Chris Price’s National Hunt Season Wrap

The National Hunt Diary – 2018/19 season wrap
By Chris Price

With the spring festivals now in the record books, it’s time for the final part of this seasons National Hunt Diary, as we review the key players and some ante-post targets going forward.

Chasers

There is only one place to start and that’s with the diminutive Tiger Roll, small in stature, but big in heart, he gripped the racing world when he recorded back-to-back national wins at Aintree, becoming the first horse since Red Rum 45 years ago to achieve this feat. Connections have said he will not bid for the hat-trick next term; instead he will aim for his fifth win at the Cheltenham Festival, attempting to repeat his 22 length demolition in March. It’s a shame if he doesn’t go back to Aintree again for the world’s most famous race, but I can understand them wanting to do best for the horse, after all, he owes them nothing!

Altior reached a world record 19 jumps wins in a row when landing the Champion and Celebration Chase double for the second year in a row. He was made to dig deep at Cheltenham, and was even headed over the last, but his class got him through. It’s become crystal clear over the last 18 months that he requires a step-up in trip, with Nicky Henderson’s comments that he will be aimed at the King George next year a welcomed sight for jumps fans.
A mouth-watering clash awaits on boxing day and Altior will face rivals such as Cryname, who won the Ascot Chase by an impressive 17 lengths in February, earning him the mantra of the highest rated chaser in training.
In the Gold Cup, defending champion Native river could only finish fourth on ground that was not as testing as 2018, while a new kid on the block emerged in the form of Willie Mullins’ Al Boum Photo, who stayed on best up the hill to repel the challenge of Annibale Fly, placed in the race for the second season in succession.
Kemboy, who unseated Ruby Walsh at the first at Cheltenham, would not have to wait too long for retribution, producing a a flawless round of jumping around Merseyside when taking the Betway Bowl, with King George winner, Clan De Obeaux, well beaten in second. A matchup between kemboy and stablemate Al Boum Photo followed in the Punchestown Gold cup, with Kemboy getting the better of the Festival winner by 2 lengths, it was a valid show from Al Boum Photo, but he just lacked the gears of Kemboy and his jockey Ruby Walsh, who after the race immediately announced his retirement. The racing world will be a worse place without one of the very best in the saddle, but the jockey, who got to ride talents such as Kauto Star, Denman, Hurricane Fly, Big Bucks and Master Minded, got to go out on his own terms, and that should be respected and applauded.

Hurdlers

Espoir D’Allen became the first 5yo to win the Champion Hurdle in 11 years, taking advantage of reigning champion Buveur D’Air falling, whilst Apples Jade and Laurina both ran under par. Melon filled the runner-up spot once more, but had no excuses and was well beaten on this occasion. It was a big success for Gavin Cromwell, with his stable star making it four on the spin this term, and with youth on his side, who says he cannot repeat it.
Buvuer D’Air would then go on to Aintree, where he again wasn’t at his absolute best, getting run down by the ultra-game Supasundae late on. With the JP McManus trained charge still in fine fettle as the season wound down, the team from Seven Barrows decided to send Buvuer D’Air over the Ireland for the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
This time things went to plan under Davy Russell, filling in for the injured Barry Geraghty. Always travelling and showing much more of his old enthusiasm, he was pushed out to turn the tables on Supasundae this time, with Apples Jade once again disappointing back in fifth, perhaps the spring time just isn’t her favourite season.
Paisley Park continued his unbeaten season when taking the Stayers Hurdle at Prestbury Park, adding to his three previous wins over the winter months. Once more he found his now customary flat spot, before bounding clear up the famous hill from Sam Spinner, who bounced back to form after disappointing at that meeting a year ago.
The old legend Faugheen did nothing wrong back in third, however he could not back that up at Aintree and was pulled up with almost a circuit to run, it remains to be seen if we will see the former Champion Hurdler on a racecourse again, but the crucial point, as always, is he went home safe and sound. At Punchestown, Unowhatimeanharry won the Champion Stayers Hurdle for the second time in three years ahead of the Willie Mulls pair of Bacardys and Bapaume, the latter finishing just behind Faugheen at Cheltenham.

Novice Chasers

In the Arkle, Duc De Genievres took advantage of a messy race when winning by 13 lengths; however he could not scale those heights at Punchestown, where a new contender emerged from his own stable in Chacun Pour Soi. Connections will be praying the 7yo stays healthy and allows him to show just how good he can be, as he must hold obvious claims in the Champion Chase. Defi Du Seuil lost little in defeat, over the minimum trip that looks slightly too sharp for him now. It’s still been a fantastic comeback and credit must go to Philip Hobbs and the team, as the former Triumph hurdle winner added the JLT to his collection. He once again got the better of Lostintranslation in second who in turn bounced back to beat RSA winner, Topofthegame at Aintree. As you can tell, there are plenty of young, improving chasers who move into open company next year, it should make for a fascinating division.
Talking of the RSA, for many it was the race of the Festival, with Topofthegame beating Santini, who in turn just held off Delta Work, who in truth hadn’t jumped well enough. The latter put that right at in the Champion Novice Chase and must also take a hand in next year’s staying chase division.

Novice Hurdlers
Willie Mullins has another champion hurdle contender to look forward to in the shape of Klassical Dream, faultless in the Supreme, his rivals were no match in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle as he added a second top-level success this spring.
Felix Desjy ran no race at Chelteham, but did appreciate the return to front-running at Aintree in the Top Novices Hurdle, reversing the Supreme form with Itchy Feet, who 3rd in the Festival opener. He was put in his place at Punchestown, but there should be good prizes in the Gigginstown owned runner next term, whether it be over fences or the smaller obstacles is to be decided.
Minello Indo produced a shock in the Arlbert Barlett, which isn’t uncommon, but he was sent off an almost completely unfancied 50/1. The son of beat Hollow proved it was no fluke however last week on home soil, staying on best of all for the second race in a row to take the Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle. Allaho was placed in both contests which at least gives the form some substance.
Commander Of Fleet was a stayer I thought would land a nice novice prize this spring, however he had to settle for second at Cheltenham and was found to be lame when pulled up at Punchestown. It’s far too early to give up on him, and he’d be one to watch over a fence next season, as chasing should be his game.

City Island won the Ballymore from the well fancied Champ on day 2 of the Festival, with the Nicky and JP combo at least gaining some compensation in the Sefton three weeks later, the son of King’s Theatre relishing the step-up to 3 miles for the first time. He is an intriguing novice chaser in the making, and must feature highly on many people’s ante-post lists for the RSA next season.

That’s it from me for the 2018/19 National Hunt season, a massive thank you to everyone for reading; I’ll see you next season!

We would like to thank Chris for his hard work and dedication this past year and look forward to seeing his next installments.

We would also like to thank Francesca Altoft for the images of Altior and Tiger Roll other images from file. Please remember you can visit Frans site on the link on our homepage.