At this stage of the year, with the 2019/20 National Hunt season now firmly slipped into first gear, I spend many hours plunging deep into my own private notes, notes that are the bedrock of my day to day betting approach.
My notes lean heavily on chasers as, naturally, we tend to know more about these types and there is more information for me to work with.
In this article I’m going to concentrate on the staying chase division (3m+), giving a general overview of the top end of the scene whilst pinpointing a few horse notes along the way, and cherry-picking a couple of exciting prospects that should be worth following as the season progresses.
One of the main talking points in the ‘off season’ has been the potential clash of 2m-2m5f titans ALTIOR and CYRNAME over a staying trip. Both are likely to be stepping up in distance to three miles this season, with the King George on the agenda for both camps as an early season target. Whilst their inclusion in the race, and staying division in general, will be fascinating, and both currently sit first and second in the King George markets at time of writing, class alone does not win you the Christmas prize; you have to stay the trip and stay it well.
Not only do you have to have the stamina reserves to stay the trip, you also don’t want the King George to be the first time you test those stamina reserves.
Bear the following in mind…
The last 22 winners of the King George had all previously run over 3m+ trips before winning the race.
Those horses that were trying the trip for the first time are 0/31 (in the same timeframe).
Now in a 22-year period that doesn’t seem like a big deal, however, here are some of the horses that are included within that 0/31 figure…
Fox Norton, Vautour, Champagne Fever, Captain Chris, Al Ferof, Master Minded, Riverside Theatre, Voy Por Ustedes, Azertyuiop, Flagship Uberalles…
Last year Politologue fell foul of the stat.
All high class performers over shorter and all came up short in the King George when trying a 3-mile trip for the first time.
Furthermore, Best Mate, Cue Card and Edredon Bleu all failed to win the race on their first try, which also happened to be their first start over a 3-mile trip.
Should Altior and Cyrname turn up in the King George without any experience over 3m+, and that does look likely, I’d personally be looking elsewhere (providing, of course, the rest don’t run scared of the pair!).
That two are the exciting and unknown potential recruits to the division but what about the horses we already know have the required stamina for the trip?
It’s only fair I start with the current Cheltenham Gold Cup winner AL BOUM PHOTO.
As a 7yo he should still, in theory, be improving. Whilst that is likely to be the case, there may just be another 7yo in the Mullins yard that is improving beyond him; his Punchestown Gold Cup conqueror KEMBOY.
He departed at the first in the 2019 Cheltenham Gold Cup but made up for that disappointment with a thumping victory at Aintree and then that defeat of his aforementioned stablemate at Punchestown. The figures he recorded on those final two runs were right out of the top drawer and you have to feel he is THE standard bearer in the division as we begin the new season.
If he does, however, have an Achilles-heel could it be Cheltenham?
If he does, however, have an Achilles-heel could it be Cheltenham?
His three starts there have seen him return a form line of U-4-5 and I just wonder if he’s just not quite at home on very-undulating tracks? That’s something to keep in mind come March, even if he has scooped up a clutch of valuable pots on his way to the festival.
None of the other runners that took part in the 2019 Gold Cup really appeal as ones that are likely to step on and improve enough to land the top prize.
Third placed BRISTOL DE MAI is always likely to find a way to get himself involved in the major races but for me he peaks in the November to February period and his victories are likely to come under the following…
Bristol De Mai prime conditions = Nov-Feb | carrying 11-07 or less = 13113111121231 (9/14, 3p – all 9 career wins).
2018 Gold Cup winner NATIVE RIVER is possibly feeling the effects of his attritional running style and as a 9yo going on 10 he’s likely to be susceptible to younger legs. A race like the Denman Chase at Newbury is possibly his best chance of future success (he’s 4 from 4 over the Newbury fences).
2018 King George winner CLAN DES OBEAUX (5th in the Gold Cup) is still not a horse I’m totally sold on as being a proper Grade 1 animal, given that he has ‘only’ won 1 of his 7 G1 starts. His best hope of success this season would most likely come when racing under the following conditions…
Clan Des Obeaux prime conditions = Flat/Slightly Undulating tracks | Good to Soft & softer ground = 21131511 (5/8, 2p – 5 of 6 career wins).
I’d be surprised if the remainder of last year’s Gold Cup field have one of the major staying chases in their locker, bar maybe PRESENTING PERCY, although he does have questions to answer at present. A more ‘standard’ chasing campaign wouldn’t go amiss either.
That then brings us to the second season chaser crop, those that were novices during the 2018/19 season.
Perhaps the most interesting horse of the second season chaser crop is the Colin Tizzard trained LOSTINTRANSLATION, a horse that really came into his own when stepped up to three-miles+ on his final start of last season when landing the G1 Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree by an eased down 6-lengths.
He’s always suggested that the longer trips would be his thing and I’d expect him to be a player in all the major 3m+ chases this season.
Whilst LOSTINTRANSLATION deserves utmost respect over the next few months it’s the Nicky Henderson SANTINI that really stands out to me as a ‘Horse To Follow’ this season.
SANTINI had all sorts of issues in the lead up to his run in the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival (from feet issues to the debacle that was the equine flu outbreak), so for him to only go down by half-a-length in that race tells you just how much talent and potential he holds.
The form of the RSA was boosted in no uncertain terms by the third horse, DELTA WORK, winning a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival by a very easy 12-length. SANTINI had him 1.75-lengths behind in the RSA.
The 7yo excels on big-wide galloping tracks so something like the King George at Kempton is unlikely to suit him, he did struggle to engage top gear in the Kauto Star Novice Chase when running third in that race last season, but races such as the Betfair Chase, Cotswold Chase and Gold Cup should be ideal for him. Providing Nicky Henderson gets a clear run with the 7yo this season it’s not hard to see him being one of the main players in the staying division.
VINNDICATION from the Kim Bailey yard is another that’s also worth having on the radar. He also had a bit of an interrupted preparation for his Cheltenham Festival assignment – the JLT Novices’ Chase – but he wasn’t disgraced by his fifth-place finish.
He’s yet to race over 3m but he did win over 2m6f as a novice hurdler and I do think staying trips would be within range for him.
I’d have my concerns about him being a proper Grade 1 animal (his only defeats so far in eight career starts have come on his two starts at G1 level), but he starts the season on a workable handicap mark (OR 151) and he could have a decent handicap pot in him before the handicapper is able to anchor him on a stopping weight.
He’s an unbeaten 5 from 5 when racing during the November to January period so look out for him in the early part of the campaign, which could just be when he’s at his most potent.
The horses mentioned above are likely to be running in some of the most valuable races on the National Hunt calendar over the coming months and whilst it’s important to know as much as you can about them, the real value comes when you uncover the ‘under the radar/less obvious’ horses, those that the wider betting public won’t be focussing on quite as much.
Every year for my own website subscribers I produce an in-depth ‘Alternative 20 to follow’ list. This ‘to follow’ list aims to be different from most of the others you will read this season.
In the guide there is no room for a Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott runner. My aim for the list is to exclude runners from the four ‘superpowers’ and try and find a bit of value elsewhere.
You can grab the full list on the following link (for FREE)…
The twenty that made the final list were whittled down from a much larger initial ‘shortlist’ and the following are two that just narrowly missed the cut…
CAPTAIN TOMMY (H Whittington) 5yo
Career form 5112-
This 5yo made the move to the Whittington yard after a relatively inauspicious bumper effort at Taunton in November last year (5th of 6th, beaten 30L).
Whittington wasted no time in getting the Court Cave gelding over hurdles and the youngster made an instant impact, landing the odds by 16L at Fontwell in March. He backed that effort up in no uncertain terms when landing a novice event at Wincanton a month later.
His final start of the campaign came in a Listed event at Perth where he finished a credible second behind the promising Go Another One from the John McConnell yard.
The form of that race has been boosted in the proceeding months, with Go Another One winning twice and third placed Get Out The Gate also firing in a couple of victories.
Options look relatively open for CAPTAIN TOMMY as connections could elect to stay hurdling with him and take advantage of the 135 handicap mark he starts the season on.
Alternatively, and preferably, they send him chasing. He looks one who will appreciate the larger obstacles and he does have point-to-point experience on his CV from his days in Ireland as a youngster.
Three miles should be within reach for him (he is related to thorough stayer Steamboat Bill, formerly with Gordon Elliott) and there’s a good chance he’ll reach greater heights over fences.
2m5f+ Novice Chases
ASK BEN (G McPherson) 6yo
Career form 1120-
Everything about this 6yo son of Ask suggests he’s a staying chaser of the future and one that has the potential to be a real star for trainer Graeme McPherson. The horse sprung a bit of a surprise on hurdles debut when winning the Class 2 French Furze Novices’ Hurdle at Newcastle at the lofty odds of 50-1. He beat a red-hot Dan Skelton youngster that day in the shape of BEAKSTOWN who went on to land a Grade 2 on his next start.
Ask Ben himself won next time out when running away with Novice Hurdle at Ayr on his first try over 3m before only finding the highly touted LISNAGAR OSCAR too good for him in the Grade 2 Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock.
He rounded out his season by running down the field in the Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival although he ran a lot better in that contest than his finishing position suggests.
The horse is a relentless galloper and in time he could turn into a Welsh National type although there will clearly be plenty of novice staying contests for him to pick off this season, as he learns his trade over the larger obstacles.
3m+ Novice Chases | Possibly at his best on galloping tracks
Those two only marginally missed getting onto my final ‘Alternative 20 to follow’ list but to see who did make the cut simply head over to the following page and pick up the full guide…
Happy National Hunt Punting
Ben Aitken (NTF)