Saturday 20 January 2018

Track Talk: Time for a novice masterclass at Punchestown

Un De Sceaux
Un De Sceaux

As close as the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle is to beginning the Grade One action for the five-day Punchestown Festival, the concluding Charity Race, which brings the curtain down on the jump season, is only around the corner too.

It's been another memorable jump season and with all the Grade One action that Punchestown will have to offer, there's much more still to come but with Cheltenham and Aintree now beyond us, this current season could certainly be deemed as a positive stepping point to what is ahead in the coming years.

Faugheen's win in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham looked a significant one. This is a race that can often see the victor blown up as a potential winner of two or three on the bounce but you have to appreciate that Faugheen is still unbeaten and could easily have more Champion Hurdles ahead of him.

But it is in the novice category that it is worth focusing on. British-trained runners fared better in the novice races at Aintree than they did at Cheltenham but only marginally and the evidence is there that there's a cracking team of horses on these shores to contest the major races next season.

Of all the graded novice hurdles at Cheltenham, British-trained runners only triumphed in the juvenile races, the Triumph and the Fred Winter, for four-year-olds only.

Douvan won the Supreme Novices, Windsor Park claimed the Neptune and Martello Tower won the Albert Bartlett - all three races won by different trainers.

Staying with the novice hurdles and at Aintree last week, again the Grade One juvenile hurdle stayed at home with Ireland's only runner a 40/1 shot who never landed a blow.

There was no Irish-trained runner in the two-mile novice hurdle, and Alpha Des Obeaux looked to have it all to do in the Grand Sefton over 3m1f when falling at the last, but the 2m4f race on Saturday was won by Nichols Canyon, trained by Willie Mullins.

While a lot of the aforementioned may again be novices next year, but over fences instead, there is an abundance of novice chasers this year that will all be going into the deep end next season and it's mouth-watering.

Again, no British-trained horse won a graded novice chase at Cheltenham which is remarkable but it has to be pointed out that Gold Cup winner Coneygree is indeed a novice and what a lot of beating he'll take next season.

However, Un De Sceaux won the Arkle, Don Poli won the RSA and Vautour gave Willie Mullins a clean sweep when taking the JLT, while Cause Of Causes won the four-miler.

At Aintree, Sizing Granite for Henry de Bromhead beat God's Own who was second to Un De Sceaux, while we only had one runner to take on Saphir De Rheu in the 3m1f novice chase last week and Rawnaq fell when it was too early to predict what would happen.

Punchestown is likely to give us the last opportunity to see theses novices for a few months, but how exciting would it be, if one or two of them were seen taking on the big boys in the BoyleSports Champion Chase or the Bibby Financial Gold Cup.

Either way, we've a lot to look forward to.

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