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Jamie Lynch's jumps season review: The English Premier League

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The culmination this week of the jumps season is a familiar story in that all the attention is on Ireland, where the heavyweights are slugging it out, overshadowing Sandown’s Jumps Finale. To that end, Jamie Lynch takes a division-by-division look at the season from a purely British perspective, assessing the top of each class.

‘I don’t think we have regressed. In terms of results, we have. But at the same time we’re moving forward, though I know that’s hard to see.’

Eddie Jones was trying to put the best possible spin on the worst possible outcome for England in the Six Nations, where they finished above only Italy, the Cap’n of the tournament, while Ireland dominated from start to finish, embarrassing England through the competition and during their game.

It was 24-15 at Twickenham, a 61% share of the points to Ireland, exactly the same percentage as the Prestbury Cup (17-11), which was the single match that reflected the season, just like in the rugby.

Even the self-styled ‘Jump Finale’ at Sandown this Saturday feels a little like the St Mirren bus parade – worth seeking out on Twitter – because of the more meaty and meaningful climax in Ireland this week, Punchestown the party where all the cool kids are at.

The question in the aftermath of Twickenham was whether England were bad or Ireland were brilliant, and the same English introspection is necessary in National Hunt racing if, as is being claimed, and as is being seen, all the horsepower is in Ireland. The truth, as always, is somewhere in between the extremes, along with the acknowledgement that the sum can skew the parts, and racing is all about the parts played by individuals.

Let’s look at those parts, from an English perspective, by evaluating the heavy-hitters in each division this season, to uncover where, and why, they weighed in light against the Irish. Here, then, is the best of British, by end-of-term ratings, separated into the significant categories:

HURDLERS

1. Buveur d’Air                 168

2. Sam Spinner                 162

3. L’Ami Serge                  161

4. Agrapart                        160

5= My Tent Or Yours       159

5= Wholestone                 159

Keep calm and carry on. That quintessentially British philosophy was the only play in the book for another unbeaten season for Buveur d’Air, who defended the crown but lost a pound (relative to his 2017 rating) as he carried on but wasn’t calm the one time something squared up to him, beating boys en route but meeting a man in Melon at Cheltenham.

Sam Spinner flashed and burned, though the flash wasn’t in the pan, not when he’s got those timefigures, but the remainder on the list of ‘elite’ English hurdlers tell a tale of a stale season when the 11-y-o My Tent Or Yours is still in there and two of the other three – L’Ami Serge and Agrapart – are admirable but anchored. Up-and-comers were thin on the ground, though the same was true in Ireland, and the way is wide open, at all distances, for the next generation of hurdlers.

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CHASERS

1. Altior                             180p

2. Native River                  172

3. Might Bite                     171

4= Waiting Patiently       168p

4= Fox Norton                   168

6. Politologue                   166

If there was an bombastically-British, hour-long DVD review of the National Hunt season, the first 12 minutes and 51 seconds would be spent spelling out how the Gold Cup and Champion Chase are the be all and end all in the sport, leaving exactly the right time to show all seven races in full involving Britain’s holy trinity: Might Bite, Native River and Altior.

Seven between three isn’t much, but nature was the only motive behind the delayed return of Native River and Altior, and the latter gets to grace the Sandown stage on Saturday, effectively a lap of honour for him, as the award for top jumps horse in training is already in his bag. The ‘p’ indicates that we’ve still to see the full extent of Altior’s ability, and the same is true of Waiting Patiently, likewise unbeaten over fences, commander of the resurgent armies of the North.  

We talk of notable ‘training performances’ in terms of a single race, attached more often than not to a long absence. But regarding the whole season, of reinventing a horse not once but twice, and of getting more out of it over an extended period than anyone could have imagined, there hasn’t been any training performance in 2017/18 better than Paul Nicholls’ managing of Politologue, who stands alongside Might Bite and Un de Sceaux as the only non-novice chasers to have won more than one Grade 1 in the season, though Altior will join that club on Saturday.      

NOVICE CHASERS

1= Diego du Charmil       157

1= Saint Calvados            157

1= Sceau Royal                 157

4= Terrefort                       156p

4= Finian’s Oscar              156

4= Cyrname                       156

7. Ballyoptic                      154

It’s a good job that the established British chasers are so qualified, as the new wave are substandard, based on what their predecessors have done in the past and what their Irish counterparts are doing in the present. Presenting Percy and Al Boum Photo are in the 160s on the same scale, and Footpad is out on his own on 174.

The increasingly-impressive Terrefort is the standout amongst the British novices, for the momentum he’s built in the short time since his transfer from France in mid-winter, but on ratings he’s not breaking rank from a rank-average band, who collectively look at the mercy of the Irish squad when it comes to the literal and figurative graduation events for the second-season chasers.

NOVICE HURDLERS

1. Summerville Boy         156p

2= Kalashnikov                 152p

2= Black Op                       152

4. Kilbricken Storm          151

5. On The Blind Side        150

6= If The Cap Fits             149p

6= Santini                           149

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The outlook is far brighter for the novice chasers of next season from these shores, considering that their number is likely to include several from the promising batch of young hurdlers shortlisted above. Everything has been in Samcro’s shadow in this division, but Black Op emerged relatively unscathed from a Samcro-ing at Cheltenham to go one better in a Grade 1, and he, along with fellow Aintree winner Santini, could go right to the top over fences, marrying their physique to their proven power.

And it’s not just about the budding chasers, as the best of all the British novice hurdlers, Summerville Boy, has his sights set on Buveur d’Air and the thin line through to championship class for hurdling.    

JUVENILE HURDLERS

1. We Have A Dream       150p

2. Redicean                       141

3. Gumball                         140

4. Apple’s Shakira            137

5. Style de Garde             134

6. Malaya                           133

It’s a long time since the leading juveniles have made the grade in top open company, and if there’s one amongst the current crop then it’s probably in Ireland, as, at the business end of the season, cracks have appeared in the British batch, so that We Have A Dream finds himself head and shoulders above the pack after Aintree. His rating of 150, however, hardly puts him on the Champion Hurdle path.    

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FFOS LAS 14:50

Monday 17 December
1. THE GIPPER (IRE) 133
Adam Wedge silk Adam Wedge
Evan Williams
2. STARCROSSED 131
Miss Lorna Brooke silk Miss Lorna Brooke
Lady Susan Brooke
NT
5. LLANTARA 130
Ben Poste silk Ben Poste
Tom Symonds
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15:30 CARLISLE

1st Callum Whillans silk 4. STAINSBY GIRL 8/19
2nd Brendan Powell silk 17 2. ROSIE AND MILLIE (IRE) 4/51.8f
J: Callum Whillans (3)  
All 4 ran.
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15:20 SOUTHWELL

1st Mr Noel George silk 3. ZAMOYSKI 8/19
2nd Mr Charlie Todd silk hd 2. TARRONA 22/123
3rd Mr James King silk 7 4. TRIGGER NICHOL (IRE) 11/102.1f
J: Mr Noel George (3)  
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1st Mr J. J. Codd silk 3. ENVOI ALLEN (FR) 4/111.36f
2nd Mr T. Hamilton silk 4. MIDNIGHT RUN (IRE) 7/18
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15:00 CARLISLE

1st Stephen Mulqueen silk 6. NAKADAM (FR) 10/111
2nd Danny Cook silk ½ 3. LOUGH DERG FARMER (IRE) 11/43.75jf
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1st Noel Fehily silk 5. MONBEG ZENA (IRE) 11/102.1f
2nd Harry Skelton silk 3. EXECUTIVE CAPILANO (IRE) 7/24.5
J: Noel Fehily  
T: Olly Murphy  
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14:35 NAVAN

1st D. E. Mullins silk 6. DANSE AWAY (IRE) 8/19
2nd D. J. McInerney silk hd 1. BITSANDPIECES (IRE) 5/23.5f
3rd M. P. Walsh silk 2. UAINTSEENOTHINGYET 9/25.5
8 ran. NRs: 5 
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1st Craig Nichol silk 6. ISAACSTOWN LAD (IRE) 6/17
2nd Danny Cook silk 3 8. LORD DU MESNIL (FR) 10/34.33f
J: Craig Nichol  
7 ran. NRs: 3  7 
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1st James Davies silk 4. DARLYN 6/42.5jf
2nd Wayne Hutchinson silk hd 1. KIMBERLEY POINT 6/42.5jf
J: James Davies  
T: Henry Oliver  
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1st Sean Flanagan silk 3. HE'S NO MOLLY (IRE) 3/14f
2nd Davy Russell silk 8. SIR CARNO (FR) 7/24.5
3rd B. J. Cooper silk 11 6. MONOTYPE (IRE) 6/17
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