Jump Racing Season Preview 2023/24

5 October 2023

“Soft” in the going description is starting to appear with increasing regularity, a sure sign that the NH season is ready to kick into top gear. This does of course mean a deluge of previews and yard tours and already talk of Cheltenham in March!

I thought I’d try and be a little different so here is my season preview with three caveats; firstly, no horses from Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, Henry De Bromhead, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson. Secondly not to just focus on ‘Saturday’ horses and thirdly absolutely no mention of “could be aimed at X race at The Cheltenham Festival”

I hope you find it enjoyable and informative.

Open Grade Chaser

Thunder Rock – Olly Murphy

I can almost hear my SBK Betting Podcast colleagues Jess Stafford and Tom Collins sniggering as they read this. And ‘yes’ it’s true I did rather follow this horse over a cliff last season. But he was undoubtedly the recipient of more than one poor ride last season – most notably when a staying third in the Dipper Chase at Cheltenham and my faith in him remains intact. His third place in the Scilly Isles chase at Sandown when just 5½ lengths behind the now 162 rated Gerri Colombe makes his current mark of 146 look fair. He showed improved form for a more prominent ride at Ayr in April when narrowly failing to repel the sustained challenge of 149 rated Datsalrightgino off level weights. 

Visually his most complete performance came at Ascot last November. They host a number of decent handicap chases throughout the winter and I’m confident Thunder Rock can make his presence felt in any number of these from 2m4-3m.

Novice Chasers

Iroko – Oliver Greenall & Josh Guerriero

Was raced sparingly last season over hurdles winning three of his four starts and rising from a mark of 121 to 145. His win in the Martin Pipe at Cheltenham was remarkable as he came with a storming late run to win going away, having looked a lost cause at the top of the hill. He finished a season with a fine third in the Sefton Novices Hurdle when upped in grade and trip at Aintree cementing himself as a stayer of immense potential. 

I expect him to have his sights lowered as he starts out over fences but he’ll surely be aimed at some lofty prizes in the spring.

Pearly Island – Lucy Wadham

A fine big son of Trans Island, he took a while to get his act together in handicap hurdles last season, having shaped with promise in novice events the season prior to that. Towards the end of the season he ran into a good vein of form, winning at Huntingdon and Fontwell and rising from a mark of 104 to 118. He finished his season with a below par effort at Newbury but given that was his eighth start in under five months I can happily forgive it.

From the family of the high-class Bacchanal his family is full of horses who exceeded their hurdle mark when switching to fences. Given his physique I’d hope he can follow suit. A starting mark of 117 looks reasonable and his trainer informs me that she hopes he’ll be ready to run in late October.

Open Grade Hurdler

Filey Bay – Emmet Mullins

No horse enjoyed a more meteoric rise up the ranks last season than Filey Bay moving from 117 in November to a closing mark of 142. He was arguably unfortunate not to win the Betfair Hurdle where I felt a lack of familiarity with the Newbury track on the part of Donagh Meyler was the difference between victory and defeat.

His young trainer is unconventional to say the least and I’m sure a well-researched target will reveal itself in time. With just eight hurdle starts to his name he’s still open to any amount of improvement.

Novice Hurdlers

I was at Aintree to watch the closing grade two bumper and I’d be stunned if it doesn’t throw up countless novice hurdle winners this season. The Henry Daly trained Bowenspark was an eye-catcher back in fourth but it’s two that finished ahead of him that I’m keen to follow.

Florida Dreams – Nicky Richards

An authoritative winner at Musselburgh on his racecourse debut, this son of Doyen looked to have plenty on his plate as they turned in at Aintree, with the majority of his twelve rivals ahead of him. He showed a strong finish as well as tremendous bravery to battle through traffic to get to the front late on, perhaps ultimately winning with a bit in hand.

Nicky Richards is sure to take his time with this smart youngster and I expect him to rack up a sequence up North before taking aim at some bigger prizes later in the season.   

Hashting – Jonjo O’Neil

This striking son of Konig Turf caught the eye in the preliminaries at Aintree, as a tall, athletic individual.

He arrived at Aintree as a winner of both his starts in France and was possibly unfortunate not to have won on his UK debut at Uttoxeter where a wide passage compromised him, it was still a solid run under a 10lb penalty.

He travelled stylishly throughout the race at Aintree and stayed on well, though just lacking the toe of the two in front of him. He’s from the family of high-class chasers Oumeyade, Ladalko and Eklat De Rire and I’m sure fences will see him at his best, but before then he’s more than capable of landing a few hurdle contests this season at 2m4f+.

Trainer to follow

Robbie Llewellyn has enjoyed a good start to his training career, doing well with his small and inexpensively assembled string. Stable star Loup De Maulde was acquired from fellow Welshman Christian Williams and defied all expectations last season, winning four of his nine starts at climbing from an opening mark of 92 to a high of 125. This clearly demonstrates that Llewellyn is able to place his horses to great effect. With an increase in numbers and no doubt a small upgrade in quality he’s a trainer to follow. 

Star Performer

“Loup De Maulde was a star for us last season over hurdles. His chase mark of 116 is 8lb lower than his hurdle mark so there should be some scope with that. He’ll likely start at Cheltenham in October.”

Horse To Follow

“Titan Discovery ran well in both of his bumpers, finishing second to well regarded types each time. He’s schooled very well at home and I think he’ll make a nice novice hurdler.”

Bumper Horse To Follow

Too Much Hammer - Tom Lacey

Tom Lacey has developed a reputation for having a strong team of bumper horses, and following on from last season's impressive 20% strike rate in this sphere he kindly nominated Too Much Hammer as one to follow this season.

 “Too Much Hammer is a gorgeous, athletic four year old son of Leading Light. At €20,000 he was a relatively inexpensive purchase from Goffs last summer. He pleases me in his work but does have a touch of ‘mad’ about him so I’m thankful I have some smart riders in my staff. His dam and two of his siblings all won bumpers and I’d be surprised if he couldn’t too.”

Jockey to Follow

Gavin Sheehan impressed with his consistency last season, I don’t recall watching a single race where I felt he passed up a winning opportunity. He came in for some useful spare rides last season and as well as his main association with Jamie Snowden enjoys linking up with shrewd operators Laura Morgan, Patrick Neville and Richard Hobson. A level stakes return of +45.00 for all of his rides last season is yet another positive sign.

Jamie Snowden continues to build the quality and quantity of his string and this can propel Sheehan to greater heights. He’s a jockey always worth a second look.

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