The reappearance at Haydock on Saturday of Long Run, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, signals the growing momentum of the jumps season. Here Chris McGrath picks out 10 others – including one or two less familiar names – it can pay to follow over the months ahead.
9-y-o handicap chaser; form 1/19132- (trained by Gordon Elliott)
Has required patience, with just six starts under Rules, and narrowly missed the cut for both his main spring targets. Ending up over an inadequate trip at the Cheltenham Festival, he ran an extraordinary race. All but tailed off after early mistakes, he was hampered as he began to make ground but still contrived to be beaten barely five lengths into third. Totally unexposed at extreme distances, he could yet end up in the John Smith's Grand National.
6-y-o chaser -1315-11121-
Even in defeat at Cheltenham last March he looked a huge threat to the established order in the Queen Mother Champion Chase this time round. Jumping superbly, he had them all in trouble a long way out. But it turned out he had consumed too much fuel, too soon, and set things up for a stronger stayer in Captain Chris. After that hard race, he was possibly not at his very best at Aintree next time but still managed a Grade One success, and looks very much in the mould of his trainer's most exuberant two-mile chasers.
5-y-o novice hurdler 121-
In a stable saturated with young talent, this one looked as exciting as any in bumpers last term. Having easily landed the odds on his debut at Fairyhouse in January, he disappointed next time but bounced back to see off 13 previous winners at Punchestown. With a top-class jumping pedigree, Lovethehigherlaw would seem to need only a competent hurdling technique to develop into one of the winter's top novices.
6-y-o hurdler -21114-3
Pushed out in the Champion Hurdle betting after managing only third of five on his comeback at Down Royal, but he travelled well until tiring late and could yet prove one of the most eligible challengers to the outstanding Hurricane Fly. Though possibly unlucky not to win over 2m 5f at the Festival last year, still going strongly when stumbling at the last, he may well emulate Hardy Eustace and Istabraq by graduating from that race to prove ideally suited by a strongly run two miles.
6-y-o novice chaser -21625-7
Not the most obvious, perhaps, after finishing only seventh of nine on his chasing debut at Punchestown last month. But the way he jumped and travelled before fading left no doubt he had found his métier, for all the promise he showed over timber for his previous stable, notably when sixth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. In the seasoned hands of his new trainer, he will presumably be primed for his return to Cheltenham, conceivably in a handicap, or perhaps over a longer distance. Whatever the plan, he's surely going to contribute to a mouth-watering season for his owners at Gigginstown.
8-y-o handicap chaser -73F3-
Has an entry over hurdles at Haydock on Saturday but likely to reserve his best for the spring once again, having waited until Cheltenham last term for a long-anticipated first crack at three miles. Unfortunately he fell at the seventh, and when given an even stiffer test, in the Irish National, he was closing ominously when all but brought down four out. Certainly, he could not be in more patient hands, and sooner or later things are going to fall in place.
8-y-o handicap chaser -1811P-4-2
Teaming up with Brian Hughes looks a typically smart move by one of Scotland's most ambitious trainers, and the new partnership has a potential flagship in this enthusiastic jumper. Confined to just one start during the previous 18 months, he shaped very well on his return over an inadequate distance at Kelso the other day, rallying for second to a flourishing rival. He now looks ready to resume his interrupted progress, not least as he has yet to have his stamina properly tested.
7-y-o handicap chaser 4P84-P214-
Made an awful debut over fences this time last year, but was impressively fluent at Leicester just two starts later. His progress came to an abrupt halt at Warwick next time, when he weakened quickly, but it subsequently emerged that he needed a wind operation and his trainer suspects this fine-looking beast to be very fairly handicapped. And he should know – four previous generations of Tafika's family having been trained in the same stable.
5-y-o novice/handicap hurdler 21-62 (Jennie Candlish)
Has just dipped his toe in the water so far, showing unexpected speed to win a bumper last autumn but then shaping in two starts over timber – both on faster ground – as though he will not come into his own until tried over longer distances. That is no less than you would expect, given his very stout pedigree, and his small stable has shown that it can be relied upon to place him to advantage once he has learnt his trade.
8-y-o handicap hurdler/chaser -FF11-1 (Paul Nicholls)
Once beat Wymott in a novice hurdle but fell in his first two chases and, moved from Howard Johnson, apparently failed to convince his new trainer in schooling. Duly reverted to hurdles for his return at Exeter last week, in a qualifier for the Pertemps Final, and promptly came up with a career best. With so many options available – he did, in fairness, get his act together to win two novice chases last term – it is hard to believe that the champion stable will fail to deliver on his potential in one discipline or other.
Chris McGrath's nap
On The Cusp (3.20 Southwell)
Has thrived since joining Richard Guest, producing his best turf performance yet at Ffos Las last time. Back over his favourite surface and distance, he is going to take plenty of catching.
Langley (3.40 Fakenham)
On a fair mark on his form in Germany and entitled to a fresh start now, claimed by the flourishing Tim Vaughan stable after showing a little more on his latest Flat start.
One to watch
The Engineer (Jessica Harrington) is a staying chaser in the making and, fast-tracked to fences at Limerick yesterday, will have learnt plenty in chasing home a quicker horse.
Where the money's going
Diamond Harry is 7-1 from 8-1 with Ladbrokes to beat Long Run, Kauto Star and company in the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday.