RACING AHEAD with Tony McCormick

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Racing pundit Tony McCormick from www.irishbigracetrends.com beforetheoff.com and racing radio station racingfm.com presents his weekly column.

Over the last couple of weeks talking to various people at the end of the flat season at a number of tracks, I thought it would be interesting to pin down a few racing people and gauge their thoughts for the new National Hunt season, asking them to nominate three-to-follow and will write-up in the next couple of weeks.

First up was Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley in West Yorkshire and a big horse racing fan. Philip told me he likes a couple from the Nicky Henderson stable and a potential champion when switched to fences.

○ Peace and Co (trained by Nicky Henderson). Hugely impressive juvenile hurdler last season and one of the best Triumph Hurdle winners of recent years in my book. I still don’t think we have seen the best of him yet and he could be the one that Willie Mullins is most worried about breaking his stranglehold on the Champion Hurdle.

○ Clean Sheet (also trained by Nicky Henderson). Very promising novice hurdler last season winning twice and looks the type who will get better with age. Won his only point to point start and he could be a star over fences, and could easily take high rank amongst the novice chasers if his trainer switches him to the larger obstacles sooner rather than later. If he sticks to hurdles, there are probably some good races to be won with him but I would love to see him go straight to fences.

○ Minella Rocco (trained by Jonjo O’Neill). Hardly came out of second gear when winning his two novice hurdles last season. He looks like a machine, and has a very similar profile to the same trainer and owner’s More of That. This chap could be a champion when he is switched to fences, but in the meantime it would not be the greatest surprise to see him be a strong contender for the world hurdle if kept to the smaller obstacles for another season.

Darren Owen has commentated on the Grand National for the BBC since 2004, commentating on the TV coverage, before switching to BBC 5Live in 2012. I have had the pleasure of working with Darren in the last couple of years on ‘Punters Panels’ on the racing circuit.

Darren told me: “Not trying to think of the obvious, so I’ll nominate a northern trained seven year old who may go chasing. The horse is Central Flame, trained by James Walton. He completed a hat-trick of wins over hurdles at around two and a half miles in the spring and finished the season on a mark of 133.

“I saw him win at Hexham in April and feel he has the scope to do well over fences, in fact he has a record of three wins from five starts on the point-to-point circuit.”

“Garde La Victoire is a high class hurdler, as he has already shown with a Greatwood Hurdle success and a listed win in the latest season. The Philip Hobbs trained six year old is reportedly set for a novice chasing career this autumn and I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t make the grade over the larger obstacles.

“Finally, Foxrock is a lovely type, who really improved last year and could still progress. The Ted Walsh trained seven year old was at the top of his game in major handicaps at Leopardstown last season before running a close second in the Irish Hennessy at the Dublin venue. Due to his effectiveness in soft ground the spring festivals may not be high on the agenda, however there are a number of decent opportunities on his home soil during the course of the winter.”

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