Irish expert TONY KEENAN with the list he’ll be keeping a close eye on
Tony Keenan gives his top ten to follow this winter
Last season’s National Hunt horses to follow list said plenty about the attritional nature of the winter pastime with three of the ten – Articulum,Blow By Blow and Killultagh Vic – failing to make the track at any time during 2016/17. There were some stars in there, notably Apple’s Jade who retains her spot on the team and Death Duty, though the real pick of the bunch was probably Swamp Fox who went on a winning spree this past summer.
His successes came beyond the remit of the article however with the ten horses registering 13 wins from 35 starts (a 37% strikerate) during the Jumps season proper through the end of Punchestown with a level-stakes loss of 3.4 points. Let’s hope to get that back in profit this time and more importantly that they all actually get to race.
ACAPELLA BOURGEOIS (7yo,W Mullins)
That a horse will improve for the switch to Willie Mullins, regardless of the previous trainer, is basically a given so it seems reasonable to assume Acapella Bourgeois will step up on his official rating of 149 achieved with Sandra Hughes last season. Mullins has already improved Total Recall from the same source, winning the Munster National on his first start for the yard, and this second horse from the Slaneyville Syndicate has even more scope as a seven-year-old with just seven chase starts.
In fact, Mullins will rarely have acquired a horse with more potential and top-level chases seem a sensible aim with a horse that loves soft and heavy ground which he will get plenty of in Ireland over the winter. He probably isn’t a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse given his ground preferences but the pair of Grade 1 chases at Leopardstown look made for him and you never know with Mullins; he seems to be able to walk on water at times so perhaps he can get this one to handle good-to-soft!
APPLE’S JADE (5yo, G Elliott)
Apple’s Jade is an obvious one but a very good one, never out of the first two in 12 career starts and a five-time Grade 1 winner. She can continue to win races for mares all winter but she is included here in the hope that she could go for a Stayers’ Hurdle. Where a trainer like Willie Mullins might be happy to keep her to her own sex, Gigginstown tend to be more aggressive in their campaigning.
She achieved something that isn’t common last season in going from juvenile hurdles to winning open Grade 1s which wasn’t the greatest surprise as she had more scope than the typical four-year-old hurdler being unraced on the flat. Her wellbeing was confirmed in a winning return in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan and I think she can improve even further if her stamina is drawn out with the Thursday of the Festival hopefully the ultimate aim.
ARTICULUM (7yo, T O’Brien)
While he may be near the top of this list, Articulum was the last horse included as we simply didn’t know anything of his wellbeing until mid-November but following a return win at Cork he has to go back on the team along with Apple’s Jade. All my comments about him last year still apply; he is likely to be underrated as he is from a small but capable yard and he
looked a really good staying prospect in winning a pair of bumpers over two miles three furlongs.
With that in mind, I thought he would find the minimum distance too sharp on his first run in 18 months but on the contrary he simply blew his rivals away to win a maiden hurdle by 35 lengths. The softheavy ground likely suited as it played to his stamina while the opposition weren’t up to much but he defied a market drift and could not have been more impressive.His trainer said the Cork maiden had been his aim for nearly two months so things had gone to plan and if he remains sound graded novice hurdles look the next portof-call.
DISKO (6yo, N Meade)
Last season’s novice chasers were a particularly strong crop with the likes of Our Duke, Might Bite and Yorkhill rightly getting most of the plaudits. But while the first-named flopped on debut and is out injured,Disko is a straightforward sort that returned to the track with a victory and could be underrated. It is easy to hold Noel Meade’s Festival record against the horse but his runners there in 2017 all did well and Disko too put up a decent effort when third in the JLT over a trip too sharp and under a ride that didn’t bring his stamina into play.
His win at Punchestown was excellent as was his return at Down Royal when the vibes about his fitness weren’t great; that win was the achieved in a good timefigure and the third Ball D’Arc franked the form.While Disko almost certainly doesn’t have the raw ability of a Might Bite or Yorkhill nor does he have their quirks and he would be my Gold Cup outsider of choice at this point.
MINELLAFORDOLLARS (5yo, G Elliott)
Like Voix De Tiep later on, Minellafordollars is another bumper horse with a good time-figure though it may have escaped the general notice as it came the Sunday after Cheltenham at Navan when most were reviewing the four days of the Festival. The form is nothing to write home about but the visuals and time were impressive and Gordon Elliott said after the race that he ‘was not a bumper horse.’
His Navan rider Jamie Codd commented recently that he was a real staying prospect and it was interesting to note that his vendor bought him back for £240,000 at the Goffs January Sale, clearly of the belief that he was worth more than that. Given that JP McManus has apparently bought him privately in the interim, they may well be correct.
MOSSBACK (5yo, G Elliott)
Seemingly every season, there’s a Gigginstown horse or three that improves massively for the switch form hurdles to fences which isn’t the greatest surprise given they are,in most cases,bought with that idea in mind.Mossback looks like he could be one of this season’s surprise improvers and certainly his win on chase debut at Naas seemed to be a shock to everyone as he returned at Betfair SP of 166/1! But there was no fluke about his winning one of the strongest maiden chases of the season as he had Snow Falcon, Bacardys and De Plotting Shed in behind, 150-rated hurdlers all three.