Road to glory begins here for gems of the National Hunt game
After a summer's rest, the stable stars are slowly filtering back out of the woodwork, and back onto the racetracks.
Just in time for the heavy rain, the dull skies and most importantly, for the softer ground of winter. Suckers for punishment these lads, aren't they?
For the real blue bloods of the National Hunt game, the season is a six to seven month thing and their road to glory, plotted so intricately by the masters who train them, is beginning to take shape right about now.
Seasonal debuts are taking place left, right and centre. Of a run-of-the-mill Tuesday in Navan, you might be lucky enough to spot a legend like Tiger Roll towards the rear of the field of a flat race for example, or an Envoi Allen up the road in Down Royal, giving a taster of all that lies in store.
The best is yet to come.
Watch the cobwebs disappear now as they rise through the gears for an March/April peak. It's then when they'll hit top speed, in the bright lights when the sun shines. For now, it's good to have the jumps back.
"I loved it, I really loved it. He was brilliant," said Ruby Walsh of Envoi Allen's sensational seasonal reappearance last week. You'd almost have to pinch yourself to wake up, and remember we're only in November.
The fact that Gordon Elliott's prodigious six year old was priced at the outrageous odds of 1/14 for his pipe opener goes a long way towards summing it up. He's unbeaten, he's improving, and he almost looks unbeatable. Next pin on his calendar is the Drinmore Novices' Chase in Fairyhouse this weekend, a race which always attracts a talented contingent, a race he'll be expected to walk away with.
All roads lead to the Marsh Novice's Chase in Cheltenham. It would take a brave punter to bet against him at ante-post odds of 9/4 with William Hill.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Last year, we all forgot about Shishkin in the madness that surrounds the Supreme Novice's hurdle as somehow, Nicky Henderson's highly rated youngster went off at odds of 6/1.
He did the business on that occasion and by all accounts, he's brought that form home with him. The six-year-old is said to be burning it up over the fences over at seven barrows, with Henderson even comparing him to two of the greatest horses he has ever trained.
"He schooled over fences for the first time...and I’ve only seen two other horses do what he did. They were both big, both ran in the Supreme, won the Arkle, and won the Champion Chase, but I’m not going to say anymore! What Shishkin did was unreal," he said in his Racing Post stable tour.
Shiskin ran yesterday in Kempton and was imperious on his debut. Flawless at every one of his fences. Nicky Henderson gave the performance a ten out of ten.
What else needs to be said? He has cemented his place at the top of the market Arkle and at this rate, it will take something special to stop him.
It's no secret where Tiger Roll is heading, with all National Hunt followers hoping he'll get there. Gordon Elliott's Tiger kicked off his season with a low key flat-race in Navan last week and all going well, he'll end it on the biggest stage of all.
Despite owner Michael O'Leary's repeated attempts to play down the feats of this National Hunt legend, the hype will build and build as he bids to become the first horse ever to win three Aintree Grand Nationals in a row.
The Gigginstown Horse has already had a run on the flat and disappointed massively last time out at Cheltenham. Gordon Elliott has confirmed he will have a full MOT this week with a view to the Cross Country Chase at the Cotswolds still on the agenda.
Ferny Hollow dug Willie Mullins out of a Cheltenham hole last year, when he became the yard's first festival winner in the Champion Bumper. He hasn't reappeared since but Patrick Mullins has indicated that he'll be campaigned for either the Supreme Novice's hurdle or the Ballymore.
Ferny Hollow squared off against Bob Olinger last Friday at Gowran in what was essentially a match race as both horses pulled well clear of the field. He won the race by one length and is now clear favorite for the Supreme and joint favorite the Ballymore after that performance.
Mere inches denied Paul Nolan's stable star Cheltenham glory last year but the seven-year-old could easily right that wrong this season. Just last week, he impressed when gamely beating School Boy Hours in Punchestown and the seven-year-old will more than likely head for the RSA this time. He disappointed in the Florida Pearl chase at Punchestown over the weekend coming second to Pencilfulloflead. A step up in trip might be likely for Bryan Cooper's mount.
There's hardly a more iconic duo in the game than Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle with the pair now two years unbeaten over hurdles. Blackmore gave Henry De Bromhead's star the perfect ride to win the mare's hurdle this year and the Waterford handler says it's between the Mare's and the Champion Hurdle again this time around.
First things first, they'll head for the Hatton's Grace in Fairyhouse this weekend and they'll take it from there.
The excitement is building now. Bring on the jumps.
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