Our Horses To Follow lists are beginning to yield some winners. Here is the latest batch to have caught the eye in the last fortnight:
ATLANTIC ROLLER (WON, Exeter 6th Nov)
All the signs are that champion trainer Paul Nicholls expects this Graham Roach-owned five-year-old to be jumping fences this time next year. But before then, there could be more success over hurdles in the offing, if his smart victory on debut is anything to go by. In a decent race, the son of Old Vic travelled strongly, jumped fluently and quickened clear readily from the second last. He first caught the eye in a warm bumper at Ascot in February, and is guaranteed a bright future.
BONISLAND (WON, Down Royal 2nd Nov)
Trainer Gordon Elliott seemed keen to play down the win of this four-year-old on his hurdling bow. But I was impressed, especially as he had last season’s Cheltenham Festival bumper fifth, who’d had the benefit of a run already this term, well beaten. In a flawless display, he jumped accurately and showed a neat turn of foot. According to Elliott, he still has a lot of filling out to do, but owners, the Gigginstown House Stud, would not have shelled out £125,000 to buy him without good reason. As the gelding’s previous owner declared: “He’s a right good horse!”
BOLD SIR BRIAN (WON, Carlisle 4th Nov)
I hope connections have not dropped a clanger by failing to enter this exciting six-year-old chaser in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Because, on the evidence of a thrilling triumph on his seasonal re-introduction, he would be well worth his place in the field. Paddock watchers at Carlisle thought he’d come on for the run. Well, if that’s the case, he’s going to be some tool because he travelled and jumped with aplomb before powering home from two out, demolishing respected rivals who had weight or race-fitness advantages. Trainer Lucinda Russell admits she’s excited by his prospects, and is eyeing an intermediate chase at Sandown on December 7 for his next challenge.
CALL ME A STAR (WON, Uttoxeter 2nd Nov)
The main purpose of the seasonal debut of Alan King’s admirable mare was, according to the trainer, “to take the fizz out of her”. Yet despite being too fresh and keen through the early part of the race, she still found enough to win her first contest over hurdles, beating a smart rival from bumpers last term, Eleven Fifty Nine. A five-year-old daughter of Midnight Legend, she’s a tough and consistent sort whom King is sure is better than average. “I won’t be frightened to take on the big boys with her at some stage,” says the trainer, who is planning to bring her out again at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting.
CUE CARD (WON, Exeter 6th Nov)
Time might tell that this wasn’t the best of Haldon Gold Cups, with his main rivals either decidedly ring-rusty or out of their depth. But it still produced a spectacular return to action by the Tizzards’ stable star, who is now maturing into the horse he threatened to be when bolting up in the Cheltenham Festival Bumper of 2010. An over-ambitious plan to go for the Champion Hurdle the following season backfired, but his form over fences last term stands up to the closest scrutiny. Still only six years old but settling much better in his races, he is to be primed next for a tilt at the King George at Kempton on Boxing Day when we will discover if he can stay 3m.
HIGHLAND LODGE (WON, Towcester 8th Nov)
If she can harness, or even erase, his quirks, trainer Emma Lavelle has a serious horse on her hands in this six-year-old gelded son of crack sire, Flemensfirth. After a promising start in novice hurdles last term, his wayward tendencies came to the fore. But fences on ground with plenty of juice in it were always going to be his game -- and how he proved it with this sparkling chasing bow. On one of the stiffest tracks in the country, he bounced through the race with terrific enthusiasm and found more up the steep home straight to draw clear in the style of a potential top-notcher. Let’s hope that, unlike last term, he can go on from this.
IT’S A GIMME (2ND, Ascot 3rd Nov)
Jonjo O’Neill’s five-year-old, owned by JP McManus, became immensely frustrating last season after looking sure to develop into a smart sort when winning a hot novice hurdle at Newbury. But, as a result, he starts this term on a potentially lenient mark, which he almost exploited in this first of the big 2m handicap hurdles. He lost out only narrowly after a ding-dong duel with Alan King’s ever-improving Raya Star, underlining that he has the ability to go far, both over timber and fences. He hails from the family of Commanche Court, who won the Triumph Hurdle of 2007 and finished a close second to Best Mate in the 2002 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
JEZKI (WON, Naas 10th Nov)
I wouldn’t mind betting that Jessica Harrington’s four-year-old will be on the premises in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival next March. He wasn’t beaten too far in the Festival bumper earlier this year, but his hurdling career has got off to a flier, with this win coming against much more experienced rivals, including the runner-up in last term’s Triumph Hurdle. OK, he had a handy weight-allowance, but you couldn’t fail to be impressed with the professional way he disposed of those rivals, despite ground that Harrington feared would be too testing. Closely related to proven jumps performers, he is improving with every run.
KASHMIR PEAK (WON, Market Rasen 11th Nov)
Few racing scribes have welcomed racing’s new whip restrictions more warmly than me. But even I still love to see a horse visibly respond and quicken up for a backhander or two, so John Quinn’s debutant deserves a big shout for the way he landed this albeit-weak juvenile hurdle. Just as the runner-up loomed large after the final flight, the youngster took off when woken up by jockey Dougie Costello on the run-in, triggering dreams of a second successive Triumph Hurdle for the Yorkshire stable. It was a taking performance that suggest there’s plenty more in the tank.
NED BUNTLINE (WON, Naas 10th Nov)
One of the main features of the new jumps season has been the number of eyecatching performances in bumpers. Few have bettered this romp by a four-year-old about whom seasoned trainer Noel Meade has been heard to remark: “The best we’ve had for a while.” Rich praise indeed from a handler who has produced some of Ireland’s leading jumpers over the years -- but deserved on the evidence of a ridiculously impressive win, achieved almost entirely on the bridle. Held up in rear, he eased effortlessly into contention and when Nina Carberry let out of an inch of rein deep into the final furlong, he sprinted clear at will. If he can jump hurdles, watch out!
OSCARS WELL (WON, Punchestown 31st Oct)
It’s hard to imagine a more polished chasing debut than this, confirming that one of Ireland’s most admirable and consistent National Hunt stars is a horse not to be messed with at any level and in any sphere. Two years ago, as a novice hurdler, he was unlucky not to win the Neptune at the Cheltenham Festival when rated on a par with the subsequent champion hurdler, Rock On Ruby. And although just below the best on his own Champion Hurdle journey last term, chasing could well bring him the top prize he deserves, on the evidence of this spring-heeled effort. Trainer Jessica Harrington, who couldn’t believe how well he jumped, plans to keep him as fresh as possible en route to the 2013 Festival.
OUR CONOR (WON, Navan 11th Nov)
I’m not sure how strong this maiden hurdle was but, undoubtedly, it yielded one of the best performances seen so far this season by a juvenile. After a successful season on the flat, Dessie Hughes’s gelded son of Jeremy attracted significant market-support ahead of his jumping debut and justified it with as convincing a performance as you could wish for. He capped it by winging the last flight and quickening nicely under nudged hands and heels. The run was nothing more than Hughes expected after excellent schooling work, so it will be interesting to see how far up the ladder he can climb.
PEPITE ROSE (3RD, Ascot 3rd Nov)
Trainer Venetia Williams has decided against a tilt at the Paddy Power Gold Cup for her smart five-year-old chaser. But the mare still looks primed for another successful campaign after this highly satisfactory effort in a Listed handicap chase over an inadequate trip. She travelled sweetly and despite blowing up turning for home, she kept on behind a winner receiving a massive 26lb. The mare made such dramatic progress last term that she ended up contesting a Grade One novice event at Aintree against the likes of Al Ferof, Cristal Bonus and Menorah. Formerly trained in France by the brilliant Guillaume Macaire, she’s best at around 2m4f and prefers decent ground.
PENDRA (WON, Plumpton 5th Nov)
Charlie Longsdon is tipped by many to be a champion jumps trainer of the future. I’m not sure about that -- but I’ll be surprised if he has many better horses in his yard than this well-bred son of Old Vic and Grade One winning-chaser Mariah Rollins. He made a big impact when winning his sole start in bumpers and could hardly have been more impressive on his novice hurdling debut here, albeit in a weak race. Travelling powerfully, he displayed a terrific, long stride and looked a natural jumper. “He’s a bit special, hopefully,” commented Longsdon.
SPRINGINHERSTEP (2ND, Towcester 8th Nov)
Ignore the result. This mares’ maiden hurdle was won by one of those storming late runs from a stamina-laden rag that you occasionally see up the Towcester hill. Instead concentrate on the plucky efforts of the third, As I Am, and, this Nicky Henderson-trained runner-up, who had the contest to themselves from some way out and are both above average. I particularly like this five-year-old, about whom Henderson has spoken warmly since she quickened to land a Southwell bumper in July. She jumped impeccably for champion jockey Tony McCoy and looked sure to win until tiring on her seasonal reappearance and was mown down close home. She will definitely gain compensation soon.
ZARKANDAR (WON, Wincanton 10th Nov)
Not many Champion Hurdle contenders have shown their hand yet. But they’re going to have to go some to match the gauntlet laid down by Paul Nicholls’s five-year-old, who defied a mountain of negatives to win this Elite Hurdle on his first outing of the season. Most experts were happy to lay a horse conceding lumps of weight over a trip and on a track seemingly providing an insufficient test of stamina -- especially as he had been deserted by the stable’s number one jockey, Ruby Walsh. But he proceeded to prove them wrong with a magnificent effort, despite an unsuitably pedestrian gallop and despite a handicap mark 12lb higher than when winning the big Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last February. Still improving, he must be a major player at the Festival next March, especially as we know he loves Cheltenham, having won the 2011 Triumph Hurdle there and having finished a running-on fifth in last season’s Champion when he was nowhere near A1.
HORSES TO FOLLOW SUPPLIED BY SCOOP RACING (RICHARD SILVERWOOD).