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Oscar

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Ten to Follow: Mix the obvious with the unexposed

TEN TO FOLLOW strategy wouldn’t be my specialist subject on Mastermind but even I have worked out that targeting the major races is the only way to go given how the  bonus-points rule is framed.

Consequently, stating the obvious is by no means a bad thing in this competition, so everyone’s starting point should be with the two Nicky Henderson-trained superstars, Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre.

I appreciate there’s only one bonus race each of these two great chasers is likely to be aimed at, but they are only going to run in valuable Grade 1s and I can’t see anything lurking in the wings to rob either of them of their Cheltenham crown. Barring injury they are surely going to be major points-scorers.

Hurdlers have a tougher time making it pay as far as the Ten to Follow goes, with only five of the 15 bonus races over the smaller obstacles, so you should only put in horses of Champion Hurdle calibre. Given there are bonus points for the Irish Champion as well as Cheltenham’s hurdling championship it makes sense to include one horse trained in Britain and one from Ireland.

The New One is the clear British choice given the International, Champion and Aintree Hurdles – all bonus races – are likely to be on his agenda. The speed he showed at Kempton last month suggested he was a quicker horse than many had given him credit for. Our Conor is my choice from Ireland rather than Hurricane Fly, simply because he is younger, fresher and looked brilliant in the Triumph.
My final choice among the established Grade 1 horses has to be Cue Card, mostly because of his versatility. He ran a bit below par at Exeter on Tuesday but I’m hoping that was because the trip of 2m1½f is too short for him these days. If he stays 3m – which he should do with ease – the King George will surely be top of his hit list this season.   

If he gets 3m connections will have options for later in the season, but he will be contesting only the best races and is good enough to win a few of them. He should be a leading points scorer again.

At this point I’m going to deviate from the script; instead of reeling out established names like Sir Des Champs or Big Buck’s, I’d prefer to pinpoint a few horses under the radar who might be able to make the
step up from handicap company into the big league. 

First up are two Venetia Williams-trained chasers who are surely going to be factors in the Paddy Power Gold Cup and the Hennessy, namely Katenko and Houblon Des Obeaux.

Katenko looked really good at Sandown and Cheltenham last season and has the Paddy Power as his early target, while Houblon Des Obeaux was impressive at Ascot last weekend and will surely be aimed at the Hennessy along with other valuable staying chases. Who knows how high the pair might rank: both are young chasers and I wouldn’t be surprised if they were up to taking on the best at some stage this season.

Runner-up to Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot was Merry King and I have him down as a horse to follow, especially when he steps up to marathon trips. He stayed on really well last weekend without matching the winner’s zip, but he never got a totally clear run at things and these Jonjo O’Neill-trained horses tend to improve as they go up in distance.

It wouldn’t surprise me if he is aimed at the Welsh National, and while second-season chasers don’t have a great record at Aintree, Merry King has Grand National written all over him.
Home Farm is the Irish equivalent of Merry King, while the unbeaten Annie Power was one of the success stories of last season. The sky’s the limit for her.

Tom Segal, Pricewise


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