at Newmarket it was obvious about his excitement for Whatduhavtoget. She won a heavy ground point-to-point in Ireland in February and the bolted up on her hurdling debut for the Skeltons last month. They clearly think a lot of her and there are a stack of races to be won with Whatduhavtoget before a possible tilt at the mares' novice hurdle at the Festival in March.
If Altior is the new star, Jenkins is the buzz horse at Seven Barrows. He's my long term fancy to follow in the former's footsteps and win the 2017 Sky Bet Supreme. I'm still not sure how Jenkins was beaten in the Punchestown Bumper in April. I am sure he was the best horse in that race. Jenkins is a gelding by one of my all-time favourites Azamour, is held in the highest regard and clearly has bags of speed.
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