I’m 20 years in the saddle this year and looking now at the firepower in Willie Mullins’ yard – it could be my best yet.
You never want to tempt faith in this game but I would never have thought starting out that I’d be involved with Paul Nicholls when Kauto Star, Master Minded and Denman were under the one roof. To potentially have a season like that in store again is unbelieveable.
Having top-class horses like Vautour, Faugheen, Un De Sceaux & Douvan to look forward to keeps you going during the long winter months. You have to embrace it as the highs can turn to lows in National Hunt racing in the blink of an eye.
A jockey is only one jump away from injury while there’s so much that can go wrong with racehorses even before they reach the track. Your whole season can easily get derailed. But just normal luck-in-running for some of Willie Mullins’ string (below) – and myself! – could make it a year to remember.
I’m starting to feel that bit older though as I look around the jockeys’ weighing-room these days. With AP McCoy & David Casey retired and Paul Carberry out injured, there’s just me, Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell from the old school.
There’s some good young lads coming through and having asked for advice when I was younger – I’ve no problem giving it to them now. Whether they’ll take it or not I don’t know.
There’s so many good horses at Willie Mullins’ yard – it’s unreal. We won’t be taking any chances with them until the ground starts to soften up though. I couldn’t tell you the last time I put on my waterproofs on – it’s been that dry recently.
As things stand now, here’s where we’re hoping the season progresses with some of the stable stars. As good and all as we are at keeping them apart to win as many races as we can – some of them are going to have to clash somewhere along the line.
Going for Gold
Vautour should start off in the Amlin Chase at Ascot next month with the King George VI Chase at Kempton his early season target. How he gets on there over Christmas should determine whether he’s a Cheltenham Gold Cup, Ryanair Chase or Champion Chase contender.
I think he’ll stay three-mile plus no problem. But thinking it and proving it are two different things – that’s why we need to find out in the King George VI Chase on December 26th.
Djakadam was just a six-year-old when he finished second to the novice Coneygree last season in the Gold Cup last season. There should be more improvement to come from both.
Gigginstown Stud also have Don Poli – who won the RSA Chase last season – in the mix. He’ll probably follow a similar route to Djakadam in Ireland with the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown on the cards for them over Christmas.
The main difference between Vautour and these two is speed. They are resolute stayers and have proven their stamina. You could never have seen Djakadam or Don Poli winning a Supreme Novice Hurdle like Vautour did.
Gordon Elliott’s Don Cossack was very impressive on his seasonal reappearance at Punchestown. He was big in the parade ring so there should be plenty of improvement to come from him and he’s now the highest-rated chaser in training.
He didn’t get that by luck and with the £1 million bonus on offer (to the horse that wins the Betfair Chase at Haydock, the King George at Kempton & Gold Cup at Cheltenham) it looks like he and Silviniaco Conti will meet Vautour at Kempton on December 26.
Silviniaco Conti has never fired at the Cheltenham Festival and Don Cossack has been beaten twice there too (fell the first time & was a little unlucky in the Ryanair Chase last year when third). So they still have questions to answer there.
The Champion Hurdle
Faugheen looks great and should start off in the Morgiana Hurdle next month ahead of a defending his title in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
He’s unbeaten over timber but somewhere along the way that may go – hopefully it won’t go for a while. He has all the ability, we just hope he has the luck and the durability of a Hurricane Fly to stay at the top.
Arctic Fire has still only won two races – but has run some fantastic races in defeat. Nichols Canyon won four Grade One Novice Hurdles last year and is a very good horse and should start out over two miles but can step up if needed. Anything he runs against though will need to bring their ‘A’ game every time as he’s very tough.
Last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdler Douvan will go novice chasing. He hasn’t done a huge amount of schooling as the ground is still quite quick – but he was a natural at hurdling and I’m hoping he’ll be the same at chasing. The plan is to start off in a beginners’ chase before Christmas.
Vroum Vroum Mag probably has to step up in grade now but she could potentially be be well handicapped. The Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury could be on the agenda at the end of next month but we learnt with Djakadam last season (who finished 8th) that no matter how well handicapped you appear to be – you’ll need to be race-fit going there.
There’s a mares chase at Clonmel on November 12 where she could start off or there’s a couple of second-season chases before that. I just don’t know if we’ll get her out in time for a pre-Hennessy run.
Un de Sceaux
The Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leoparsdtown over Christmas will be Un de Sceaux’s early-season target – though I’m not too sure where he’ll start off just yet. After that he’ll be campaigned for the Champion Chase in March.
Annie Power looks in great form and will hopefully start off in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse next month after a setback before it last year – ruled her out of the early part of the season.
Bellshill was probably the best of our bumper horses last year (winning at the Punchestown Festival) and will go novice hurdling this term. He looks a stayer and mightn’t have the natural speed for a Supreme Novice Hurdle so could go down the Neptune Hurdle route. He’ll start off in a maiden hurdle somewher whenever he’s ready.
Min hasn’t done a lot since arriving from France where he ran twice over hurdles. He’s already top of the betting for the Supreme Novices Hurdle for someone’s been talking. He’s a good jumper and works well but only time will tell if we have another Douvan on our hands.
Shaneshill has summered well but I’m not sure where he’ll start off. He’d a few niggly issues last year through the winter so it’s a question of keeping him healthy and letting him tell us where he wants to go.