Mullins v Nicholls: Which horses are likely to triumph?

Paul Nicholls is aiming to cement his dominance over the British National Hunt scene by winning an 11th champion trainer title in 13 years this season. He was usurped by Nicky Henderson last season, but is currently leading the way this time around and looks a good bet to pull it off.

 

Over in Ireland, Willie Mullins is even more dominant as he has been named champion trainer in his homeland for the past decade. The real fun comes when Mullins heads over the Irish Sea to pit his wits against Nicholls in the big races, and he has enjoyed plenty of success. In 2015/16 he came within a whisker of becoming the first Irish-based trainer to win the British champion trainer title since Vincent O’Brien in the 1950s, only to lose out to Nicholls on the final day of the season at Sandown.

 

Their rivalry at big meetings like Cheltenham has captured the public’s imagination for years and it will be no different this season. Between them they have some of the most exciting horses of the season and we have picked out the leading lights to follow:

 

Politologue

Nicholls singled out Politologue when asked about his stable’s best chances of success this season and it is easy to see why. He put in several commanding performances to win novices’ chases and was leading the brilliant San Benedento in the G1 Maghull at Aintree in April, only to stumble after jumping the last to hand victory to his stablemate. He will start his autumn campaign at the Haldon Gold Cup and will surely spark a lot of interest in the Sporting Index spreads due to his considerable reputation.

 

Douvan

Mullins’ bay gelding was the star performer last season as he extended a superb 13-race winning streak with a number of victories over triple Gold Cup winner Sizing John. He destroyed all and sundry and looked unbeatable, only to break his pelvis and finish seventh in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. He has since been recovering, but Mullins is positive about his fitness and will reintroduce him to competitive action this winter, while Ruby Walsh is upbeat about his ability to bounce back. Once he gets into his stride, Douvan is a force to be reckoned with and if he returns to his best he will be invincible.

 

Benie Des Dieux

Mullins and Rich Ricci look to have another in a long line of excellent mares on their hands in Benie Des Dieux, who put in a stunning performance to claim the Closutton at Limerick on her debut. It was not the most competitive of races, but she travelled extremely well and looks a natural chaser.

San Benedento

The six-year-old chestnut gelding won four out of five races in 2017, including the Group 1 Maghull, and did well to hold onto Altior’s coattails in the Celebration Chase at Sandown. Altior is the best in the business over two miles, so to have stayed with him is a real achievement and if San Benedento can kick on Nicholls will have a real talent on his hands.

Coquin Mans

Mullins snapped up the son of Fragrant Mix after he won a maiden hurdle in France and he has since won all three of his contests. The first came at Limerick in December 2016, where he did well to hold off the charge of Surf Instructor and win by a head. He stepped up in trip to three miles at Wexford this summer as Walsh guided him to a 2 3/4 lengths win over Amaulino. In his last race, at Cork, he gave weight to all his competitors and thrashed the lot, finishing eight lengths clear of Jaime Sommers. Sterner tests await, but Coquin has strong breeding and fantastic potential.

Penhill

Brighton & Hove Albion owner Tony Bloom has seen his beloved team reach the Premier League this season, but his sporting success does not end there. He also owns Penhill, a superb dual-purpose horse that has made a splash in both the jumps and flats. Trained by Mullins, Penhill romped to victory in the hugely prestigious Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham and looks to have a great future ahead of him. Mullins guided Wicklow Brave to phenomenal success in both disciplines and Penhill could follow in those giant footsteps.

Topofthegame

This horse is a real giant and seems built for three mile trips and larger obstacles, so he should show his true ability this season. He is a 139 rated novice hurdler and has performed creditably thus far, but this should be the year when Nicholls gets the best out of him and spurs him on to success at his preferred trip. 

Frodon

Like San Bernedeto, Frodon has bags of experience and has always been there or thereabouts in all contests as he has stepped up in class. He has won seven of 14 career starts for Nicholls and has the ability to get much better, but he will find it difficult to deal with heavier weights this season.

Augusta Kate

Mullins’ mare draws an eclectic and famous group of owners: former England striker Alan Shearer, golfer Lee Westwood and TV stars Ant & Dec among others. They are likely to be well-compensated for their investment as she looks a terrific prospect. She has the pedigree – Yeats and Feathard Lady – to be a star and she blitzed the field on her bumper debut at Listowel. Expect to see her at Cheltenham, where she will be a threat to all comers.

 

Author bio

Martin Green is an experienced tipster and horseracing correspondent.

 

 

Kelso

kelsoKelso racecourse is located in the market town by the same name within Roxburghshire County, Scotland. It is a National Hunt course owned by Kelso Races Ltd, with events televised on Racing UK.

 

History

Racing at Kelso was first recorded in 1734, when it set out as a site for flat racing. The race type continued until 1888, when the United Border Hunt became the first jump race to be introduced at the course. Flat racing ceased in the same period, and it has remained a jump races course to date.

In the course’s early days, races were moved to Balakelaw, but the decision proved unpopular as the new venue was far from town and also lacked grandstands. The result was a plunge in the number of racegoers, and a resultant dip in profits. The races were thus moved back to Berrymoss, and the race going trend shot up again, and has at this point grown into a culture.

The course

Kelso is considered the Scottish home of National Hunt races. It is a peculiarly shaped course, forming a trapezium shape on the circuit, which has a straight starting run hanging out like a human arm. It is a left handed course whose two tracks consist of sharp bends that give races a start-stop kind of dash, requiring high levels of skill and concentration from the jockeys.

It is widely regarded as the friendliest course in Britain, and has scooped the Best Small Racecourse award of the Racegoers Club numerous times.

Road access is the easiest way to get to Kelso, seeing as the closes railway station is Berwick, 22 miles away.

Races

It hosts thirteen fixtures in a season, between January and May. January, April and the final month of May carry the bulk of racing fixtures.

Morebattle Hurdle, Premier Kelso Hurdle and the King’s Own Challenge Cup are the most notable races run at Kelso. Trainers use races at in the first two months of the year to prepare for the Aintree National Hunt.

Huntingdon

huntingdonThe course is located in Brampton, close to the market town of Huntingdon in the Cambridgeshire county of England. It is a jump-races-only track owned by the Jockey Club Racecourses. Events at the course are televised on Racing UK.

History

The course has been host to jump events since 1886, when the first race was held in Easter. There were races scattered around Cambridgeshire at the time, but eventually Huntingdon took over as the main course in the area.

Course

The racetrack is a free-draining one-mile three-furlong surface, with a predominantly flat gradient. These factors make it a stable ground, allowing horses to exploit speed to the maximum. Jockeys and owners often refer to Huntingdon as The Home of Speed.

The course sits on the Brampton Racecourse Site of Special Scientific Interest, (SSSI) a 21.1 ha land area. The SSSI classification means it is a protected area, limiting the amount of modification that can be done on it. This has in no way curtailed the magnificence of the venue. The management has made good use of approved changes to set up a grandstand with private viewing suites, bars and betting areas. Service is great, reason the Huntingdon has recently been voted Best Small Racecourse in the region of East Anglia and South Midlands.

Part of service is a free car service present on race days to ferry racegoers between the train station and the racecourse. Also, young adults and senior citizens can receive discounted admission upon application.

Races

17 race meetings are held at the Huntingdon in a calendar year. The races are spread across nine months in the year, with the Peterborough Chase regarded as the most popular. The chase did move to other tracks in 2010 and 2012, as the frozen Huntingdon track proved unusable in those years.

Best Mate is probably the most famous horse to have run at the course, if you consider him greater than the Desert Orchid. Other big names like Edredon Bleu and One Man are also on its stats.

Hexham

hexhamHexham racecourse is located in the market town by the same name in Northumberland County, North East England. It is the only surviving recourse in the area, and has events screened on At The Races.

History

Racing at Hexham has been happening since the 1720s. It has however been threatened by closure many times, either from financial difficulties or competition from more attractive courses. The most famous race hosted here is the Heart of All England steeplechase, which has been running since 1907.

Charles William Chipchase Henderson has a special place in the history of the course. He acquired the property at a time when racing had virtually died in 1880, putting up racing and viewing facilities, some of which exist to this day.

Racing at Hexham was stopped during the Second World War, during which it was used as an ammunition site. Racing returned in 1946, and has been continuing since. A lot of upgrades were introduced in the 1990s, part of which included the construction of a lake within the premises.

The course

The racing circuit extends over a length of one and a half miles. It is generally flat, with an uphill climb close to the finish, which gives way to a perfectly flat distance in the run in which extends about 150 yards. The track is oval in shape, with another straight along the center which gives it three long stretches. It is used for national hunt races. Racing is left handed, with steep deeps that require racehorses to put every bit of stamina to use.

Acces by road is made easy by the clear signposting. The closest railway station is Hexham, 1.7 miles from the course. Air access is through the Newcastle airport 17 miles away or helicopter landing on the course which requires prior arrangements.

Races

The Heart of All England Hunter chase is Hexham’s premiere race. The Northumberland Day also attracts a good number of viewers. Racing takes place between February and December.

Top 5 Most Challenging Racecourses in the Jumps

The 2017/18 National Hunt season is in its formative stages and racing fans can look forward to months of thrilling action ahead of them. The likes of the Grand National, the Cheltenham Festival and the King George VI Chase are among the highlights of the entire sporting calendar, let alone horseracing. But it is a long and gruelling season for runners, jockeys and trainers and it takes in some extremely challenging courses along the way. Here we rank the five most challenging jumps courses, in descending order:

5. Chepstow

It is difficult to whittle it down to just five courses out of the 42 on the National Hunt circuit, and the battle for fifth place was extremely tight. Newcastle, Doncaster, Bangor, Newbury and Wetherby are all difficult courses and had a strong chance of making this list, but Chepstow just about edges them. It is an extremely undulating course and very testing for runners. The long back and stiff home straight make it a real test of a horse’s stamina and going can be highly testing.

4. Ascot

Ascot is more famed for flat racing, particularly the pomp and glamour of the Royal Ascot festival, but its jumps racing is more for the purists. It is a difficult course due to the 73ft uphill climb, and it becomes a lot harder when fences are added. Ascot has large, sweeping turns and is a galloping course. If you get stuck at the back of a big field is it very difficult to break through on the sharp home straight on this triangular track.

3. Kempton

The home of the King George VI Chase is faces a grave threat at the moment after its owner, Jockey Club Racecourses, announced plans in January 2017 to close the track and sell it to housing developers. However, that sparked a ferocious outcry from the racing community, a petition to stop the bulldozers was launched and it seems as though Kempton has been given a stay of execution as no further news about the closure has emerged. Racing is still taking place on this historic and much-loved track, which stands as one of the most challenging National Hunt courses around. It is a quick course and horses need serious pace to claim victory on it, but it is also provides a stern jumping test, with the tight right hand turn providing a particularly difficult feature.

2. Cheltenham

Cheltenham is probably the most famous jumps racecourse in the world and its Festival each March is undoubtedly the highlight of the global racing calendar. It brings sporting pedigree, drama, excitement and glamour to the west of England and attracts the best and bravest horses in the world. There are two courses – the Old Course and the New Course – and both are very difficult. The New Course is slightly longer, with a difficult downhill fence, while the Old Course has a shorter run-in, but both are a real stamina test. Securing victory at Cheltenham is a magnificent achievement due to its undulations, difficult fences and steep finish.

1. Aintree

Aintree on Merseyside hosts the world’s most famous National Hunt race each April: the Grand National. It also has two courses – the Mildmay course and the Grand National course – and both are intriguing. Mildmay is used more frequently and it is a difficult course with sharp turns, but the Grand National course really steps it up several notches as it is far more resplendent and a lot more challenging. It is certainly the most difficult track in National Hunt racing. Check all today’s racing markets and you will find plenty of exciting races taking place on demanding courses, but none will come close to the Grand National. The fences are far bigger than those at Cheltenham and feature momentous drops. The most famous of the lot is Becher’s Brook, which is 5ft high and incorporates a 7ft drop, making it the toughest hurdle in the Grand National. Canal Turn is another notable fence due to the sharp 90-degree turn it imposes upon runners as they land, while The Chair and Water Jump are also notorious. In total contestants are forced to endure 30 jumps over a distance of more than four miles, making it the longest race in the National Hunt season, and many fail to complete it. This is not a race for the faint of heart, but winning it is a tremendous achievement on this hellacious course.

Author bio

Martin Green is an experienced horse racing correspondent and tipster.

Hereford

Hereford Racecourse lies within the so named town, within the English county of Herefordshire. It is owned by the Herefordshire Council, and has its races televised on At The races.

History

The course was opened in in 1771. It was initially a flat-type track at the time, with the first jump race run in 1840. In 1883, it became a full time jump race course, and no further flat races were run at the course.

The track has been consistent in hosting events since its inception, except for the period of World War II when it took a break until 1946.

There have been several stand out events in the course’s history, most notable in 1975 when the races attracted so many racers that the races had to be split. 14 races were run on that day. In 2007, the first harness race was held at the course.

The course

The running circuit extends for around a mile and a half, right handed. It is generally flat, with a shape that can be described as a rough square. It is largely flat, with challenging sharp turns.

The course switched from thoroughbred to Arabian racing in 2012, after the Arena Racing Company failed to secure a land lease renewal from the Herefordshire Council.

Access to the course is by road, rail or air. The course is located five minutes’ from the Hereford train station, from where a taxi cab service is available.

Races

There are fifteen race days on Hereford’s yearly calendar. 11 National Hunt races between January and March and again between October and Dcember (For 2017) Other race types include point to point runs, mainly for young horses that are yet to get into the big races. The North Herefordshire Hunt Point to Point is staged in May.

Martin Pipe as trainer and Tony Mc Coy as jockey would definitely have a soft spot for Hereford, having enjoyed immense success here.

Haydock Park

Haydock Park is located in the metropolitan county of Merseyside, North West England. It lies between the four towns of Newton-le-Willows, Golborne, Haydock and Ashton-in-Makerfield, which naturally gives it a good patronage from residents of these areas. Jockey Club Racecourses are the owners of the dual-type course.

History

The present day course has been operational since 1899, but the area of the park had been used for racing purposes even in the 1830s, after a break in the decade before. The memory of Queen of Trump’s win at Newton in 1936 is still widely talked about in the history of the Haydock.

Course

Haydock Park is a dual race type track, with both flat and National Hunt courses. The flat course is around one mile and four furlongs in distance, mostly gentle gradient with a rise in one section. The National Hunt course is much trickier, as the tree-dotting nature of the park requires jockey to have good conversance and be totally alert.

Most areas of the oval course are left handed.

It is a relatively busy course with 32 race days annually. Its four grandstands alongside 33 private viewing suites make it a diverse choice course for the racegoer, a factor that has widely popularised the destination among patrons worldwide. Race goers are expected to maintain a smart casual dress code.

Races

The dual-type nature of the course makes it a busy destination pretty much throughout the year. Races begin in January, but the first one to really light up the track is the Febraury Grand National trials. Competition then takes a two month break and resumes in May, running through to September. The Temple Stakes, Sprint Cup and the traditional Old Newton Cup are the highlights of this particular period.

Betfair chase and the Tommy Whittle chase close the calendar year in November and December, respectively.

Hamilton Park

hamilton parkHamilton Park racecourse is located in the town of Hamilton, within South Lanarkshire, Scotland. It is nine miles south of Glasgow City. It is owned and run by the Hamilton Park Trust, with races screening on Racing UK.

History

Horseracing in the town has been alive since 1782, so much that it is part of the Scottish culture. The current course was however not in existence before 1926, when the first race was run here.

The course has been known to be a place of firsts in many aspects of racing within the UK. In 1947, it hosted the first ever evening meeting, a trend that soon caught on within racing circles. Not one to stick to normalcy, Hamilton then went ahead to host the first morning meeting in 1971.

Hamilton faced the danger of closure going into the 1970s due to financial constraints, but was then taken over by The Trust in 1973 with a focus on improving its appearance and performance.

The course

Hamilton is a flat races track. It has a gentle gradient, with a lengthy run in of five furlongs that goes uphill at the finish.

The course is famed for its exquisite facilities, which are in constant upgrade thanks to the Trust’s policy of pumping all profits into the redevelopment of the venue. And these profits are not small amounts of money, at one time going up to £2.5 million. There is an ongoing upgrade plan in 2017 estimated to cost £ 800, 000 mostly to tweak the catering and restaurant facilities to suit the social race goer.

Access to the course is possible by road rail or air. It is well signposted on the surrounding roads. Hamilton West Train Station is only fifteen minutes’ walk from the course. Glasgow airport lies 21 miles away.

Races

Races are run here between the months of May and October. The Glasgow Stakes, run over 1-mile six-furlongs 16 yards is the venue’s headline race. Other races include the Lanark Silver Bell and the Scottish Stewards’ cup. The Braveheart Stakes was run here but got discontinued in 2015.

 

Great Yarmouth

great yarmouthThe Great Yarmouth Racecourse, within the Norfolk County coastal town by the same name, is a flat racing track owned by Arena Racing. It is a track with unique forms that make it ideal to spot and develop particular strength in racing horses.

The Course

Great Yarmouth is left handed, forming out as a narrow oblong, with two long-stretch straight sections that allow horses to accelerate to top speeds. This helps in setting the competitors apart within the narrow track, and also gives a double chance for horses short-changed within the race to make up with an unhindered straight run.

The Premier and Grandstand & Paddock enclosures offer great entry points for patrons, as they give easy access to viewing areas and also public areas like bars, food courts, children play areas and the parade ring. Children accompanied by an adult gain free entrance. These entrances go directly from the free parking area, making it easy to roll in and out even with bulky items.

History

Great Yarmouth has been in the horseracing circles for a little over three centuries, since the Yarmouth Coorporation first leased the area to a group of horseracing innkeepers in 1715. The course remained a public area for many years, until 2001 when Northern Racing acquired majority ownership, later merging with Arena Racing in 2012.

Races

There is no major race that calls this coastal course home, but events do come by regularly. Most notable is the mile-and-a-quarter long John Musker Fillies’ Stakes that happens in September. The races are marked by a lot of non-race social activity, which the course of operators have inducted to boost its popularity. Dubai Millenium, who debuted here in 1998, is arguably the greatest horse to have raced here in recent times.

There are wedding events here often. Flash photography and recordings of either personal or commercial use are not allowed in the racing areas.

Goodwood

goodwoodThe Goodwood is located in English Cathedral city of Chichester, within the West Sussex County in the South East. The course is owned by Goodwood Estate, which is connected to the family of the Duke of Richmond.

 

History

The track as been active for around two centuries, with a stark fondness for the term ‘Sport of Kings’ in reference to horse racing. The Third Duke of Richmond brought the sport to the ground for the leisure of the Sussex Militia around 1901.

Course

Goodwood is a flat course type, with a unique straight stretch which serves as an advantageous section for horses with a good acceleration. The straight serves to measure the ability of horses purely on basis of speed. It also has a great right hand loop, where the skill of a jockey is put to real test. Onwards, there are uphill and downhill runs with several turns, all which work to make the track an exciting place to watch a combination of skills for both horses and riders.

From the Iron Age hill, patrons can be able to view the entire course, making the point a sort of grandstand. The only disadvantage is that the port point is subject to the foggy behaviour dictated by the ocean.

Goodwood also ropes in other experiences to blend with horseracing, with offers for shopping experiences, weddings, golf and great food available on their plate.

Races

Goodwood is a notable ground in the flat racing calendar, being the home of the Goodwood Cup, Nassau Stakes and the Sussex Stakes. July and August are thus the busiest race periods in this track.

William Buick, Ryan Moore and Jack Rowley are popular jockeys here; they could almost ride a horse here with blindfolds!

Horse owner Khalid Abdullah has had good races for his horses at the Goodwoods, where his horses have won six of 20 runs. Godolphin, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum and Hamdan Al Maktoum would also not complain about their luck at the ground.