The National Hunt season in Ireland is fully up and running. The first Grade One was handed out at Down Royal earlier this month, and many of the sport’s most finest performers are beginning to appear, ahead of major assignments at Fairyhouse, Limerick and Leopardstown over Christmas.
Here are five of Ireland’s best National Hunt horses for racing fans to watch out for during the 2020/21 season.
Al Boum Photo
What better way to kick off this list than with the reigning two-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. Willie Mullins was still searching for his first Gold Cup win when he arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in 2019, and Al Boum Photo delivered, staying on up Cleeve Hill to hand his jubilant trainer a maiden victory in National Hunt racing’s most prestigious event.
Paul Townend and Al Boum Photo repeated that feat back in March, holding off Santini and Lostintranslation to secure back-to-back Gold Cup wins. Al Boum Photo will now bid to follow in the footsteps of greats like Best Mate, Golden Miller and Arkle, by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup for three years in a row.
Al Boum Photo’s biggest danger in the 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup could be Minella Indo. Henry De Bromhead’s former Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle winner endured an interrupted first season over fences last season. Minella Indo still managed to win one of his three starts, and finish a close second behind Champ in the RSA Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Minella Indo was out nice and early this term, and produced a polished performance to win a Grade Three at Wexford by 25-lengths. De Bromhead has watched Monalee continually hit the cross bar in races like the Savills Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent years. Minella Indo is a better jumper and a strong stayer than his stablemate, and he’ll return to Cheltenham in 2021 as a lively Gold Cup contender.
All eyes were on Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham this year. Yet, it was his stablemate, Ferny Hollow who stole the headlines, showing the favourite a clean set of heels in the closing stages to win that Grade One flat race.
Willie Mullins’ star impressed on his hurdles debut earlier this month, seeing off another promising novice in the form of Bob Olinger. Ferny Hollow is already the favourite for the 2021 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and he’ll take some beating wherever he turns up this term.
Under a confident ride by Derek O’Connor, Sir Gerhard looked a real star in the making in a point-to-point at Boulta, cruising home to seal an imperious 12-length win. After that, Gordon Elliott and owners, Cheveley Park Stud splashed out around €450,000 to bring this son of Jeremy to County Meath.
Sir Gerhard was just as dominant on his debut under rules for Elliott, sauntering to a 14-length victory in a flat race at Down Royal without coming out of second gear. Whether he stays on the level or is switched to novice hurdling, Sir Gerhard is a name you’ll hear plenty of times before the season is out.
Easily the most exciting National Hunt horse in training today. Gordon Elliott’s star is unbeaten in all ten of his career starts to date. Envoi Allen won a point-to-point at Ballinaboola, four times in bumpers, and four times over hurdles. He’s also won the Champion Bumper and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.
Elliott’s star made his long-awaited debut over fences at Down Royal earlier this month. Envoi Allen jumped like he’d been chasing for years, and barely broke a sweat as a he sealed a simple six-length success. The world remains Envoi Allen’s oyster, and Gordon Elliott’s claims that his gelding is a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner may come to fruition sooner rather than later.