A year ago, we gave 10 horses to follow for the National Hunt season and it worked out reasonably well, so it makes sense to have another go.
Finding the 10 takes time and the system used last year was to power through the form book from shortly after the Listowel Festival and conclude with the Punchestown Festival in late April.
Such a method provides plenty of candidates, although not as many as one might have expected.
We travelled the same road this time and, finally, the 10 were found. When we had what we wanted, the results surprised a little.
Eight of the 10 horses are trained by Willie Mullins. Hopefully, that doesn’t signal a lop-sided campaign. Anyway, here they are, in no particular order.
FOOTPAD (WILLIE MULLINS)
The brilliant six-year-old has Cheltenham two-mile Champion Chase possibility written all over him, having gone through his novice season unbeaten in five races.
There was massive word for him when making his debut over fences at Navan in November and Footpad produced a breathtaking display of jumping to score by 11 lengths.
He then stepped straight into Grade One company at Leopardstown at Christmas and was hugely impressive in scoring, again by 11 lengths.
He returned to Leopardstown in February to land another Grade One, before heading to Cheltenham for the Arkle Trophy.
Footpad blundered at the sixth, which was totally out of character, and was left a fair way back.
But, partnered with remarkable patience and confidence by Ruby Walsh, he made up the ground in effortless fashion.
Walsh allowed him to stride on before the second last and Footpad crossed the line 14 lengths clear of Brain Power.
Mullins’ charge then rounded off a splendid season when making all of the running to win the Grade One Ryanair Chase at Punchestown by 12 lengths. We know he stays well beyond two miles and that makes him perfect for the Champion Chase.
TORNADO FLYER (WILLIE MULLINS)
He has run just three times, is a horse with a lot of potential and looks sure to make his mark in his first season over flights.
The son of Flemensfirth made a winning debut in a bumper at Fairyhouse in January, battling strongly to beat the Gordon Elliott-trained Getaway John by a head.
Given his lack of experience, he then ran a cracker in the Weatherbys’ Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, doing all of his best work at the end when third behind his stable companions, Relegate and Carefully Selected.
Then at the Punchestown Festival, Tornado Flyer indicated he was a horse rapidly on the upgrade when beating two more of his stable companions, Blackbow and Carefully Selected, in a Grade One bumper.
CAREFULLY SELECTED (WILLIE MULLINS)
He was in the care of Ted Walsh when winning a point-to-point at Monksgrange and was subsequently sold and went into training with Mullins.
Carefully Selected won his first two bumpers, over two and a half miles at Leopardstown and over two at Naas.
The imposing son of Well Chosen then ran two fine races, at Cheltenham and Punchestown. He was runner-up to Relegate at Cheltenham and third to Tornado Flyer at Punchestown.
There is little doubt Carefully Selected needs a trip and a set of obstacles to come into his own and it will be fascinating to see how he is campaigned by Mullins.
PRESENTING PERCY (PAT KELLY)
There is simply no knowing how good Presenting Percy is and, certainly from this range, he shapes as Ireland’s best prospect of winning the Gold Cup next March.
This is a horse who seems to go on just about every type of surface, although the suspicion is that the better the ground the better he is!
Presenting Percy has twice gone to the Cheltenham Festival and been successful on both occasions.
In 2017, he shrugged off 11-11 to land the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle and last year he strolled to victory in the RSA Insurance Novice Chase. His trainer, Pat Kelly, doesn’t train many horses and doesn’t say a whole lot. But his record speaks for itself and he’s a man who clearly knows the time of day.
NEXT DESTINATION (WILLIE MULLINS)
There is every chance that Next Destination will develop into a top-class staying novice chaser this season.
He was a more than useful novice hurdler last season, winning four of his five races. At Cheltenham, however, he was completely outpaced at a vital stage, in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, before flying home to claim third spot behind Samcro and Black Op. The six-year-old was simply marking time as a hurdler!
GETABIRD (WILLIE MULLINS)
Probably not the most obvious choice, considering he blew out behind Summerville Boy, in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, and ended the season with form figures of pulled up and seventh.
His pulled up at Punchestown in April is misleading, though, the last time we saw him, as he was travelling like a winner when badly hampered two from home in the novice hurdle won by Dortmund Park.
Chasing will surely be his game.
LAURINA (WILLIE MULLINS)
This daughter of Spanish Moon is a smashing talent and simply has to be followed, until we know better!
Formerly trained in France, she is unbeaten in four races for Mullins.
Laurina began by taking a lowly maiden hurdle by 15 lengths at Tramore in the middle of December and went from strength to strength after that.
Her best display came in the Grade One Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, when hardly leaving second gear to score by 18 lengths.
BENIE DES DIEUX (WILLIE MULLINS)
Five times she’s run for Mullins and five times she’s won, three over fences and twice over flights. Benie Des Dieux rounded off last season by winning at Cheltenham and Punchestown, both races over hurdles. She is versatile and tough and has a bright future.
GREAT FIELD (WILLIE MULLINS)
He has won all five of his races over fences, but has obviously been difficult enough to train. Great Field won four times in 2017, between January and April, but was then absent for 11 months, until reappearing at Navan last March.
This exciting and sweet-jumping front-runner beat the race-fit Doctor Phoenix comfortably and the hope is the specialist two-miler will get a trouble-free run this season.
CRACKING SMART (GORDON ELLIOTT)
He was also one of our recommendations a year ago and was shaping well, winning twice and finishing second in his other two outings.
Unfortunately, however, he met with a setback, after going under by a length to Next Destination at Naas in early January and had to miss Cheltenham. Reportedly right back on track, Cracking Smart possesses the potential to make a decent staying chaser.
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