Our writers make the case for their jumps horse of the year
With voting for the prestigious Jumps Horse of the Year award set to close at midnight on Monday, Racing Post writers make a case for each of the seven shortlisted stars. Click here to vote for your favourite. Voters will automatically be entered into a prize draw to win a pair of tickets for the bet365 Jump Finale at Sandown on Saturday, when the winning horse will be announced.
It's funny how things work out sometimes. Had all of the big guns like Faugheen and Annie Power turned up for the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D'Air would probably have been running in the Racing Post Arkle a little earlier on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival.
As it turned out, the 2016 Supreme Novices' third was switched back to hurdles, having made a perfectly satisfactory start to life over fences, and he never looked back. Suddenly, a race that had not been setting pulses racing during the festival build-up had a winner of genuine quality who could dominate the scene for long to come.
Like all the best champion hurdlers, Buveur D'Air is an electric jumper, a natural athlete over hurdles. He was far too good for his Cheltenham rivals and could be called the winner a long way from home, with his only jumping error coming four out. As he cleared away to hand owner JP McManus his 50th Cheltenham Festival winner, his class was unmistakable and he did what all great champions do – leave you wanting more.
His performance at Aintree was brilliant too and, aged only six, the exciting thing is that the best should still be to come.
Not to disrespect the other nominees, but there can only be one winner of this and it's Many Clouds.
A former Hennessy and Grand National winner, Many Clouds won nothing better than a Grade 2 this campaign but no-one will ever forget the Cotswold Chase. Up against Thistlecrack, freshly anointed as the next great thing in racing following a King George win over Cue Card, Many Clouds was generally considered to be running for the minor placings.
But that reckoned without him being one of the bravest and strongest chasers in years. Many Clouds simply refused to be beaten by Thistlecrack, out-battling him up the hill in an astonishing feat of tenacity. Then, in scenes that stunned Cheltenham from raucousness into pin-drop silence, Many Clouds died yards after the line having suffered a severe pulmonary haemorrhage.
In beating Thistlecrack, Many Clouds revealed new depths to his ability and courage. At that moment he stood on the cusp of astonishing achievements, only for that future to crumble before all our eyes. We will never know what he could have been, but he deserves one last win. It's in our hands to give it to him.
A new season brought a change of stable for Sizing John and a set of fresh challenges. In rising to every one, he climbed higher and higher until reaching the top rung of the chasing ladder with an impressive and richly deserved victory in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Having started out for Jessica Harrington with another defeat by Douvan (his nemesis over 2m), Sizing John was moved up to 2m4f for the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in January. He responded with victory and a career-best RPR of 168.
Just over three weeks later he was sent up another half-mile for the Grade 1 Stan James Irish Gold Cup and again he won, this time with an RPR of 170.
Could he stretch to the even more testing 3m2½f of the Cheltenham Gold Cup? Harrington thought so, and she was right as he scored decisively by two and three-quarter lengths. While Djakadam and Cue Card, two of his main rivals, made crucial mistakes, Sizing John put in a near-flawless round of jumping under Robbie Power.
In recording an RPR of 174, Harrington’s new star showed all the old-fashioned virtues of a top steeplechaser, and there is the promise of more to come from this still-improving seven-year-old.
By the time the 2016-17 season is just a speck on time’s rear-view mirror, there will be two moments preserved in technicolour, rather than just the mahogany and gold of rolls of honour: the King George and the Cotswolds Chase.
The latter belongs to Many Clouds, of course, but only Thistlecrack was integral to both.
It is a long time since a novice’s jumping was examined so forensically as on Thistlecrack’s first three starts over fences. That was, in however small a part, because people wanted to believe he could do himself justice in the big leagues.
And he did. The breathless reaction to his storming win in the King George – by little more than three lengths but more like ten if Tom Scudamore had wanted – was not matched at Cheltenham, Aintree or anywhere else. Here, indeed, was a superstar.
That he was out-jumped and outstayed by Many Clouds at Cheltenham would be a quibble only against the greats of the game and he was not seen after January, owing to injury.
For all the fine stories that emerged, the spring was undoubtedly poorer for his absence. Aside from Douvan, whose own campaign ended just as unfortunately, there simply isn’t a jumper around who can light up the course like Thistlecrack.
ONE FOR ARTHUR
People like feelgood stories, especially when it comes to the Grand National. Every winner of the great race usually has a good backstory, and One For Arthur is no exception. First, there is the the fact he is trained in Scotland, a nation that had won the race only once before, way back in 1979 when Rubstic triumphed.
His extended victory parade around Scottish tracks has been an indicator of just how much the victory meant to the local racing community and beyond.
Then you have the jockey, Derek Fox. One of the many talented riders who does not feel the spotlight's glare too often, Fox charted a quiet and confident path through the field on the eight-year-old. A month beforehand he would have wondered if he would be aboard at Aintree, having fractured his wrist in a fall.
The Golf Widows embody why people dream about getting into ownership, and that is before you consider what victory meant to trainer Lucinda Russell.
A very deserving winner of a great Grand National, One For Arthur already has his place in folklore, and who knows, he could win the race again next year.
UN DE SCEAUX
With the Cheltenham Festival casting such an all-encompassing shadow over the rest of the jumps season it is impossible to overlook the meeting's most jaw-dropping, astonishing performance when nominating a horse of the 2016-17 campaign.
Un De Sceaux may not be the complete tearaway of yesteryear, the brute ball of muscle who has reduced Ruby Walsh to a mere passenger on many an occasion, but he is no less exciting, as he displayed when pulverising his rivals in the Ryanair Chase. He simply ran his rivals ragged at Cheltenham, making good horses look slow.
What really sets Un De Sceaux apart from other horses is the excitement he generates. The hard-running, bold-jumping Un De Sceaux is racing's equivalent to the pacy winger who draws you to the edge of the seat every time they touch the ball – you simply can't look away when he is in action.
In addition to that remarkable display at Cheltenham, Un De Sceaux also won a pair of Grade 1s at around two miles, showing tremendous tenacity and bravery to win the Tingle Creek. Three runs in Britain or Ireland, three wins. Perfect.
DEFI DU SEUIL
Defi Du Seuil is not only two years younger than any other horse to make the shortlist – he is the only one to remain unbeaten. Those two factors alone make him this season's standout performer.
You can question the competition he has faced but he is the only champion of his division who can truly say he has faced the very best that could have been put up against him.
The best hurdlers could have been beaten but for something going chasing. With hurdles and novice categories the top chasers cannot truly say they have beaten all possible rivals.
But juveniles have to race over hurdles. They have to race at around two miles. And so Defi Du Seuil has bested every possible rival, and he has done so imperiously.
He has won three Grade 1s, by a combined 19 and a half lengths. He has beaten the best from Britain and the best from Ireland. And then he has beaten them again. And again. Chop off one head and another bright new hope grows in its place.
Mega Fortune, Master Blueyes, Bapaume, Charli Parcs, Landofhopeandglory, Divin Bere, Flying Tiger. They came, they saw (his backside) and got conquered.