National Hunt season preview part 2: Novice divisions
In the second of a two-part series, Chad Yeomans sits down with Betway ambassadors Katie Walsh and Ross O'Sullivan to discuss the novice divisions.
CY: We’ll move on to the novice divisions and a horse that everyone is talking about: Envoi Allen. Ross, I’ll start with you, how good could he be?
ROS: He’s as good as you’ll see. He was 1/14 to win a few weeks ago in Down Royal. I was there and he was foot perfect in everything. It’s very, very hard to find any fault in him. He’s the horse that any trainer would want to have – he’s a dream horse. He’s going to be very short wherever and whenever he runs, but he’s just a lovely horse to watch and marvel at.
CY: For the Marsh Chase, which his apparently his intended target, he’s currently the favourite, which is incredibly short. Katie, we watched the Ballymore last year and, coming down the hill, we were thinking, ‘he could get beat here.’ But, like all good horses, he was given a squeeze and away he went.
KW: Good horses, no matter what happens, will get you out of a hole. The same as when he got left at the start in the Champion Bumper the year before. Round the outside, he whizzes up, it was just like driving a different car. He could definitely be a future Gold Cup horse and, do you know what, I think we need it. A couple of divisions have been quite light on their feet for the last couple of years. Racing needs horses like Envoi Allen. I just hope he stays well, as it’s so hard to keep these horses sound.
CY: I quite like it’s been said that Envoi Allen is going for the Marsh, as it will leave the Arkle and RSA quite open, rather than scaring off other horses. Who are the novices that you’re looking forward to seeing?
ROS: I’m really looking forward to seeing Monkfish. I thought he was a very good horse last year and was very good at Cheltenham when he won. He beat Latest Exhibition that day, who was very impressive in his first run over fences in Punchestown a couple of weeks ago. The further he went, the better he got, which I love to see. They’re the two novices I’m really looking forward to seeing. We haven’t seen Monkfish this season, but he looks like a horse to jump a fence – he’s a big horse.
KW: Latest Exhibition is very much like Paisley Park. He’s not a very strong traveller. If you see him, his ears move a lot. He’s kind of watching and looking. He’s on the bridle, he’s off the bridle. It’s never very flashy, but the more you get stuck into him, the more he gives, and that’s always nice.
CY: And, Katie, we’ve spoken numerous times about Shishkin for Nicky Henderson. He was nearly brought down in the Supreme and then flew up the hill to beat Abacadabras. Do you think he could be the type to go unbeaten this season and go off a short-price favourite for the Arkle?
KW: That’s what it looks like. He’s just a very good horse because, again, he can get you out of situations that average horses can’t. That’s the difference.
ROS: Like Monkfish, he’s another former point-to-point winner. These horses that win their point-to-points and then go to the track, it definitely helps them an awful lot, jumping-wise, when they go novice chasing. Unlike Champ, who took a good bit of warming up last year to get his jumping together, I think the likes of Shishkin and Monkfish will take to fences really well.
CY: Going back to Champ, I quite like when horses do win after making a mistake, as it usually shows they have a lot under the bonnet.
ROS: Without a doubt. Normally, if their jumping isn’t championship standard, they don’t win, but he did win. So that’s a sign of a serious engine.
CY: It would be something, wouldn’t it, if a horse named after AP McCoy did go on to win a Gold Cup, which is what he was bought for. We’ll touch quickly on the novice hurdlers. Ferny Hollow, Appreciate It and Ballyadam are the three names that look like they’re going to dominate on your side of the Irish Sea. I haven’t seen a novice this side that has been too impressive so far.
ROS: Ballyadam was very impressive the other weekend in Down Royal. It was a 12-length win, he couldn’t have won it any easier than what he did. It probably wasn’t the strongest of contests, but I know there’s a lot of talk about him and he’s held in high consideration in that yard.
Ireland v England
KW: The advantage we have here is that we have to take each other on a lot more than what the English horses do. It’s hard to really get behind something in England when, sometimes, they can dodge a lot of bullets and then meet in Cheltenham and no one really knows where they stand until the race is over. Whereas we have the Morgiana weekend, we all have to meet at Leopardstown at Christmas time, that’s where everyone will go, so our cards are laid on the table. Like it or not, you’ll know where you stand after Christmas.
What’s good about that is that horses really get to learn how to race properly when it gets competitive at the back of the second-last or the last. I think that can sometimes be an advantage when it gets tight in Cheltenham, if you’re used to having to fight your corner and get down and dirty and dig in and fight.
In England, horses can win by 10 or 12 lengths and people go, ‘God, he looked like an airplane,’ but, really, in the back of your mind, you’re thinking: ‘I wonder what he’ll find off the bridle? Will he find anything off the bridle?’ You don’t really know until that button is pressed. But, in Ireland, that button has to get pressed, because there’s somebody breathing down your neck, so you know exactly what’s there and what’s not there.
CY: I often say, 95 per cent of the time, if a horse wins by 10, 12 or 15 lengths on the bridle, it usually says more about what you’ve beaten than the horse that you are. I’ll get one horse to follow from both of you. We’ll start with you Katie – one name that the Betway customers should follow?
Horses to follow
KW: I like a mare than won the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle last year with Daryl Jacob, Concertista. It’s very rare when you read race comments at Cheltenham and it says: ‘Came down the hill easy and was very impressive.’ Full stop. Usually, in Cheltenham, it’s, ‘this happened at the second last,’ or ‘it was a fight the whole way as far as the line.’ Very few horses get a comment about being very impressive, because that’s the real test. I don’t know what her plan is or where she’s going but she’s most certainly my one to watch.
CY: And, Ross, what about you?
ROS: I’d like the horse that was second in the Champion Bumper last year, Appreciate It. She did things the hard way, was ridden handy all the way, and just got done on the line by Ferny Hollow. He’ll probably go jumping and is probably more of a staying type of horse than anything, but he’d be the horse I’d like to follow for the season.
CY: And are there any horses from the point-to-point scene you think we should follow?
ROS: There are three horses that have won their point-to-points impressively, have cost a right few quid and look like they’re going to be progressive types to go onto the track – probably as bumper horses this year and see how they progress.
One is called Hollow Games, who won by seven lengths at Punchestown on debut for Gordon Elliott last weekend after being bought from James Doyle. Gars De Sceaux is another out of Gordon’s who came from Denis Murphy. And the third horse came from Pat Doyle and has gone to Henry de Bromhead, a horse called Bob Olinger. He’s gone into the Robcour colours.
CY: I’ve heard a lot about Bob Olinger. He’s for the Ballymore and slightly longer for the Supreme and the Albert Bartlett. We’ve had people requesting these prices so they must have seen his point-to-point video already.
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