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advising selections on which to wager, since March 2010.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Which horses will be the stars of the 2018-19 Jumps season?

The coming jumps season looks to have a feel of being wide open with no one horse having dominance over a particular division.

For the Champion Hurdle over 2-mile it can be safely said that the 2017 & 2018 winner Buveur D'Air does not look to be the strongest contender going into 2019, and he could well succumb to a challenger. My immediate thought was that the horse he just beat at Cheltenham last March MELON could well step-up and find another 5-7lb to make him a realistic challenger, however he is yet to win a Grade 1 hurdle. As such, it is likely that the winner of the 2019 Champion hurdle will be one of last season's top novices, and the Cheltenham Festival winning pair of SUMMERVILLE BOY and SAMCRO come immediately to mind. On official ratings there is not much between them with Samcro on OR158 and Summerville Boy on OR156. What may be more informative is that Samcro won his Cheltenham race with a speed figure of 133 whereas Summerville Boy recorded a speed figure of 142. Both have only run 5 times and their current odds for the Champion Hurdle are: Samcro @ 7/1, Summerville Boy @ 14/1.  I think they both have tremendous chances at this point, and a 60/40 split-stake on the pair taking those odds looks a decent ploy.

When considering the Cheltenham Gold Cup the first place to start is with the previous running - not to find the winner but to identify those unlikely to win in 2019.  Winning a Gold Cup takes a superlative effort and only a very special horse is able to return and repeat the feat. Since Arkle won his hat trick of victories, only 2 horses have done it - L'Escargot and Best Mate (who did it twice). Kauto Star won 2 Gold Cups but not in successive years. As much as I like NATIVE RIVER he will do well to repeat the feat as we've not yet seen whether this enormous effort will have left its mark.  MIGHT BITE will be a 10yo in 2019, and that's too old to win a Gold Cup. As for the 3rd placed ANIBALE FLY he just doesn't look good enough. So, who are the possible contenders? The obvious place to start is with PRESENTING PERCY; he looked easily the best staying novice chaser of last season, he is currently the 6/1 fav and he loves Cheltenham. Certainly, Presenting Percy looked the part when winning the RSA Novice Chase at Cheltenham, and my only concern about that race is the speed figure, which suggests it was a bit slow. Also in that race was AL BOUM PHOTO who fell 2-out when certainly not out of the race, and subsequent efforts suggest he'd have pushed the winner.  At the moment Al Boum Photo is 33/1 and that looks very interesting, as I cannot see any of the other novice chasers from 2017-18 stepping-up into serious Gold Cup contenders at this stage - and I include his stablemate FOOTPAD in that assessment.  So far unbeaten as a chaser, the Arkle winner Footpad did not look like he stayed 3-mile in his only attempt at the trip as a hurdler, and I think he looks too good at 2-mile to contemplate a step-up in trip unless he is uncompetitive when facing 2-mile Champion Chaser ALTIOR.  It could be that this season is another when we see a novice chaser come to the fore in the manner Coneygree did in 2014-15.  The horses that have the potential to do that are BLACK OP and TOPOFTHEGAME, but looking for a potential Gold Cup winner from a novice chaser at this time of the season is a real guessing game.  Getting a horse to the Cheltenham Festival is a feat in itself, so I have no problem in taking odds about 2 or 3 in any of the championship races at this stage, and the 6/1 about Presenting Percy looks decent if he continues to progress, and the 33/1 about Al Boum Photo looks very generous.

My bread & butter profits will be made on the staying handicap chasers and looking at the results towards the end of last season, I'm warming to the chances of BEWARE THE BEAR.  He ran 4th in the Ultima Handicap Chase over 3m1f which was a great effort as he was a long way off the pace at one stage. His 8yo peer-group are a tremendous set of handicappers, but Beware The Best is very lightly raced for his age with just 8 chase starts and only 13 races in all under rules. The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury could be too quick for him to win as he's likey to fall too far behind, but if he goes for it he's sure to be staying on strong. A better race for him could be the 3m3f Grade 3 Chase run at Cheltenham on Bet.Victor Chase day in mid-November. That would set him up for another bid in the Welsh National. He does go well off a long break having won both his seasonal debuts as a chaser. I can see him going well at Aintree in the Grand National in 2019 (currently 50/1 for that) as the fences are much easier to jump these days which will compensate for his (sometimes) erratic jumping. He starts the season on OR148 and that's a generous mark for him as he has a bit of class, and he could easily end  the season rated 155+.

Another who could do well this year is LABEL DES OBEAUX who ran 6th in the Scottish National last April of OR147.  Although he's not won since April 2017, last season he raced mostly off OR151+ and now he has slipped down to OR146 which is 2lb below his last winning rating. He didn't really stay 4-mile LTO, but he ran well enough to suggest he has a good win in him off OR146. Dropped to a 3-mile trip on a RH track (Ascot) so long as the ground is not soft he should have a winning opportunity.  His trainer Alan King reckons he goes best right-handed and as he showed when he won at Ayr in April 2016 and the Ascot meeting on the 1st Saturday in November has the Grade 3 Sodexo 3-mile handicap chase which could be perfect for him.

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