My love for national hunt racing started from a very young age. Living locally to Prestbury Park, high-class jumps racing was just around the corner. Regular outings on New Year’s Day and to the November meeting were followed by “dentist” appointments during Festival week where some of my fondest memories were made, watching the action from the public footpath with my dad. I was lucky enough to see Masterminded defend his Champion Chase crown in 2009 and Sizing Europe lands the same contest two years later.
A love for the horses came first, but with age came an interest in punting, and in particular antepost betting. Followers of my X/Twitter account may be familiar with my Cheltenham Antepost thread where I have highlighted the likes of Constitution Hill 25/1 and Facile Vega 20/1 in recent times.
Top 5 Favourite Horses
The New One
The flag bearer for the Nigel Twiston-Davies team for many a year and one of the toughest horses around, The New One played a huge part in growing my affiliation for this great game. He wore his heart on his sleeve and absolutely relished a fight up the Cheltenham hill. Punters love a horse that sticks their neck out for you, and The New One did just that.
The Mullins team are no strangers to talented horses, and I believe Yorkhill was riddled with ability. He became an enigma of a horse but provided some jaw dropping performances throughout his career.
Whether it be cruising round the inside rail of Prestbury Park under a motionless Ruby Walsh, or a jumping masterclass from the front in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. You never quite knew what to expect from Yorkhill, and I loved that about him.
Henry De Bromhead’s superstar mare had it all. An unbeaten streak to rival the likes of Altior and Big Buck’s, four Festival wins, Grade 1’s galore, and that perfect fairytale ending. I thought the way she put races to bed turning for home was astonishing, the shear speed and ability to kick clear in a matter of strides was a weapon few horses possess.
She was a magical mare who for the last four seasons has also been the lynchpin of my Cheltenham antepost assault.
I am sure many national hunt fans have a soft spot for a Nicky Henderson chaser and despite seeing Sprinter Sacre and Altior numerous times live, the one I am most fond of is Shishkin. His Supreme win was stacked full of promise, and I was stupidly excited for his fencing debut. An electric round of jumping followed, and he duly went on to land the Arkle.
Since then, his career has had a few setbacks, but his class continues to shine through. His defeat of dual Champion Chaser Energumene in the Clarence House remains one of the best races in recent times and he bounced back from defeat in the Ryanair with a gutsy success in the Aintree Bowl. People are quick to highlight his flaws, but I think he’s all heart and that’s why I am extremely fond of him.
You can’t have a list of favourite horses without including one in those famous green and gold hoops. Binocular was the first superstar that captured my imagination. On his day I thought he was awesome, but a little like Shishkin, he did have some setbacks along the way.
Officially rated 172 at his peak, he had some thrilling battles with the likes of Rock On Ruby but his big day came when landing the 2010 Champion Hurdle under a brilliant AP ride.
Top 5 Favourite Racing Memories
Envoi Allen 2020 Ballymore
Having won the 2019 Champion Bumper, Envoi Allen was rightly well fancied for the following years novice hurdles. My Dad and I jumped on the Ballymore bandwagon early and throughout the year we were constantly counting down to the day we knew he would deliver. Heading into the Festival as one of the bankers of the meet, Davy Russell had Envoi a little further back than I would’ve liked turning for home.
We were down on the rail by the final flight and crowd roared him into the straight. The afterburners kicked in and he pinged the last before powering away up the hill. 12 months of excitement, delivered perfectly in a matter of seconds.
The New One 2016 International Hurdle
No matter how much form study you do, sometimes things just don’t go to plan and that was exactly the case on the 10th December 2016. I had ventured down to Prestbury Park with a few of my friends and the first few races had been a nightmare, but I kept saying The New One would save us in the International.
Richard Johnson was in the saddle and the rain came just before the off. Making all, The New One fended off old rival My Tent Or Yours and dug deep up the Cheltenham Hill. Nothing quite like one of your all-time favourites delivering the goods when you need it most!
Yorkhill 2020 Rehearsal Chase
Just when the racing world thought Yorkhill was finally finished, the enigma delivered one final 66/1 knock out blow. Keen through the early parts of the contest, you could just tell the old Yorky might be back.
Having followed him through his entire career, I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing. He jumped for fun and repelled the challenge of Whatmore and Cool Mix up the run in. Only Yorkhill could’ve provided a moment like that!
Binocular 2010 Champion Hurdle
The first year my dad let me have £1 on the Festival I picked out Binocular for the 2008 Supreme. Thinking back that was hardly a surprise given he was ridden by AP McCoy, I quite liked the look of JP’s Colours, and he was favourite. He duly went on to finish second but my dad told me to stick with him.
I duly did and was met with disappointment when he finished third in the 2009 Champion Hurdle. The 2010 Champion Hurdle soon came around and my loyalty hadn’t faded, to the point where I’d convinced my dad to let me have £2 on this time around. Binocular bolted up and I remember demanding my winnings upon arrival home from school.
Facile Vega 2022 Champion Bumper
Followers of my Twitter/X account will know we jumped on the Facile Vega hype train at 20/1 for the Bumper two seasons ago. That bet itself was a stab in the dark, but when Facile Vega sliced through the mud and stormed up the Cheltenham hill, he completed the best day I have ever had on course.
Earlier on the card, Sir Gerhard landed one of our antepost long rangers, the Bumper/Ballymore double at a massive 100/1. The big winners kept coming as incredibly I’d landed on Commander Of Fleet at 40/1 in the Coral Cup and Global Citizen at 40/1 in the Grand Annual. The rain poured down all afternoon, but my spirits were far from damp. An incredible day and one I will likely never repeat!
Horses I’m Looking Forward to Seeing This Season
Robcour have been a prominent force at the sales in recent times, and I believe they may have a seriously smart prospect on their hands in the shape of An Tobar. Bought privately after an emphatic PTP success, we had to wait a while to see him make his racecourse debut. We will have to see if the form amounts to anything, but I loved what I saw.
Physically, a massive scopey individual, he had the ability to quicken off a slow pace and jump beautifully throughout. I’d expect to see him go up in trip this season but further down the line, I would be incredibly excited about him as a novice chaser.
Jonjo O’Neill has a lovely team of young horses to go to war with this season and he’s already unleashed the likes of Johnnywho and Mister Meggit. I think it may pay to follow stablemate Springwell Bay, who I believe is attractively handicapped off a mark of 137.
Jonjo O’Neill horses can sometimes be tricky to catch at the right time, but I would be amazed if this fella isn’t targeted at some of the valuable handicap hurdles over the intermediate trip.
Arguably the horse who has generated the most hype this season is Ballyburn for owner Ronnie Bartlett and trainer Willie Mullins. Having highlighted him at 33/1 for this seasons Ballymore, and 40/1 for this seasons Bartlett, I am incredibly excited to see what he can do having watched his price tumble throughout the Summer.
He visually appears to have a huge engine and given his PTP background I am hopeful of a smooth transition to hurdles. As an exuberant racer, he will need to learn to settle, but I think he’s an extremely talented individual who will hopefully take high rank in the novice division this season.