Adam Houghton reveals which coaches were the big winners in a busy month of racing in December and could be worth following in early 2022.
December is a critical time in the national hunting season, especially the six days between Boxing Day and the end of the calendar year.
The numbers tell their own story. No less than 18 freshman races were held in December – nine in Britain and nine in Ireland – and 13 of them were crammed into those six days after Christmas. For context, 18 freshman races in December is more than any other month except April, when the Aintree and Punchestown delights provide an end-of-season highlight.
It’s not about year one action either, as the large number of national hunting reunions around Christmas ensures that there are plenty of opportunities at all levels of the sport. In total, those six days hosted 28 individual jump cards – 18 in Great Britain and 10 in Ireland – of which 10 took place on Boxing Day alone.
That’s why every National Hunt coach wants their channel to go full blast in December. Of course, the same could probably be said at any point in the season, but a successful December is the perfect platform to attack the New Year; a bad month of december could mean that Auld Lang Syne is sung with a little less enthusiasm than usual.
So, as we take our tentative first steps into 2022, now it seems like the right time to assess which coaches have stepped out of the festivities in a rich vein of form, building so much momentum that the January blues just didn’t slip away. not even register on their radar.
The Mullins machine takes it to the next level
The obvious starting point is a certain Willie mullin. Just a few weeks ago, it was thought that the Mullins Yard was taking a little longer than usual to reach the summit this season, in large part because of the drought that had delayed the reappearance of several names of stars.
December was the month that all of that changed. Having sent just 45 runners in October and 51 runners in November (in National Hunt races in Britain and Ireland), Mullins saddled no less than 117 runners in December with outstanding results.
It would be pretty impressive if Mullins saddled 33 winners in that month, but the fact that 16 of them were secured within six days of Christmas is particularly striking. That total included a second success in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day with Tornado Flyer, as well as four freshman wins in the Leopardstown Big Christmas Game.
For good measure, Mullins then sent five more winners to three meetings on New Years Day to emphasize that his yard is in great shape.
Overall, Mullins operated at a strike rate of 28.21% in National Hunt races in Britain and Ireland in December, demonstrating nothing but a consistent brilliance given the sheer volume of runners coming from Closutton.
A total of 77 individual vault coaches in Britain and Ireland saddled at least 20 runners in December and Mullins had better strike rates than all of them. Mullins also placed third in Timeform’s race-to-form percentage (57.26%), pointing out that his horses generally run well even when they aren’t winning.
In particular, Mullins strengthened his hand in the novice hunter ranks in December as eight individual horses made their winning debuts on the fences during that month, listed in chronological order as follows: Ferny Hollow, Concertista, Stattler, Blue Lord, Capodanno, Haut En Couleurs, Galopin des Champs and Concrete.
Welsh national glory crowns a formidable month for Thomas
Sam thomas saddled six winners out of 23 runners in December to leave only Mullins with a strike rate of 26.09%. In truth, that number is nothing out of the ordinary for Thomas, who has been operating regularly at a strike rate above 20% since the start of the 2020/21 season, identifying him as a young coach in the making.
Galileo Silver was one of Thomas’ star performers in December, scoring two wins in the span of four weeks, most recently in Huntingdon on Boxing Day.
Fast forward just over 24 hours and things got even better for the yard as Iwilldoit missed a dominant winner of the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow, following his victory in the trial three weeks earlier to give Thomas the biggest success of his fledgling coaching career so far.
Another young coach who has had a productive month has been Samuel drinking water, who was ranked third by strike rate (25.00%) after selling five winners out of 20 riders. The headline was Gallic Geordie, who netted a quick brace giving his coach a top-level winner in front of ITV cameras in Newbury on Wednesday.
Drinkwater sent out its five winners in December in the span of 10 days towards the end of the month, so any runners in the court in the first two weeks of January will be well worth a second look. A 65.00% completion percentage for December – just after that of Henri daly (69.23%) – emphasizes this point.
Hillcrest could be a star for Henry Daly
Henry Daly has trained much longer than Sam Thomas or Samuel Drinkwater, but his form lately has been no less impressive, counting six winners out of 26 runners in December with a strike rate of 23.08%. In addition to sending six winners, Daly had nine seconds, three thirds and three quarters, leaving just five horses that finished out of the frame.
The winner’s pick in December was Hillcrest, who managed two of the two hurdles with an effortless win at Wetherby earlier in the month, clearing second-to-last to clinch the 20-length booty.
Daly also started 2022 in the best possible way thanks to the same horse. Comfortable winner of the listed novice hurdle at Cheltenham on New Years Day, beating I Am Maximus by two lengths, Hillcrest looks potentially the best horse his trainer has had in his care for a long time, with his winning streak as per the rules now covering four races (also won a Wetherby bumper in March 2021).
Jamie snowden and Veneto Williams are a few other coaches who deserve a mention, ranking fourth and fifth respectively by strike rate in December.
Snowden has saddled seven winners out of 29 runners (24.14%) during that month, although only one of them was successful this Christmas side. The horse in question represented Bob, who took three wins in as many closing starts at Catterick on Tuesday, once again showing improved form with the promise of more to come.
Meanwhile, Williams saddled 14 winners out of 59 riders (23.73%) in December, with Brave Seasca, Grand Turina, Green Book and L’Homme Presse each recording two wins each.
The Press Man then came out and completed the treble with an impressive victory in the Paddy Power Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Years Day, staying solidly on the run-in to beat The Glancing Queen by 10 lengths. He must be seen as a very intelligent prospect and his connections have every right to think of returning to Cheltenham for the Festival in March.