Never mind Keats’s mists and mellow fruitfulness, or even that glorious autumnal odour of wet dog — a regular accompaniment to my life thanks to our flatcoat retriever puppy’s arrival. The best thing about autumn is the return of the jumping scene proper with the big yards finally taking the rugs off their hotshot hurdlers and Cheltenham Gold Cup aspirants. The most fascinating question this season is how the mighty Altior, unbeaten in his 19 races so far, will fare now trainer Nicky Henderson and stable jockey Nico de Boinville agree that he should be tried over longer distances, with his first major target the King George on Boxing Day. Intriguing, too, is whether Nicky’s Buveur d’Air, a faller at Cheltenham in March, can come back and win his third Champion Hurdle at the age of nine.
The horse I was keenest to see back in action was Colin Tizzard’s Lostintranslation. Tizzard senior isn’t one for overstatement and I haven’t forgotten his excitement at Aintree back in April when the powerful Flemensfirth gelding came home six lengths clear of Paul Nicholls’s classy Topofthegame (I do hate these amalgamation names but they seem all the fashion these days), to win the Betway Mildmay Chase. Calling him ‘a dream horse’ and ‘a beautiful big strong boy’, Colin declared: ‘I’ve always felt that after the Cue Cards, Native Rivers and Thistlecracks where was I going to find another one. I think we’ve seen him today. It was like poetry, wasn’t it?’ On Sunday the seven-year-old Lostintranslation came out in the Colin Parker Memorial Chase at Carlisle and led all the way to win comfortably, fencing sublimely for Robbie Power. Assistant trainer Joe Tizzard said afterwards, ‘We’re thrilled to bits with him: he travelled and jumped really nicely.’ There’s a long season ahead but I’ve already taken the 7-1 against him for the Gold Cup next March and I believe it will take a really good one to beat Lostintranslation. His is the first name on my Twelve To Follow.
One who could line up against Lostintranslation in future is Kim Bailey’s Vinndication. He ducked the Carlisle contest to run at Ascot the day before and, clearly well-suited by three miles, looked highly impressive in winning the Sodexo Gold Cup in the hands of David Bass. A repeat entry in the Twelve also from that same Ascot card is Paul Nicholls’s Ecco who picked up some place money at 100-1 surprisingly contesting the Supreme Novices in only his second race over hurdles last season. He won the novice hurdle in Bryony Frost’s hands by six lengths and should stay more than two miles. Not everything fortunately goes the way of the big yards and next in my Twelve is Monsieur Le Coq who won the Welsh Champion Hurdle for Devon trainer Jane Williams, mother of the currently injured Lizzie Kelly. Plans to go chasing might be postponed. The next Twelve entry, Dan Skelton’s Nube Negra, was in my notebook even before he won a novice chase at Fakenham by ten lengths at odds-on. He jumps ‘like smoke’, says his trainer whose Beakstown, expected to make his name as a novice chaser, goes in too.
For obvious reasons I took an interest last season in Tim Syder’s Oakley, who looked progressive in winning a novice hurdle for Philip Hobbs in January. He should be capable of repeating the feat and goes on the list along with Fergal O’Brien’s Champagne Well, a winner at Cheltenham’s first waterlogged meeting. We must have entries from Gordon Elliott’s Irish powerhouse, so included too are his exciting chase prospect Battleoverdoyen and the hurdling mare Ard Abhainn. It looks to be a good season for Welsh trainers with Debra Hamer’s no-nonsense Tobefair back on winning form at Cheltenham and Rebecca Curtis reasserting. I always respect Evan Williams’s horses and he looks to have a good hand of youngsters this season so after tossing up between him and Quoi de Neuf I’ll include Secret Reprieve in the Twelve. Emma Lavelle should have more fun with Paisley Park this season but after his convincing win at Exeter the one of hers I will include is Hang In There.
That has been rather the motto for our Twelve on the Flat this year. The dozen ran 57 times between them and scored 11 victories. Most impressive was Enbihaar who won three times for John Gosden in classy races. Fred won twice for Mark Johnston and El Astronaute twice for John Quinn. Other victors were Felix, Desirous, Zabeel Prince and Spanish City. Unluckiest non-winner was Rawdaa, beaten by a neck at York by Lah Ti Dar and by a neck at Royal Ascot by Move Swiftly. Seven winners out of twelve isn’t bad but the prices weren’t always exciting and on a £10 win stake for each run we finished in the red by £110.50. I just hope that some of you took the each way price on El Astronaute when he finished third in the Prix de l’Abbaye on Arc day at 84-1. A place return of 21-1 is not to be sniffed at.