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The Jumps Show - Antepost Preview

I am so pleased to be able to share this Antepost market preview in conjunction with he guys from "The Jumps Show". If you don't follow these lads you should and I have put a link to their YouTube channel at the bottom of this piece. Always a good craic, they take a fun look at the Jumps season and produce a unique content that stands out amongst the many podcast shows on offer and are well worth a watch.

2022 has been a bumper year for French horses, with a new record set for both money spent and numbers of horses recruited to race in the UK and Ireland. It is not an exact science and the first advice I would give to anyone looking to back a French horse in an Antepost market is to be cautious. The vast majority of these horses have had 1 or 2 starts and whilst there is a pecking order, it is open to interpretation and there is any amount of improvement possible in such inexperienced horses. As a case in point, Vauban was a Listed winner on the Flat before he joined Willie Mullins, a 100+ rated horse who had already shown bags of ability, which made him an obvious pick. By contrast, Gaelic Warrior was (and still is) a Novice and had he not joined Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci, he would have been 100/1 for the Boodles when the markets first opened.

The Triumph has been my most successful race, perhaps for obvious reasons, but at current count I have 36 Juvenile hurdlers on my lists this year, which compares to 18 (2020) and 22 (2021). What I can be certain of is Willie Mullins. He has recruited some fantastic potential this year and it is not inconceivable to think that he may have the 1,2,3,4 in a Triumph hurdle at this stage. I don’t like the games of Willie Mullins Bingo, so it is hard to be overly confident about having a punt on anything in his yard, but at the same time, I wouldn’t put anyone off taking a punt on a horse from the yard at this early stage. There has been a definite switch in focus at the yard, especially from the Ricci’s, who have focussed on buying young French talent with a view to securing the future.

The Antepost game is not what it was, but it is fascinating to watch the French horses as they merge into those markets. Anything that joins a British or Irish yard, or even just wins impressively at Auteuil, is thrust into the Triumph or Supreme betting. There are several horses in the markets who haven’t been sold, who are still in training in France and whose connections have never had a runner at Cheltenham and have never had any inclination to do so, yet they’re still available to back. If you ever want an opinion, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask. Can’t guarantee I will be able to give you a winning opinion, but I am very lucky to work in Racing and follow my dream, so it is never a bother to talk about a French horse or two. Below is a brief list of some of the more promising names that are currently available to back in the Antepost markets and how I see them in terms of both value and the possibility of getting a run for you money.

Quais De Paris - 33/1 Supreme Novices Hurdle (Betfair), 25/1 Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Unibet)

It’s not that unusual to see a horse trained by Willie Mullins who will run in the Ricci silks featuring in the Antepost markets for the Supreme, but given the presence of Facile Vega in the yard. In fact the yard have a multitude of options for this race, with last years French recruits Gaelic Warrior and Il Etait Temps, who are still able to run as Novice hurdlers despite solid runs at the Festival in 2022, probably ahead in the pecking order at this stage.

He could be anything. After just 1 start in France, when he finished a 7-length 3rd in a debutantes hurdles for 3-year-olds at Compiegne in October 2021, he is open to any amount of improvement. With the benefit of hindsight, this was a very strong piece of form. The winner and 2nd, Diamond Carl and Victorrino, have both won since and were last seen finishing 1,2 in the Grade 3 Prix La Perichole at Auteuil in June. The 4th placed Cybernetic has won his next 2 starts, as has Sky Glory who finished well beaten. The fact that Quais De Paris was able to hold his own in this company bodes very well for his future and it is no surprise to see his new connections taking the chance.

Having raced in mid-division, he made good headway around the bottom bend and briefly threatened before being outpaced on the run-in. I do have a slight note of caution about this form and that is the fact that he raced alongside the stands rail in the home straight, which is a significant advantage on soft ground at Compiegne. Having looked outpaced at the 2nd last, he kept on well, but given that he was on the prime racing line, he may have been slightly flattered compared to his nearest rivals who raced wider. He is a son of Masked Marvel and my suspicion is, albeit with limited evidence at this stage, that he may need a step up in trip sooner rather than later.

With so many exciting Novice hurdle prospects in the yard, it would be a brave punt to try to back him for the festival at this stage, but we know less about him than any of the others and that makes him intriguing.

Lossiemouth - 16/1 Triumph Hurdle (Betfair, Skybet)

Another promising type with Willie Mullins, Lossiemouth features in the betting for both the Mares Novice and the Triumph hurdle. A winner of her only start in France for Yannick Fouin, she is one of the more high profile purchases that have joined Closutton this summer. On pedigree alone she is of interest as her dam is a half-sister to Queen Anne and Jebel Hatta winner Lord Glitters and she looks to have inherited some of her families speed on the evidence of her win at Auteuil.

She won the Prix Geographie at Auteuil in April when she made all the running and kicked away from the field to win by 10-lengths in the home straight. She was green at times and ran around after the last, but given the positive tactics employed by Jeremy Da Silva and the fact that it was her first start on the track that is understandable. The time figure was nothing out of the ordinary, but in a race for unarmed 3-year-old Fillies, it is not overly surprising as many of the jockeys were keen to give their mounts time to adjust and the race only began in earnest from the 3rd last. This was a professional performance from a very decent Filly and given Willie Mullins record with this type of horse, she looks sure to reward her connections for their investment.

At the time of writing, she is the joint favourite for the Triumph hurdle and as a Juvenile, that seems to be the most likely route. Willie Mullins has no problem running his best Fillies in the Triumph, he won the race with a filly in 2020, Burning Victory, but he also ran Lets Dance in 2016, who finished 4th behind Ivanovich Gorbatov before returning a year later to win the Mares Novice hurdle. It won’t be easy to take on the Geldings, but she showed so much ability on debut it is very hard not to like her and it is hard to imagine that her price will do anything but shorten once she makes her Irish debut.

I would add one small note of caution, she is a filly. She looked relatively lightly framed when winning at Auteuil and it would not be impossible to imagine that Willie Mullins may give her a break to grow and develop. For that reason, I would wait to see her in the declarations for a race in Ireland before taking a punt.

Isaac des Obeaux - 33/1 Champion Bumper (William Hill)

This really is a bit of guesswork. An unraced 4-year-old by Kapgarde, he was sold to Highflyer Bloodstock for €100,000 at the Arqana sale in the autumn of 2020. Registered in training with Paul Nicholls, he will run for the same connections as his illustrious relative Clan des Obeaux. His dam is a half-sister to Paul Nicholls 2 time King George winner and given his profile and connections, it is not suprising to see that he is already being quoted in an ante-post market. His dam, Varda des Obeaux, made a winning debut for Nicolas Devilder in a bumper at Limoges in 2013 and Clan des Obeaux also won an AQPS bumper at La Roche-Sur-Yon in 2015 on his only start for the Devilder yard before he joined Paul Nicholls. Kapgarde does have a reasonable 16% strike rate in National Hunt Flat races, but there is no doubt that this is little more than a speculative punt and it would be impossible to say whether he will even head down the Champion Bumper route at this stage.

Zarak the Brave - 33/1 Triumph hurdle (Ladbrokes)

Anything that Willie Mullins recruits from the Flat is likely to be compared to last years Triumph hurdle winner Vauban. Zarak the Brave has cost €200,000 at the Grand Steeple sale in May and has been one of the more high profile recruits sent to Willie Mullins care this summer, but the comparisons with Vauban are not entirely justified.

He won just 1 of his 5 starts on the Flat for the Wattel yard, breaking his maiden tag at the 3rd time of asking when making all to win a maiden at Le Croise-Laroche in March. Although he ran with credit in a pair of conditions races at Chantilly and Angers after his win, the form of both of those races can be questioned and he left France with a flat rating of 40-kilos (88), fully 6-kilos (13lbs) lower than Vauban did. In all of his races he did show signs of being headstrong in the early stages, but more concerning would be his lack of pace. There is no doubt that he has an engine and should stay much further, but he has proved vulnerable to genuine speed on several occasions and unless the ground came up particularly soft, he wouldn’t be for me at this stage. There look to be more promising juvenile hurdling ranks in Closutton and if I was forced to bet, I’d think he is more likely to end up in the Boodles Handicap hurdle if he goes to the festival, where his Flat experience and the guaranteed strong pace should be more to his liking.

Absurde - 20/1 Ballymore Novices Hurdle (Unibet)

A promising 4-year-old bred by the Wertheimer who has plenty of experience after 11 starts on the Flat for Carlos Laffon-Parias. He has placed in Listed company in 2021 and had reached a peak rating of 46-kilos (equivalent to 101) before being sold to Willie Mullins yard. Fastnet Rock has had a very limited number of runners over obstacles so it is hard to say how he will take to hurdling, but his new connections were suitably impressed and spent €260,000 to get him. At the sale, the broker, Pierre Boulard told Jour-de-Galop “Willie Mullins owners love versatile horses who can run over hurdles and in staying races on the Flat. Absurde has the profile to succeed on decent ground and should stay further”.

There is a lot of guesswork involved at this stage, but if anyone can get him to take to hurdles, it will be Willie Mullins. On the level, he may struggle on a mark of 101 and there is no doubt that his Flat form did tail off towards the end of his time in France, but there will be options for him. His Flat experience should help and we will perhaps no ore about him once we see him over hurdles, but it is anyones guess which race he will be aimed at and so the 20/1 makes only limited appeal at this time.

Bo Zenith - 20/1 Triumph Hurdle (Bet365)

Trainers can be features of habit, especially when buying from France. The likes of Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls will go back to the same source time and time again to recruit the best of the French crop. Gary Moore is developing his own contacts in France, in particular with Nicolas Bertran de Balanda and these contacts are beginning to bring some of the best prospects in France to the South Downs. In 2021, the Prix Grandak was won by Porticello, who went on to win the Grade 1 Juvenile Finale at Chepstow for the yard and so it is no surprise to see that they have gone back to that race for the 2022 winner, Bo Zenith. A son of Zarak, he has a true National Hunt pedigree with both presenting and King’s Theatre in the immediate family line.

Having chased the long time leader in the Prix Grandak, he took up the running at the 2nd last and stayed on strongly after the last to hold off Blood Destiny, who has since joined Willie Mullins. This is a strong piece of form; the 3rd David du Berlais has won twice since, including a Listed race, whilst 3 of the “also rans” have won races in the interim too.

Bo Zenith is my first AntePost bet for this season, not especially because I believe he is certain to win the Triumph, but because I believe he is the best 3-year-old prospect in the UK and that means his price will almost certainly shorten. Gary Moore has already indicated that they will try to follow the same route as Porticello did last year, with the Listed Juvenile hurdle at the Wetherby Charlie Hall meeting in a months time, followed by the Juvenile Finale at Chepstow. If he enjoys as much success as his stablemate did a year ago, then his price is likely to halve from its current position and that makes him a solid piece of value. He is not a forlorn hope for the Triumph, though Mr Mullins obviously has the better hand at this stage, but if it came up soft, he would be a solid each-way player.

Impose Toi - 25/1 Supreme Novices Hurdle (SkyBet, Bet365)

I have spent most of the summer trying to find where this horse has ended up and I wasn’t overly surprised to eventually find that he will run for the top team of Nicky Henderson in the colours of JP McManus. A winner of an AQPS bumper at Saumur on debut in March, that race has worked out exceptionally well as the 2nd, 5th and 7th placed horses have all won races since and Impose Toi battered them. He followed that with a gutsy performance to win at Lion D’Angers, where he gave weight and a 2-length beating to his stablemate Iskara. He is due to start over hurdles later this autumn but it is probably fair to say that old cliche “anything he does over hurdles is a bonus” as he is a big lad. Given his size, it is quite remarkable that he was able to win a couple of bumper races, especially in France where so many of the AQPS Races turn into 3-furlong sprints and it bodes well for his future that he had the necessary speed to do so.

I’m not a great fan of getting involved in Novice hurdle bets before we have seen all of the main protagonists run, but I will be amazed if Impose Toi runs in the Supreme. There is plenty of stamina in his pedigree and the size and scope that I saw at lion D’Angers would suggest he is destined for a career well beyond 2-miles. At the time of writing, I can only find an available price for the opener on the Tuesday, but he wouldn’t interest me for that race at all as I think he will struggle to compete at the minimum trip.

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