It is already only five months until the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and eager value-seeking punters may already be getting together some ante-post accumulators in the hope of winning big in March.
Our first five horses to track over the upcoming National Hunt season can be viewed here, while below are another quintet seemingly on the cusp of noteworthy campaigns:
Aux Ptits Soins
It’s easy to forget that Aux Ptits Soins has still only raced five times in his career and only twice since joining the team of Paul Nicholls – winning the Coral Cup at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival and then taking fifth in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the same meeting in the March just gone.
Having not really seen out the trip in the latter, races around the 2m4f-3m trip look on the cards as the grey gelding prepares to go novice chasing. A crack at the RSA Chase looks most logical at this stage for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, for which he is an ante-post 14/1.
Jockey Nick Scholfield once described Aux Ptits Soins as the “best he’d ever ridden at home”, while Nicholls has labelled him a “proper horse”.
He is a strong traveller who looks open to significant amounts of improvement.
Any horse racing fans paying attention to developments at the inaugural Goffs UK Aintree sale in April may have noted that the biggest sale at the event was the £335,000 purchase of Samcro by Gigginstown, who has since been sent to the team of Gordon Elliott.
The German gelding has only seen the racecourse once to date, when tanking to victory in an Irish point-to-point at Monksgrange prior to joining Elliott’s yard.
It is believed that Samcro is a future Cheltenham Gold Cup horse and a promising novice hurdle career is expected this year.
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is generally regarded as the more likely longer-term target, but don’t be surprised to see him contest the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle instead at March’s Festival.
Ballyoptic remained unbeaten in hurdles company when securing his fourth consecutive success in the sphere recently at Chepstow.
Interestingly, this came in a handicap off a mark of 148 when given a high weight, running over an inadequate short trip and with trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies indicating that the horse was only around 80% fit.
He ended last season with victory in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree’s Grand National meeting, where he had the likes of Willie Mullins duo Bellshill and Gangster in behind.
With Thistlecrack leaving the staying hurdling division to go chasing, the World Hurdle looks especially open this term. Ballyoptic is currently 16/1 to win that in March.
Rewind back to the end of the 2014/15 season and Sizing Granite won the Maghull Novices’ Chase at Aintree, beating the 160-rated God’s Own fairly comfortably off level weights.
Last season was significantly disappointing, which included pulling up in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham after a terrible error at the first fence.
The retirement of trainer Colm Murphy this summer has seen the horse moved to the yard of Colin Tizzard, who has no shortage of high-profile chasers on his hands with Cue Card and Thistlecrack.
This change of stable could get Sizing Granite back on the positive path he appeared to be heading down two years ago and he may well prove an each-way player in the 2m division this term.
Owner JP McManus has been busy this summer strengthening his team, with Supreme Novices’ Hurdle third Buveur D’Air and Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle victor Unowhatimeanharry among those purchased.
Slightly less well known is Kotkikova, an exciting five-year-old mare from France who has won 11 of her 14 career starts. This includes eight successes on the bounce in races which she has completed.
It remains undecided whether she will be campaigned over hurdles or fences, with many anticipating a crack at Vroum Vroum Mag or another Willie Mullins fancy in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
However, she is rated 147 over the smaller obstacles, compared to 156 over fences. Kotkikova is already a Grade 1 winner over fences and has ample winning form over 2m5f on very soft ground.
This may be a bit far-fetched and females hardly ever contest the Cheltenham Gold Cup, but she would get a 7lb weight allowance for being a mare in the Festival showpiece and could enter the Gold Cup equation if schooling well over fences for Nicky Henderson.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing