10 to follow for the National Hunt season

Last March Ireland won an extraordinary, and unprecedented, 19 races at the Cheltenham festival.

10 to follow for the National Hunt season

We are now on the verge of what promises to be another cracking National Hunt campaign and, with so many juggernauts currently in the Irish game, there is so much to look forward to and every reason for serious optimism.

Keeping that in mind, and encouraged by one or two readers, I thought it might be appropriate this week to offer ten horses to follow that will, hopefully, more than pay their way and, at the same time, leave us at least mildly better off.

OUR DUKE (Jessica Harrington): A brilliant jumper and stayer, there is every possibility he will develop into a genuine Gold Cup hope.

At this time last year, Our Duke had yet to jump a fence in public and that is some indication of the massive progress he made through the winter months.

Indeed, he didn’t start off until December 10 at Navan when taking a beginners’ chase by an impressive 11 lengths.

Then he landed a Grade 1 at Leopardstown at Christmas, prior to being beaten into second by Disko in another Grade 1 at Leopardstown in February.

The shrewd Jessica Harrington then resisted the urge to send this raw talent to Cheltenham and instead waited for the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

That proved an inspired decision and Our Duke produced a superb display to defy 11-4 and score by 14 lengths.

The handicapper was impressed and raised Our Duke by 14lbs to a mark of 167. That leaves him just one-pound shy of the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, Sizing John.

APPLE’S JADE (Gordon Elliott): A great mare, she went from strength to strength as last season progressed, saving her two best performances for the Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals.

At Cheltenham, she won the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, which was as good a contest of its type that you could get.

The five-year-old had defeat staring her in the face going to the final flight, but buckled down in terrific style to beat the Willie Mullins pair, Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini.

Apple’s Jade had a hard race, but bounced out of it without a bother to take a Grade 1 at Punchestown subsequently by 14 lengths.

It took her a little while to warm up last season, but she is irresistible when in full flow and usually at her best in the spring.

FAYONAGH (Gordon Elliott): The sky is the limit for this mare and it will be fascinating to see how well she takes to jumping. Fairyhouse today is, of course, her starting point.

Her first outing came at Cork in May of last year and finishing eight of 23 gave no clue whatsoever as to what she was set to achieve.

But, remarkably, the daughter of Kalanisi then went on to win four bumpers in-a-row, including successes at the Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals.

Fayonagh’s second win came in testing conditions at Fairyhouse in February, scoring by 20 lengths and, on that evidence, there was every reason to suppose she was a pure mudlark.

But nothing could have been further from the truth and the surface was much quicker when she recorded those victories at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

SAMCRO (Gordon Elliott): This is an imposing sort, who promises to take high order as a novice hurdler.

We already know he is reasonably proficient as a jumper, having won his only point-to-point at Monksgrange as a four-year-old.

The son of Germany is unbeaten in three outings in bumpers. He was impressive first time up at Punchestown, but less so at Navan subsequently.

Gordon Elliott then gave his charge a four months break and Samcro rounded off his first season when winning by 17 lengths at Fairyhouse in April.

SUB LIEUTENANT (Henry de Bromhead): It will be most interesting to see how he is campaigned by Henry de Bromhead.

More than once in this column we have offered the opinion that Sub Lieutenant would benefit from being stepped up in trip and, maybe, that might now be the plan.

He won two of his six races last season, but his better efforts actually came in defeat.At Thurles in January, for instance, he was out-speeded at the end of two and a half miles by Sizing John.

Then at Cheltenham, in the two miles and five Ryanair Chase, Sub Lieutenant was doing all his best work at the end when chasing home Un De Sceaux.

He then went to Aintree, back over two and a half, and proved no match for Fox Norton, beaten six lengths into second.

DEBUCHET (Mags Mullins): Successful in two of his four bumpers - he was runner-up in the other two - Debuchet shapes as a class act.

He showed just what a promising talent he is in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at Cheltenham when a length and a quarter second behind Fayonagh.

The ground was on the good side at Cheltenham, but Debuchet then returned home to make light of soft ground at Limerick in early Aprjl when winning by an easy five lengths.

MEGA FORTUNE (Gordon Elliott): He was one of the best juvenile timber-toppers in Ireland and Britain last season, running a cracker when second to Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham, on ground that was far too quick for him.

Before Cheltenham, he was especially good, on soft ground, when landing a Grade 1 at Leopardstown in February.

Four-year-olds, unless they are exceptional, always face a tough time in their second season hurdling, so how Elliott plays his cards will be worth noting.

Mind you Elliott has found an easy touch for him at Limerick tomorrow. Mega Fortune certainly has the scope to go chasing.

DEATH DUTY (Gordon Elliott): Ultimately disappointing over flights in the second half of last season and his debut success over fences at Tipperary on Tuesday was no more than satisfactory. But chasing is his game and expect plenty of improvement as the campaign progresses.

ASTHURIA (Willie Mullins): The best is yet to come with this mare, who finished last season in style by winning at Punchestown and Killarney.

TOTAL RECALL (Willie Mullins): The real dark horse of our ten.

He was formerly trained by Sandra Hughes, but is now in the care of Willie Mullins, who can be expected to exploit his current mark of 129 over fences.

That particular theory will get its first airing in the Munster National at Limerick tomorrow.

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