2021-22 National Hunt Season Preview: The Big Meetings And Horses To Watch

Betfred's Matt Hulmes casts a glance over the new jumps campaign
07:57, 18 Oct 2021

The National Hunt Season got underway in earnest at Chepstow earlier this month, and with Cheltenham opening its doors for the first time the weekend after Champions Day it looks as good a time as any to look ahead to the new campaign. 

Last season was dominated by the Irish invasion, and plenty has been written about what can and should be done to address the balance. But as always, a new season brings with it new hope and hopefully the runners below can give us plenty of fun in 2021-22 and perhaps land a pretty prize or two. 

First of all, below is a list of key dates to mark in the diary for the next few months.

KEY DATES

12th – 14th November: CHELTENHAM - November Meeting

20th November: HAYDOCK - Betfair Chase Day

4th December: SANDOWN - Tingle Creek Chase

10th – 11th December: CHELTENHAM - International Meeting

26th December: KEMPTON - King George VI Chase

26th – 29th December: LEOPARDSTOWN - Christmas Festival

27th December: CHEPSTOW - Welsh Grand National

1st January: CHELTENHAM - New Year Meeting

22nd January: ASCOT - Clarence House Chase

29th January: CHELTENHAM - Trials Meeting

12th February: NEWBURY - Super Saturday

19th February: ASCOT - Betfair Ascot Chase

15th – 18th March: CHELTENHAM - Cheltenham Festival

1st – 2nd April: AYR - Scottish Grand National Meeting

7th – 9th April: AINTREE - Grand National Meeting

26th – 30th April: PUNCHESTOWN - Punchestown Festival

Aintreejpg

10 HORSES TO FOLLOW

ASK ME EARLY – Harry Fry

Ask Me Early won a point-to-point on his second start a couple of years ago and had just the two starts over hurdles before embarking on a chase campaign. His heavy-ground chasing debut produced an impressive five-length victory and he followed it up on Welsh National day at the track off a 6lb higher mark. 

A month later, Ask Me Early never went a yard at Sandown and was pulled up early. This was his first start on a right-handed track, and six weeks later, back on a left-handed track, carried 11-11 to victory at Uttoxeter on Midlands National Day. That victory saw the handicapper raise him to a mark of 140 and races like the Ladbrokes Trophy or, even more likely, the Welsh Grand National come firmly into the reckoning for the 7yo.

BEAR GHYLLS – Nicky Martin

Bear Ghylls burst onto the scene by winning a Warwick bumper by NINETEEN lengths in the spring of 2020 and went into last year’s Cheltenham Festival unbeaten in three hurdles contests, all on soft or heavy ground. He acquitted himself when fourth in the Ballymore and is one of the leading Novice Chase prospects from this side of the Irish Sea. 

There is plenty of opportunity for mid-winter deep-ground contests that I expect him to take high rank in. There will also be an emotional following too when he makes his return as his regular pilot, Matt Griffiths, was injured in a fatal car crash and at the time of writing remains in a critical condition. 

The prospects of horses such as Bear Ghylls will hopefully be a big positive in Griffith’s rehabilitation and we wish him well in his recovery. Hopefully Bear Ghylls can take high rank amongst the novice chasers this season.

BOOTHILL – Harry Fry

Boothill became an ante post wager of mine for the Supreme Novices Hurdle after he cantered to success at Taunton in December. Sadly, a setback ruled him out for the rest of the campaign, but it gives his trainer Harry Fry an abundance of options. 

He could be very well treated off a mark of 137 considering the form of the horses he beat on hurdles debut at Kempton. A two-mile handicap hurdle could be ideal for his return to action. As a dual runner-up in point-to-points a chasing campaign could also be on the agenda, as well as a step up in trip. He was very keen in his races so perhaps a spin over the smaller obstacles to take any freshness may be the way to go and he will be backed wherever he turns up this season. He could take high rank in the chosen discipline.

COPPERLESS – Olly Murphy

COPPERLESS
COPPERLESS

Copperless got the compensation he deserved when running away with the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May. He travelled supremely well in that contest and sprinted clear off the back of the last to beat Cormier (now rated 80 on the flat after a couple of victories) and the G2 Persian War winner Camprond. The fact he blew them away and earned a 15lb rise to a mark of 141 on just his sixth start under rules marks him out as a very progressive horse and who knows how far he would have won by at Aintree in April if not falling two out when travelling like the wrath of God. 

That race saw Rowland Ward and Camprond fight out the finish and a return in perhaps the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in G2 company could give connections an idea where they stand. The Greatwood at Cheltenham would be another viable starting point and it’s not beyond the realms he develops into a Champion Hurdle candidate this season. 

GOOD RISK AT ALL – Sam Thomas

One of two horses on the list from the yard of Gold Cup-winning jockey Sam Tomas, Good Risk At All looks to have a big future. A close second on debut was bettered at Cheltenham’s November meeting but it was his return from a three-month break at Newbury in February that really made me take note. 

He travelled keenly there in listed company and under a penalty for his previous victory but took it up early in the straight and went clear before hanging a little late on, still showing signs of greenness. He was giving almost a stone in weight to the runner-up who was a dual winner who went on to finish ninth in the Champion Bumper and is already a winner over hurdles. 

I expect him to make his hurdles debut this autumn and is one I will have a keen eye on.

JAY BEE WHY – Alan King

Jay Bee Why looked an exciting jumping prospect when bolting up from an odds-on favourite on hurdles debut at Warwick and ran well on only his second start over timber when beaten just three lengths in a bunch finish to a grade 2 back at the same track. Another easy win under a penalty again at Warwick set him up for a tilt at a grade 1 novice at Aintree but he couldn’t live with the exciting My Drogo and came home a well beaten fifth. 

He still retains plenty of promise as he embarks on a novice chasing career being a winning pointer and having reportedly summered well into a stronger individual. He can take high rank among this season and could be one for the likes of the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Festival.

HAPPYGOLUCKY
HAPPYGOLUCKY

SAM BARTON – Emma Lavelle

The sad passing of Trevor Hemmings will be a huge loss to National Hunt racing, but we hope his famous green, yellow and white silks live on and they could see some success courtesy of Sam Barton. 

Sam Barton is a typical Trevor Hemmings stamp of a horse, a late maturing chaser in the making, and the early signs over hurdles have certainly been positive. He caught the eye when dispatching a promising field at Doncaster in January and followed that up with a fair fourth in the EBF final at Sandown on the eve of Cheltenham under a big weight. 

He could take some stopping in early season novice handicap chases from a mark in the low 130s and I expect will be flying higher later in the season as he is upped further in trip.

SKYTASTIC – Sam Thomas

Skytastic, like his stablemate Good Risk At All, won a couple of bumpers last season, one at Newbury and then at Doncaster in February. His first bumper is working out well, with the next five home winning five races between them before defying a penalty when making most on good to soft ground at Doncaster. 

He was a little keen in those contests but clearly possesses talent and pace. He has the scope to jump hurdles and expect to see him out early before a winter break when the heavy ground kicks in, then back for a spring campaign.

I spoke to Sam Thomas ahead of the Cheltenham Festival and, although neither of his two horses I list in this piece made the spring festivals, he was adamant that the patient approach was always the plan and hopefully they will reap the rewards of that this season. 

STAR GATE – Evan Williams

Star Gate is a winning point-to-pointer whose short hurdles career so far has seen him land a Grade 2 at Sandown and Grade 1 runners-up effort in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury. He was 10 lengths behind Bravemansgame there but travelled well for a long way, and although only beating two rivals previously at Sandown, again it was the manner of how he travelled that took the eye. 

Evan Williams decided not to run Star Gate in the New Year and it looks like soft and deep ground novice chases will see him to best effect this season. He is still only five and is rated 143 so, with plenty of improvement to come, he is another to seriously consider when embarking on his chasing career.

ZINC WHITE – Oliver Greenall

Zinc White is one of the most eagerly anticipated juvenile hurdlers to come from the flat this season having cost £310,000 on the eve of Royal Ascot in the summer. He was withdrawn from his intended target at the Royal meeting on account of the quick ground having bolted up in a pair of heavy-ground 3yo handicaps. The ground was so bad at Wetherby in the first of those that the meeting was abandoned straight after and he defied the rise to win by seven lengths at Sandown, ending up on 87.

He stays well and enjoys deep ground so automatically races like the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Welsh National day come into the reckoning if he hurdles proficiently, while connections are also considering races back on the level in the long term, suggesting they consider his mark of 87 to be somewhat below his ceiling.

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