WHILE the summer headlines were being dominated by flat racing this summer, National Hunt yards across the region were working behind the scenes in earnest preparation for the coming season.
For Devon-based trainer Victor Dartnall, the ghosts of last season cannot be put to bed soon enough. Last November, his Brayford yard was struck down with a freak outbreak of EHV-1 (equine neurological herpes virus), and normal operations ceased for over a month.
“We had a torrid time last season with the equine herpes outbreak, but finished off the season healthy,” Dartnall said.
“Once we got back to work, we started producing regular winners again.
“We are looking forward to the start of the winter campaign in October and are now just waiting for the good ground. The horses have all summered well and the majority are cantering now. I’m very happy with the way they are.
“We have a good batch of bumper horses to bring out this year, including Dancing Shadow, Darloa and Bindon Mill, as well as our established horses.”
So, with the National Hunt season set to get back under way in earnest next month, here Dartnall gives an insight into his stable’s star performers and some of his big hopes for the campaign ahead.
The 2010 Peterborough Chase winner is new to Dartnall’s yard this season. Formerly trained by Tom George and latterly Tim Vaughan, the ten-year-old has won over £260,000 in his career.
“He was rated 161 but has since tumbled down in the weights and will race off a very respectable 130. Hopefully we can rejuvenate him.”
“He is a well-bred gelding who has been very lightly raced entirely due to bad luck. He was an emphatic winner of a novice chase at Chepstow in 2011, only to pick up an injury on the schooling ground which put him out for the rest of the season.
“Last season he was a good third in a big handicap chase in October but unfortunately he had another setback and, by the time he was back to full fitness, the ground had dried up. He remains a very exciting horse and will be aimed at the decent staying handicap chases.”
“He never really shows much at home, so we never expected much in his first bumper and were somewhat surprised when he finished second [the winner of that bumper was Puffin Billy, who went on to be one of the top young hurdlers of last season].
“After that he won two bumpers before winning three races over hurdles last season. He has been schooled over fences and jumps well. He will probably start his autumn campaign in handicap hurdles before going chasing.
“It’s not often that a horse exceeds all expectations and then keeps producing more, but he’s very laid back and always just does enough. He could be a very exciting three-mile chaser.”
The eight-year-old has not been seen on the racecourse since December 2011 and is back in training following a break.
Dartnall said: “He was fancied for the Byrne Group Plate at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012 but unfortunately injured himself just before the race. His form is rock solid among the top two-and-a-half mile handicap chasers, he is an exceptional jumper and I’m very excited about having him back. We will probably keep him on flatter tracks this season.”
“He came to us with a big reputation after two Westcountry point-to-point wins. He was placed several times over hurdles but was totally unsuited to the very heavy ground. His two chase runs have been very exciting, he has had a break and I have great expectations for him in good-ground novice chases early in the autumn.”
Ut Majeur Aulmes
“He was a very good bumper winner in France and was placed twice last season for Tim Vaughan. He’s a big horse and has strengthened up noticeably in the time he has been here. He looks like a very exciting prospect and he will start this season in in a handicap hurdle.”