10 Irish-trained jumpers to set pulses racing
The annual 10-to-follow lists are inevitably defined by those that you choose to include, but sometimes as much can be read into those you can afford to leave out. As the new campaign quickly gathers momentum, here we compile an assortment of exclusively Irish-trained horses that have the potential to enthral jumping enthusiasts in the coming months.
While you could accurately describe each as unexposed, they are just a minute selection from a deeply promising crop of National Hunt horses that is spread quite evenly between some of our most skilled handlers.
Everyone will have their own opinion on the merits of the chosen 10, but few would argue that each wouldn't warrant its place in a horses-to-follow compilation of some description. And yet, consider some of those not present.
Established stars such as Hurricane Fly, Sizing Europe, Big Zeb, Quito De La Roque, Quevega, Voler La Vedette, Thousand Stars and Unaccompanied are notable absentees. Some or all of those brilliant servants might still have plenty to offer, but it wasn't that hard to leave any of them out, either. That is some indulgence.
1 Sir Des Champs
Unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins from France, the dual Cheltenham Festival winner is a justifiable ante-post favourite for the Gold Cup. Shrewdly placed last term to avoid the very best of his contemporaries, he signed off with a debut Grade One triumph on his first stab at three-plus miles in deep ground at Punchestown. Crucially, his Jewson Chase victory gave him experience of Prestbury Park's tricky chase course and, as a rising seven-year-old, come next March he will be what is traditionally considered the right age for the big race.
He is due to start off at Punchestown on December 9 ahead of a possible King George tilt. There are few chinks in his armour.
Couldn't have been any more comprehensive in the manner of his victory at Navan on Sunday. Tackling senior opposition for a first time and reported by his trainer Peter Casey to be only 80pc ready, he left spectators agog at the prospect of what he might be capable of when 100pc fit with a flawless front-running rout.
His exuberant fencing and high cruising speed are his most potent attributes; only time will tell whether they prove detrimental to his chances of staying the Cheltenham Gold Cup trip. Anyway, Flemenstar (pictured) is due to step up by degrees, as an early season showdown looms with Sir Des Champs in next month's John Durkan Memorial.
Made an emphatic fencing bow at Punchestown. Granted, it was a moderate heat, but the ease with which Tony Martin's charge travelled and jumped in testing going was striking.
As a novice hurdler, he made a cracking impression, winning four from five between two-and-a-half and two-and-three-quarter miles. The Bob Back six-year-old's only hurdling defeat came when third to the classy Monksland and Lyreen Legend in a tactical Navan race, and he finished with a Punchestown Grade One win. Next up will be an informative Drinmore Chase clash with the likes of Oscars Well.
Having failed to win in his first seven starts two seasons ago, the JP McManus-owned eight-year-old morphed into one of the most improved horses in training for Tom Mullins last term.
He began with three modest summer successes at Killarney, and signed off with a hat-trick in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, a Grade Two at Fairyhouse and a barnstorming Grade One triumph in the Evening Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
A chasing campaign is now imminent. He will have to contend with more precocious sorts, but few will boast such a determined attitude.
5 Don Cossack
AN oversized Gigginstown Stud-owned five-year-old that has the potential to match his towering physique. In three bumpers for Gordon Elliott last term, he hosed up by 18 lengths at Naas, came from a seemingly hopeless position to get up in a Navan Grade Two, and signed off with another 17-length demolition job at Fairyhouse.
Most importantly, he beat stacks of subsequent winners each time, with Saturday's runaway maiden hurdle victor Rory O'Moore, a three-time bumper winner himself, the one that he defied time and space confines to overhaul at Navan. Is due out shortly, and it will be hugely disappointing if he doesn't turn out to be one of our top novice hurdlers.
Unchallenged in its first three bumpers for Dermot Weld in early 2011, the son of Elusive Quality was denied just a short-head by the ill-fated Lovethehigherlaw in a vintage edition of the Champion Bumper at Punchestown that May.
He sported the ubiquitous JP McManus silks for a first time there, but niggling injuries kept him off the track throughout last season. When he returned to action for a belated hurdling debut at Fairyhouse last month, he recorded a typically smooth victory, and should hold his own in what looks a strong division. The Royal Bond at Fairyhouse is next.
Lightly raced, Noel Meade's five-year-old emerged as one of our best novice hurdlers last season.
Meade had initially intended switching him straight to fences this term, but a rethink saw him turn up in a Down Royal Grade Two that some of the stable's best hurdlers have contested. Only time will tell how inspired the change of mind proves, but Monksland looked a formidable prospect as he quickened clear in the North.
A versatile type that could go up or down in trip, he is pencilled in for the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse next. It will take a good one to beat him in that.
8 Sizing Rio
An exciting four-year-old that confirmed all the promise of his facile Fairyhouse hurdling debut with an authoritative Grade Three win at Navan.
Despite the precociousness implicit in his record, and the fact he was forward enough to win a 'point' first time up in February, the son of Heron Island still looks raw. That impression is confirmed by Henry de Bromhead's decision to now hold fire until Christmas, but there is no doubting his potential.
He made all and knuckled down to beat more experienced rivals on Sunday, so it will be fascinating to see how he progresses.
9 Si C'Etait Vrai
Although bettered by Cause Of Causes at Fairyhouse last week, Dessie Hughes' six-year-old distinguished himself on his first start for 18 months. Having won his maiden hurdle at the first time of asking, the handsome son of Robin Des Champs endured a mixed time of things as a novice, but seems to have matured nicely while sidelined.
At Fairyhouse, after making most of the running, he was a tad slow at the last two flights, and still only went down by half a length. But for the lack of a recent run, he would have won, so he is a horse to keep on-side over the coming months.
10 On His Own
Fenced superbly in this year's Aintree Grand National, and was tanking along happily when just getting in too close to Becher's Brook second time round under Paul Townend.
Although he didn't get as far as Hedgehunter did in his dress rehearsal 12 months before winning the race for Willie Mullins in 2005, it was the type of display that left you thinking we might not see the Presenting gelding run over fences again until next year's Bobbyjo Chase.
By then, the weights for the National will be out, and Mullins recently confirmed that a spring campaign, with the National as its ultimate objective, is on the agenda. It should be worth the wait.
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