10 National Hunt Horses To Follow: A look at some potential stars of the 2022/23 season

The Jumps Season all builds up to Cheltenham. Will any of the horses in this list win at Prestbury Park in March?
The Jumps Season all builds up to Cheltenham. Will any of the horses in this list win at Prestbury Park in March?

The National Hunt season is not far away from commencing and jumps fans who have been hibernating while the flat takes centre stage over summer can finally check their racing calendars. We have enlisted Billy Grimshaw to give us his ten most interesting horses to follow for the upcoming season, with some more under the radar picks mixed in with a fair few towards the top of the antepost Cheltenham Festival lists.

1. El Fabiolo - Willie Mullins

Starting with a bang, I think El Fabiolo looks tailor made to take the prestigious mantle of Willie Mullins' number one Arkle hope this season. The high regard in which he is held at home was evident when on just his second start for team Mullins he was thrust into a Grade One at Aintree in the Top Novices' Hurdle. Supreme second Jonbon was the hot favourite that day, but the market support behind El Fabiolo saw him sent off just 4/1 to turn over the Supreme second and in the end he fell just a neck short of doing so. To my eye he was an unlucky loser and for one so inexperienced this was a brilliant performance. getting to within a whisker of Jonbon despite racing keenly and being hampered three out. He was bought to be a chaser and should improve for fences, which can also be said for his prospective Arkle rival Jonbon, but I am prepared to get egg on my face and play Willie Mullins bingo by predcting Sir Gerhard will head for the Turners while El Fabiolo will be aimed at the two mile showpiece. For such a tiny Aintree defeat, he is three points bigger than Jonbon in the antepost Arkle market and this looks a bit too wide of a gap. Even if El Fabiolo does not head down this route or is not good enough to win the Arkle, he is sure to give us plenty of exciting days as he embarks on his novice chasing career.

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2. Journey With Me - Henry De Bromhead

Touted throughout much of last season as Henry De Bromhead's star novice hurdler, Journey With Me never truly hit the heights expected by many even in some workmanlike wins in Ireland to start his campaign. He looked beaten when falling in the Ballymore behind Sir Gerhard but arguably would've finished second that day, and then he failed to fire next time out at the Punchestown Festival. He is a huge stamp of a horse and looked to not have the necessary speed to compete in the high quality intermediate distance contest he faced at Cheltenham, while in the following race he never looked happy. Despite disappointing over three miles at Punchestown, I still think this will end up being Journey With Me's trip, if not even more stamina sapping challenges, over fences. The Turners could be an option as he attempts to follow in Bob Olinger's footsteps but I feel this would be the wrong move with this big horse and the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase or even the National Hunt Chase (unlikely due to connections) would be more suitable targets.

3. Vanillier - Gavin Cromwell

This could look a ridiculous selection if Vanillier's 2022/23 season is anything like the shocking campaign he had last season, but I am a forgiving type and can't completely forget about one of the most impressive Albert Bartlett winners of recent years after just one stinker of a year. Gavin Cromwell and his team will have been perplexed by the grey's lacklustre displays in most of his outings last season, and after giving up on chasing following a host of jumping errors in his novice chase campaign, he did not look any better back over hurdles in his season finale at Punchestown. With a summer of rest behind him, racing fans will be praying we see the real Vanillier again this season and hopefully he is kept to the smaller obstacles. Cromwell of course has Flooring Porter in his ranks, two time Stayers' Hurdle hero and antepost favourite for the 2023 edition, but Vanillier could prove a lively outsider and is quoted at wild prices for the race at the time of writing. His 2022/23 season really is make or break and hopefully he gets back on track.

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4. First Street - Nicky Henderson

Langer Dan was my main horse to follow last season after he was beaten by a Willie Mullins superstar in one of the previous year's handicap hurdles (I'm still not over that 2022 Martin Pipe mishap by the way) and this choice is a case of if it ain't broke don't fix it. First Street ran a phenomenal race in second in the 2022 County Hurdle when going down by just under two lengths to the ultra impressive State Man. I expect that one to rank highly amongst novice chasers this season, much like Galopin Des Champs a year previously, and this piece of form will only look better as State Man continues to impress in Graded contests. Admittedly Henderson's runner was a bit disappointing behind Jonbon at Aintree next time out but he was probably slightly outclassed and could be better off in handicap company this year, hopefully starting off in the Greatwood Hurdle for which he is currently 16/1 and would be of interest if headed for that race at Prestbury Park in November.

5. Velvet Elvis - Thomas Gibney

The Irish Grand National has traditionally been a race for only the toughest and most experienced, and with that in mind I seriously marked up the run of this novice chaser in the 2022 edition of the Fairyhouse showpiece. Velvet Elvis came into the race in brilliant form after a cracking win over three miles at Navan in March and was quietly backed to go well in the National. The gelding ran a super race and looked to be going almost best around the three mile mark, before a few mistakes in the closing stages cost him his position toward the front and he weakened into sixth. This was still a good effort from the youngster and with so much improvement expected of the six year old heading into this season he can make his presence felt in handicap chases back down at three miles.

6. In This World - Dan Skelton

Nothing does a horse's reputation and mystique more good than a season out injured while those who finished in behind him on foreign shores excel, and that is exactly the category of exciting novice In This World falls into. Last seen in November 2021 waltzing to a facile eight length success at Warwick, a track the trainer loves unleashing some of his very best runners at, the hype train was ready to go full steam ahead with the next stop the 2022 Cheltenham Festival. However, injury got in the way and he has not been seen since. Before transferring over to Skelton he beat Fil Dor, arguably the second best juvenile last season behind Vauban, and so his form really does stack up. Harry Skelton has been quoted saying this son of Saint Des Saints should be ready for the second half of the campaign and it would not be beyond the Skelton team to be plotting him for a valuable handicap prize come early 2023.

7. Oscar Elite - Joe Tizzard

Another reach back in the archives to that 2021 renewal of the Albert Bartlett here and another example of my forgiving nature as I couldn't leave Oscar Elite out of this list after reading recently he had a wind problem all of last season which has now been fixed. Still only a seven year old, and with a season of chasing experience in his locker, there is no doubting the potential this imposing son of Oscar can go to another level this campaign. He was always bred to go over fences and last season began in encouraging fashion with a brilliant display at Cheltenham when, to most eyes, he looked the winner until taking an unlucky tumble. He gained plenty of fans that day and was well backed throughout the rest of the year but didn't manage to win in five attempts. In fact, he seemed to regress as the season went on but with that being explained by his breathing issues I have faith we will finally see the best of this promising staying chaser this time around.

8. Queens Brook - Gordon Elliott

This is the first time I have gone for the same horse in my list as my esteemed colleague Steve Chambers (read his 10 to follow here) and I simply could not leave Queens Brook out. Gordon Elliott's mare was the best bet of many shrewd judges heading into the 2022 Mares' Hurdle after an unlucky effort behind Burning Victory at Punchestown in February and was ahead for a long way in the Grade One. In the end she could not match the stamina of Marie's Rock in the finish and went down by a length and a quarter, but with that experience to aid her this campaign she will surely be aimed at the race once more seeking vengeance. Still only seven-years old, the mare looks a few points overpriced to go one place better in this season's edition of the race and if Elliott can iron out some of the exuberance and make her race more efficiently she should be right in the shake up come March and indeed in some of the other big Mares only races throughout the campaign 

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9. Hillcrest - Henry Daly

Clock watchers were waxing lyrical after Hillcrest stormed to a heavy ground Haydock success in the weeks leading up to last season's Cheltenham Festival and in the aftermath Henry Daly was non-committal about whether his stable star would take his place in the Albert Bartlett. In the end, Daly rolled the dice and Hillcrest was sent off favourite, but the gigantic horse never looked himself and in the end disappointed and was pulled up after never challenging. Connections were left cursing their decision to back up the Stowaway gelding rather than sticking to the original plan of minding him for fences this season, however I don't think the experience will have done him too much harm. Before that Albert Bartlett disappointment he was being widely touted for this season's Brown Advisory and if willing to simply put a line through that day, surely his odds of 16/1 at the time of writing are generous for one with such scope and talent.

10.  Lossiemouth - Willie Mullins

This is a bit of a stab in the dark as I am by no means an expert in French form and this filly only raced once across the Channel before being sold to Mullins, however the manner of her 10 length debut procession and the fact she was so swiftly sold to such powerful connections (the Ricci team) indicates she could be one with a bit of a sprinkling of star dust. Lossiemouth is out of the same mare as high class flat performer Lord Glitters and has rocketed to the top of the Triumph Hurdle market on the back of her debut and subsequent purchase. It would be no surprise to see her make up into one of Mullins' top Juveniles, however I could see her maybe being aimed at the Mares Novices' Hurdle, a race she is currently available to back at 20/1 for,. It would be a big ask for one so inexperienced but wherever she is aimed expect her to be a warm order on debut and if matching her debut impression any double figure quotes for prospective Cheltenham targets will be distant memories.

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