Chepstow is the start of the National Hunt season and we have a couple of notable French Juveniles making their debuts for new connections in the Champion Hats Juvenile hurdle on Saturday. I don't have a great deal of time to watch British racing these days so I certainly wouldn't have a strong opinion on the strength of the opposition, but both of these recruits look more than capable of winning Juvenile hurdles in the UK based on what they achieved on the Flat during their time in France. I should also add that there is another French-bred horse in the race, Castelfort. He is a son of Castle du Berlais who cost €11,000 at the Arqana sale and has joined Jane Williams. As a newcomer, I didn't feel there was a lot else that I could say about him, but there are some winners over obstacles in his immediate family and he is one to watch.
Johnny Barnes would not be renowned as a source of National hunt prospects. I can only find one winner for him over hurdles in France (Johnny Love, Escuder) but I can see why the Pipes decided to claim Stray Bullet with a hurdles career in mind. His Dam, Dinka, was a maiden over hurdles (4 starts), but she has produced the multiple hurdle winner Barrua, a half-sister by Morandi who has reached a rating of 64.5-kilos in France. The Dam Sire Diamond Green has also had his fair share of winners over hurdles in France and visually, Stray Bullet looks to have the size and scope to make a hurdler.
He began his career with 3 creditable mid-division finishes in maidens on the PSF track at Pau before getting his head in front when dropped into claiming races in the French provinces at Carcassonne and Agen. It is fair to say that he didn’t beat a great deal in either of those races, but he held his form well and his latest start, when 2nd in a Claimer at Marseille-Borely in June is a much more interesting piece of form. Having broken well and made the running, he kicked for home off the final bend and was perhaps a little unlucky to finish 2nd to a “good thing”. The winner, Kynada, was getting 1.5-kilos from Stray Bullet and was at the start of what proved to be a 5-timer for the Reynier team over the summer. I have Stray Bullet running to a mark of 74 at Marseille, which if he can translate his Flat form to hurdling, should mean he is capable of picking up a Juvenile hurdle at some point.
This horse has been on my radar for most of the summer. Cracksman has not had many runners over obstacles, but a simple glance at Liari on the replays of his form for Jean-Claude Rouget is enough for me to be convinced he will make up into a decent Juvenile for Paul Nicholls. He comes from a very strong family that the Aga Khan Stud have been very successful with, and the Nicholls yard did very well last season with another Aga Khan bred, Afadil.
Liari won on his 2nd start in a maiden at Toulouse before a creditable 2.5 length defeat in a Class 1 conditions race at Lyon Parilly in April. He ran well in both races, but shaped like a horse who needed a greater test of stamina as he wasn’t able to keep pace with what have proved to be 90+ Flat horses over 10-furlongs. The French handicapper gave him a rating of 40-kilos, the equivalent of 88, which looks fair based on the form that he showed for Jean-Claude Rouget. I am intrigued to see him out so early, but it should be noted that Paul Nicholls has won 5 of the last 10 renewals of this race, including with French recruits Adrien Du Pont (2015), Dolos (2016), Hell Red (2020) and Magistrato (2021).