With the start of winter approaching, the National Hunt season is now in full swing. Chief Sports Writer Scott Wilson highlights five Northern horses to follow over the course of the jumps season


(9yo, trained by Phil Kirby)

The Northern Echo:

One of the most versatile mares in training, Lady Buttons proved her wellbeing when she cruised to victory in the Listed Bet365 Mares Hurdle at Wetherby on Saturday, successfully defending the title she claimed last year.

As was the case in 2018, the Wetherby win is likely to be the precursor to a winter campaign that will see Lady Buttons mix and match between hurdle races and chases.

She proved her liking for the bigger obstacles last season, winning a decent race at Newbury and finishing second to Moon Over Germany in the Red Rum Handicap Chase at Aintree, but her best performances came over hurdles as she won a Grade Two mares’ hurdle at Doncaster and finished fourth behind Roksana in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

A return visit to the Festival is likely, and granted an uninterrupted preparation, there is no reason why this ultra-consistent nine-year-old should not be a key contender in the mares’ showpiece on the opening day next March.


(8yo, Ruth Jefferson)

The Northern Echo:

Has a horse ever been more aptly named? Ruth Jefferson has certainly had to wait patiently with her stable star, whose planned seasonal debut was abandoned yesterday when a dirty scope meant he had to withdraw from the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter.

Waiting Patiently has been plagued by injury problems throughout his career, but it is still hard to escape the feeling that there is a top-class chaser waiting to emerge if only things would fall into place.

That was certainly the impression created by his 2018 performance in the Betfair Ascot Chase, when he demolished a top-class field featuring Cue Card and Frodon to triumph over two miles five.

Last season was something of a disappointment, with a failure to finish in the King George at Kempton preceding a second-placed finish in the Ascot Chase, when he was unable to get close to Cyrname, and a third-place finish behind Min in the Melling Chase at Aintree.

Those were high-class contests though, and Waiting Patiently is likely to be aimed at the top level once again, with the Ryanair Chase at the Festival and a return visit to Aintree realistic end-of-season targets.


(7yo, Jedd O’Keefe)

The Northern Echo:

Already a star over hurdles, having won a Betfair Stayers’ Hurdle and a Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot, this is the season when Sam Spinner steps up to fences.

Jedd O’Keefe’s stable star lost his form somewhat in the first half of last season, but exploded back into life spectacularly as he pushed Paisley Park all the way before finishing second in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

That was arguably a career-best performance, but rather than keeping Sam Spinner to the smaller obstacles, O’Keefe has opted to send the seven-year-old chasing, with some positive early signs.

Sam Spinner’s chase debut resulted in a facile three-length win in a novice chase at Wetherby in the middle of last month, and he recorded another comfortable success at the same West Yorkshire venue last Friday.

Crucially, he jumped well on both occasions, putting some early hesitancy behind him to become increasingly confident, and with his stamina over long-range trips assured, he looks set for an exciting campaign.

He will almost certainly step up in class on his next outing, with another appearance before Christmas currently being planned, and is being aimed at the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, for which he is currently available at ante-post odds of around 33-1.


(7yo, Brian Ellison)

The Northern Echo:

Brian Ellison has been in red-hot form over the last couple of months, and while Definitly Red and Forest Bihan might be his leading lights over jumps, the relatively unexposed Windsor Avenue could prove a horse worth following this winter.

Just over 12 months ago, Windsor Avenue was finishing within two lengths of future Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer in a novice hurdle at Carlisle, and after winning low-key events at Sedgefield and Hexham, he finished last season finishing an impressive second to the talented Rouge Vif in the Grade Two Premier Kelso Novices’ Hurdle.

He moves into the novice chasing sphere this season, and could not have wished for a better introduction over the larger obstacles as he justified odds-on favouritism by romping to a 21-length win at Sedgefield last month.

That was a weak affair, but he is entered in a much stronger novices’ handicap chase at Aintree on Saturday, and it will be interesting to see how he fares if he takes his chance off top weight. In the longer term, a race like the Close Brothers’ Novice Handicap Chase on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival could be on his radar.


(5yo, Rebecca Menzies)

The Northern Echo:

Rebecca Menzies was in sensational form right through the Flat season, sending out a succession of winners from her Howe Hills base, and as her attention turns to the jumps, she could have an interesting dark horse in the shape of five-year-old All Hail Caesar.

Menzies doesn’t tend to have too many bumper horses, and certainly not ones that are thrown in to ultra-competitive heats at Cheltenham, so the fact that All Hail Caesar was sent to Prestbury Park for a bumper last October speaks volumes.

He wasn’t able to land a blow at odds of 50-1 on that occasion, but ran creditably to pick up a pair of second-place finishes in subsequent bumpers at Musselburgh and Newcastle.

A first spin over hurdles at Wetherby in February should have been a decent educational exercise, and All Hail Caesar should be an interesting proposition in Northern novice hurdles over the next few months.

A scopey youngster who was always going to improve one he started jumping, he should be one of the flagbearers for a County Durham yard that continues to go from strength to strength.