2020/21 National Hunt Season Review
As the dust settles on another magical National Hunt season, I have decided to look at some of the superstars of the season along with the races that will live long in the memory. There have also been a few disappointments and some controversial moments along the way!
Stars of the Season
Honeysuckle – 1111
This year’s Champion Hurdle heroine is undoubtedly my horse of the season. Coming into the season a perfect 9/9, including her PTP win, Honeysuckle has remained unbeaten, defending both her Hatton’s Grace and Irish Champion Hurdle crown. A second Cheltenham Festival victory followed when she destroyed a high-class field in the Champion Hurdle before a gutsy display saw her power home in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle. She is clearly an unbelievably talented filly, but she is an iron mare too. When she has had to dig deep and find more, she just keeps finding! Her total career earnings have surpassed £780,000 taking her past the likes of Annie Power and 6-time Cheltenham Festival winner, Quevega. Legendary status surely awaits her in time but with rumours of a potential chasing campaign surfacing, will she attempt to emulate Istabraq or Dawn Run!
Shishkin – 11111
Last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle winner, Shishkin, has been the shinning light for English racing having taken to fences like a duck to water. Following in the footsteps of his legendary stablemates, Spinter Sacre and Altior, Shishkin has made a real name for himself. The racing world held their breath when he charged down to the first at Kempton, and truth be told, there hasn’t been a moments worry since! He is electric over his fences and appears to jump better the quicker they go. He was outstanding in the Arkle, brushing aside the likes of Allmankind and Captain Guinness with considerable ease. A mouth-watering clash with Energumene, Chacun Pour Soi and Put The Kettle On awaits in next seasons Champion Chase!
Henry De Bromhead
Without a doubt, my trainer of the season is Henry De Bromhead. Often overshadowed by the brilliance of his stable jockey, Rachael Blackmore, Henry could arguable be one of the unsung heroes. His achievements speak for themselves though and he deserves his place amongst the stars of the season. Henry has long been an exceptional trainer, but he took his status to new levels this season and became the first trainer ever to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, and Gold Cup in the same year. Add in a Savills Chase, Hatton’s Grace, Irish Champion Hurdle and a season capping success in the Aintree Grand National and you really do have unbelievable season! Take a bow, Henry De Bromhead.
Colreevy – 11111
Sent Novice Chasing by her masterful trainer, Colreevy has not disappointed. She’s gone a perfect 5/5, winning two Grade 1’s and the first ever Mares Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. She appears to love jumping the larger obstacles and her form lines look seriously strong. Throughout the season she has beaten the likes of Pencilfulloflead, Mount Ida and Elimay before lowering the colours of both Monkfish and Envoi Allen at Punchestown. Those rivals had excuses that day but Colreevy still put up a serious performance. To my great surprise she is already in foal to Walk In The Park, so it would appear her racing career has finished in the perfect way. She ends her career unbeaten over fences, boasting an overall record of 9 wins from 15 races. Her offspring will certainly be of a serious interest and she deserves her spot amongst the stars of this season.
Minella Indo – 11F41
This year’s Gold Cup Champion is my next star of the season and despite winning jump racing’s most coveted crown, he may not be on everyone’s list. Starting the season off in modest company, Minella Indo enhanced his Gold Cup claims with two smooth victories and was subsequently sent off 5/2 favourite for the Savills Chase at Christmas. He came a cropper at the eighth fence and his confidence seemed to be dented in the jumping department when finishing a disappointing fourth in the Irish Gold Cup six weeks later. Minella Indo does have a fine Cheltenham record though and came alive once again around Prestbury Park. His jumping was much better and travelled into the contest like an exceptional horse. Stablemate A Plus Tard couldn’t live with him up the hill and two-time defending champion, Al Boum Photo, was back in third. To bounce back to form after a mid-season blip, in the big one itself, secures Minella Indo his spot in the stars of the season.
Rachael Blackmore is quite simply an outstanding jockey. Her achievements this season speak for themself. Six winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including a famous success aboard Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, was backed up by making history in the Aintree Grand National. Rachael became the first female jockey to win National Hunts most famous race aboard the Henry De Bromhead trained Minella Times. Whether she is riding at the Cheltenham Festival in a Championship race or a 0-100 handicap hurdle at Down Royal, she seems to make all the right decisions. Her race riding is tactically superb, highlighted by a very clever ride aboard Sir Gerhard in the Champion Bumper. Rachael has made history this season, but I get the feeling this is just the start!
Frodon – 14151
Bryony Frost and Frodon have struck up one of the most well-known partnerships in racing over the past few seasons, notching up numerous big Cheltenham handicap wins and a famous victory in the 2019 Ryanair Chase. The pair notched up their biggest career success to date when landing this season’s King George with a masterclass from the front. Frodon went on to place fifth in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, giving Bryony another great spin from the front, before dropping in trip for his last start at Sandown. Mister Fisher headed him jumping the last but Frodon would not be denied and battled back gamely to land the spoils. Both he and Bryony show National Hunt racing in it’s best light and the King George hero is certainly a star of the season for me.
Crowned Champion jockey for the first time, Harry Skelton is undoubtedly a star of the season. Now he clearly benefits from the success of his brother, Dan, but the pair have, and probably always will be, the perfect team. Harry has ridden out of his skin this season, notching up 152 wins at a very impressive 22% strike rate. Aggressive front running rides on the likes of Captain Chaos and Allmankind were the signature of an exceptional campaign. He may take some stopping in a bid to defend his crown next season.
The Unsung Heroes
The Storyteller – PU112112257
The Storyteller has been one hell of a horse for connections over the years, earning just under a quarter of a million pounds in prize money. He has had yet another unbelievable season, running 10 times since late July. For a horse Officially Rated 163 over fences and 154 over hurdles, it is testament to connections that we get to see him so often. His season highlights include a win at the Galway Festival, second in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, second in the Irish Gold Cup and an elusive second Grade 1 triumph in the Ladbrokes Champion Chase at Down Royal. Add in 2 more wins, a fifth in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham and a seventh placed effort at Punchestown and you have an extremely successful season.
Petit Mouchoir – 3522F
Petit Mouchoir has long been a stalwart of the National Hunt game and to my surprise was sold by Gigginstown at the start of the season. Seemingly wrote off by his old connections, Noel and Valerie Moran swooped in to purchase the loveable grey and I think he’s repaid their faith. Now a ten-year-old, he came into the season entering his twilight racing years but reappeared with a fantastic third in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at Christmas. He slightly disappointed on his next start behind Honeysuckle before running another good race to finish second to Jason The Militant. Sent off a 22/1 shot, carrying close to top weight in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham, Petit Mouchoir ran his heart out to finish a staying on second. His season finished with a tumble at Cork but this warrior off a horse ran his heart out once again this season and despite not getting his head in front, goes down as an unsung hero. Horses like Petit Mouchoir, make National Hunt racing the magical sport it is.
Skyace – 11206F1141F
Bought for just £600 by connections, Sky Ace has now won just over £100,000 worth of prize money, including a Grade 1 success. She started off her season with a three-mile success all the way back in June. She beat the 98 rated Desert Island by just under four lengths that day, off level weights. Fast forward the clock nine months, and eight starts later, she is fending off the Willie Mullins trained Gauloise to claim Grade 1 success after a fine fourth at the Cheltenham Festival! To say she is an owner’s dream is quite simply an understatement. I speak on behalf of thousands of racing fans up and down the country when I say owning a horse, let alone a Grade 1 winner, is a dream of mine. The fact she was bought for just £600 amongst a group of friends makes the story so much sweeter. Skyace sits amongst my unsung heroes for this season but I hope in years to come she can be a star!
Danny Mullins and Flooring Porter
Flooring Porter is one of the most improved horses in training and he has had an outstanding season climbing the staying hurdle ranks. Often a horse can progress through the handicap ranks and run at Graded level, but not many are able to kick on and win Grade 1’s, including the biggest staying hurdle race of them all, the Stayers at Cheltenham. He was partnered that day by a certain Danny Mullins. Ever the bridesmaid at Cheltenham, Danny finally got his day in the sun picking up a late spare. He gave Flooring Porter a fantastic front running ride and the pair powered up the Cheltenham Hill. In my opinion Danny Mullins is an outstanding jockey and doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He has had another wonderful season, which included success aboard Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup. I think it was fitting that he joined forces with another rising star for what could be a career defining moment. Danny Mullins and Flooring Porter both go down as unsung heroes as the pair, despite their achievements, are criminally underrated by most!
Flops of the Season
Envoi Allen – 111FPU
I for one am a huge Envoi Allen fan, so it is with great regret that he tops the list for flops of the season. His first two novice chase starts were a procession but to Envoi’s credit he travelled and jumped like a majestic beast. Asterion Forlonge, in receipt of 11lbs, stood in his way on his next start but the grey took a tumble at the first and Envoi strolled to another effortless victory. With events unfolding away from the track, Envoi moved to Henry De Bromhead’s just weeks before Cheltenham where he never looked himself and came crashing down at the fourth. He went on to be pulled up behind Monkfish and Colreevy at Punchestown in what turned out to be a major disappointment. He did suffer an injury and subsequently has a viable excuse but to see him pull up was a low point of the season for me. It does however mean Envoi Allen has lost his unbeaten record and finished the season with no big spring festival win. I doubt many punters would have sensed that was on the cards after a glowing chase debut at Down Royal in October!
Santini – 253PU
Last season’s Gold Cup runner up, Santini, has been a major disappointment for me this year. He ran a huge race in last season’s Gold Cup and given his lack of chasing experience going into that contest, he was entitled to take another step forward this season. Several backward steps would appear to be the direction he has gone. A reappearance run behind Lake View Lad would not appear to be the best start to a Gold Cup campaign but with plenty of fences taken out due to low sun, there were excuses. Excuses were again more than fair when he ran an okay race to finish fifth in the King George, around a course and track we know is not to his liking. I do struggle to find reasons for such a laboured effort in the rearranged Cotswold Chase and then a dismal display in the big one itself. I don’t think Nicky Henderson has covered himself in glory with the training of Santini this year but for whatever reason the horse appears to have completely fallen out love with the game. Fingers crossed he can bounce back next season.
Many siblings of National Hunt superstars fail to reach the dizzy heights set by their older brother or sister. Being a full brother to the legend Sprinter Sacre, I along with many punters, was extremely excited after Flinter Sacre bolted up in a Kempton bumper last season. His jockey, Barry Geraghty, was full of praise for him after that success and expectation was subsequently high before his eagerly anticipated hurdles debut in November. Flinter Sacre was unbelievably keen and didn’t jump from start to finish. He doesn’t seem to know his job just yet, but the early signs are still very worrying. Nobody expected him to match his big brother’s achievements, but I must admit I did think he’d be a fair bit better than he’s shown. Still only a six-year-old, lets hope he can turn things around.
Quite possibly the biggest flop of the 2020/21 season has been English Racing! Now this is a problem that has been bubbling under the surface for quite a while now, but the issue really came to fruition at this years Cheltenham Festival. The final score in the Prestbury Park Cup read a staggering 23-5 to Ireland. Cheveley Park Stud have invested heavily in National Hunt racing over the past few seasons and despite being based in England, have sent many of their horses to be trained in Ireland. The reason why, prize money! The prize money is quite simply not good enough in England and until there are some drastic changes to the season as a whole, the Irish will continue to dominate.
Colin Tizzard is a fantastic trainer and he has enjoyed plenty of success over the past few seasons, but this year’s campaign hasn’t gone to plan. The form of his yard has been woeful, and the stable stars and promising novices have failed to fire. The likes of Lostintranslation, The Big Breakaway, Fiddlerontheroof, Rose Of Arcadia and Elixir De Nutz have failed to show quite the levels I’m sure many believe they are capable of. With just the 37 winners, it was Colin’s worst haul since 2013/14 where he had 26 but also 123 less runners! His returns to a £1 level stake was also the lowest he has ever achieved at -£202.65. With Colin set to hand over his license to right hand man and son, Joe, it actually saddens me that he was unable to go out on a high. Nevertheless, he has provided racing with some magical memories over the years and I would like to wish him a happy retirement.
Allaho – Ryanair Chase, Cheltenham Festival
In its relatively short history, The Ryanair Chase has thrown up some magical renewals and some outstanding winners. Front running masterclasses have also been a feature with the likes of Albertas Run, Un De Sceaux and the mighty Vautour all dominating quality fields from the front. Allaho added his name to this illustrious list at this year’s Festival and did so in style! He obliterated multiple Grade 1 winners and looked the winner from a long way out. He was relentless and galloped his rivals into the ground, recording the highest Timeform rating ever awarded in this contest. There were some astonishing performances at Cheltenham this year but for me, Allaho tops the lot!
Yorkhill – Celebration Chase, Newcastle
Quite possibly my favourite race of the season came at Newcastle in late November. The Betfair Exchange Rehearsal Handicap Chase served up an absolute cracker! Sent off a wild 66/1, former two-time Cheltenham Festival winner, Yorkhill, rolled back the years to record what is now a famous last win. He truly has been one of the enigmas off the sport. With a bucket load of talent and clearly a mischievous brain to match, it appeared Yorkhill’s winning days were behind him. Sandy Thompson had other ideas though and worked his magic once again. Yorkhill popped off prominent and soon found himself tanking along in the lead. He jumped like a stag throughout and was so so game up the home straight, fending off the charge from Whatmore, Cool Mix and Takingrisks. Sadly, an injury has meant a slightly early retirement, but this last win will live long in the memory. Enjoy the retirement Yorky boy!
Bob Olinger – Ballymore, Cheltenham Festival
The “God given certainty” of this years Cheltenham Festival duly obliged and Jamie Codd further enhanced his reputation as quite the tipster! Bob Olinger was magic and made some very exciting horses look no more than ordinary. Henry De Bromhead has always held this lad in the high regard and throughout the season I got the feeling Rachael thought he was a bit of a monster too. What we saw at Cheltenham was breath-taking and this feeling would be further enhanced after watching some exceptional Jockey cam footage. Harry Cobden was wearing the camera device and turning for home you can see Rachael and Bob loom up on his outside. Harry Cobden is now flat to the boards on Bravemansgame but Rachael has handfuls on Bob Olinger. She duly lets him extend and he shoots clear in a matter of strides. He is a serious future prospect and I can’t wait to see him over a fence!
Klassical Dream – Stayers Hurdle, Punchestown
Arguably the training performance of the season came at this season’s Punchestown Festival when 2019 Supreme winner, Klassical Dream, landed a monster gamble after a mammoth absence. Having not run for 487 days and stepped significantly up in trip, Klassical Dream was backed in from 18/1 to as short as 4/1 in places! He absolutely bolted up! Klassical Dream powered through the contest and came there absolutely swinging under a motionless Patrick Mullins. He quickened clear and announced himself as a major player in next season’s staying hurdling division.
Mount Ida – Kim Muir, Cheltenham Festival
Take a bow Jake Kennedy! Those were my exact thoughts when Mount Ida powered up the hill to win the Kim Muir at Cheltenham. There is no doubt it was one hell of a ride, but Mount Ida also deserves plenty of credit. Jack Kennedy said through the early stages of the contest she was taken back by the big field size and the hustle and bustle of a Cheltenham Handicap. To both rider and horses’ credit, the pair didn’t throw the towel in and Mount Ida duly warmed to the task. Her jumping improved the further they went, and she came there absolutely cruising into the straight. A fine leap at the last sealed the win and she powered away up the Cheltenham Hill. Having hit 1000/1 on the Betfair Exchange, then to go on a win by a widening six length, highlights what an incredible win it was.
Minella Times – Aintree Grand National
The Aintree Grand National is always one of the most memorable races from a season but this year’s race will go down in history as Rachel Blackmore became the first female jockey to win the race. Prominent throughout, Minella Times, took to the fences well and cruised through the contest alongside fellow Irish raider, Burrows Saint. Patrick Mullins was the rider of the Rich Ricci gelding and he revealed he and Rachael exchanged words at the halfway stage and both were extremely happy with how they were travelling. Rachael produced Minella Times coming down to the last and he pinged it, subsequently kicking clear and staying on gamely up the Aintree run in. Some fantastic post-race interviews followed and the history had been made!
Tiger Roll – Cross Country, Cheltenham Festival
Wrote off by many and surrounded by controversy for several different reasons, Tiger Roll once again let his racing do the talking. Coming into the Cheltenham Festival on the back off a slightly questionable prep run, the Tiger had question marks surrounding what ability he retained. Connections have long stated he wants better ground these days and they could not have been more right. He bounced along the sounder surface at Prestbury Park and had the race won along way from home. He was electric and got his revenge on Easysland who had defeated him 12 months earlier. Now a dual Grand National winner and five time Cheltenham Festival hero, Tiger Roll really is a horse of a lifetime!
That withdrawal before the Tingle Creek
The Tingle Creek is always a highlight of the season for me, but this season’s renewal was overshadowed by the withdrawal of superstar Altior. Nicky Henderson withdrew his stable star on account of the testing ground, but this did not go down well with racing fans. What followed was a fantastic interview with Lydia Hyslop on Racing TV where it is safe to say things got a little heated. I thought Lydia handled the situation perfectly. She asked the questions racing fans wanted the answers to despite Nicky getting a little hot under the collar. I have the utmost respect for Mr Henderson and if he believed the ground that day was not suitable for Altior, then I will take his word for it. Do I agree with how Altior has been campaigned over the past few season’s, definitely not.
Both Dan and Harry Skelton have never been afraid to speak their minds, and both can come across quite bullish, especially when talking about their own horses. However, Dan Skelton did make me smile when he claimed a lack of strong opposition gives Willie Mullins’ Cheltenham team an easier path to Prestbury Park. Dan essentially said the lack of competition meant Willie could give horses prep runs in Grade 1 events and it wouldn’t take anything out of them. Unsurprisingly, this caused quite the uproar on twitter and I believe the results for the rest of the season speak for themselves!
Unfortunately, this would not be an end of season review piece without touching upon “that picture” which sent shock waves around the racing world. The picture in question was one showing esteemed trainer, Gordon Elliott, sat on a dead horse at his gallops. Shock waves were sent around the sporting world with horse racing under the spotlight just weeks before Cheltenham. The way connections dealt with the situation was slightly questionable to say the least. A serious of rather inconspicuous statements came form the Elliott camp which did not help matters. The situation has now been dealt with and Gordon Elliott was essentially banned for six months. It is a mistake that will live long in the minds of many but I for one hope racing and Gordon can move past it.
Richard Johnson calls time on a glittering career
It may not have come as a shock to many, but I was surprised to hear the news in early April of 4-time Champion Jockey, Richard Johnson’s retirement. So often the bridesmaid to a certain AP McCoy, Richard Johnson had to wait for his time as number one, but when they time came, he grasped the opportunity with both hands. Four Champion Jockey titles followed and never has a man been more deserving of the crown. I shall remember Richard Johnson for his typically aggressive rides aboard the likes of Native River and Menorah but also as an outstanding gentleman away from the saddle. Enjoy your retirement, Richard!
Champ over 2 miles?
Nicky Henderson’s campaigning of his horses has been under serious scrutiny this season but I thought it was a masterful stroke dropping Champ back to two miles for the Game Spirit. In hindsight, it is easy to argue the opposite after Champ disappointed in the Gold Cup, but at the time I thought it addressed many punters main worry about him, his jumping. Champ was electric throughout and was particularly quick through the air. He also corrected himself on a couple of occasions which was extremely pleasing to see. I’m still not sure what happened to him in the Gold Cup, but I will remember this surprising turn of events with fond memories. Well played Mr Henderson!
One horse to follow to next season
My horse to follow next season is a horse called Journey With Me, trained by Henry De Bromhead. Owned by Robcour, it was particularly interesting to see him line up in the same bumper connections won with Bob Olinger the season before. Journey With Me travelled enthusiastically from the front and never saw another rival. He effortlessly extended his lead turning for home and Patrick Mullins remained motionless all the way up to the line. Visually he ticked all the boxes and confirmed himself as a very exciting horse for novice hurdling. His Point-to-Point footage is very taking and I would expect to see him campaigned from two and half miles up to potentially three. He is currently priced up at 16/1 for the Ballymore and 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett. I wouldn’t put anyone off having a little antepost nibble!
RIP Lorna Brooke
It is with great sadness that this year’s season review finishes on the lowest of notes. Jockeys take huge risks every single time they ride and sadly some pay the ultimate price. Lorna Brooke tragically lost her life in hospital 11 days after a nasty fall at Taunton. I cannot begin to imagine the grief both her family and friends are going through and on behalf of every at OLPT would like to send my condolences and best wishes.
By Sam Rideout
Follow me on Twitter – @TheTr17pleP