With the first Classics almost upon us, the flat season is now certainly finding its stride. It was, however, only around a week ago that the 2022/23 National Hunt season officially reached its conclusion at Sandown. There’s therefore been little time to draw breath for the racing fan.
The season that has just finished certainly didn’t disappoint, with the jumping stars producing an array of moments to live long in the memory. Here we take a look back at a selection of the standout performers from what was an absorbing campaign.
Top Trainer: Paul Nicholls
With 163 winners for the season and Total Prize money of a staggering £3,646,585, Paul Nicholls led the way among British trainers once again. Picking up the Champion National Hunt Trainer title for the 14th time, one more win will see Nicholls draw level with the legendary Martin Pipe as the most successful trainer in the history of the award.
▪ £3,646,511 in 07/08
▪ £3,646,585 in 22/23
The master trainer managed to beat the record he previously set, on the final day of the season by £74! https://t.co/5bUtaJldlj
— Racing Post (@RacingPost) April 29, 2023
Nicholls’ big highlight of the year came on Boxing Day, with the easy win of Bravemansgame in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. That victory handed the trainer a record-extending 13th success in the festive showpiece. Following a quiet couple of seasons at the Cheltenham Festival, Nicholls emerged from the doldrums with a Grade 1 double as Stage Star and Stay Away Fay landed the Turners Novices’ Chase and Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle respectively.
Top Jockey: Brian Hughes
Two ahead of Paul Nicholls in terms of number of winners – albeit around £2m behind him in prize money – was this season’s leading jockey, Brian Hughes. One of only four men to win 200 races in a single season – alongside Peter Scudamore, AP McCoy and Richard Johnson – 165 was enough for Hughes this time around, as he came home 40 wins clear of his nearest pursuer, Sean Bowen for a third Champion Jockey title.
A man who rarely makes the headlines at the major meetings, Hughes’s impressive haul is a testament to the talent and incredible work ethic of a man not averse to mopping up the winners at the smaller meetings, whilst others grab the limelight.
Top Chaser: Corach Rambler
In terms of ratings, Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Galopin Des Champs would be the clear winner in this category, but our vote goes to Grand National hero, Corach Rambler. To win the hugely competitive Ultima Handicap Chase for the second year in succession was some feat, but to then back that up with a triumph at Aintree represented a truly spectacular performance.
It will be intriguing to see what next season has in store for the Lucinda Russell star, with a tilt at the Cheltenham Gold Cup surely now a possibility. On official ratings, he would have work to do with Galopin Des Champs, but his Ultima Handicap Chase form received a significant boost, with the runner-up that day, Fastorslow, going on to stun Galopin Des Champs and Bravemansgame in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
Top Hurdler: Constitution Hill
There can really only be one winner over the smaller obstacles – Nicky Henderson’s Champion Hurdle king, Constitution Hill. Having reigned supreme in the novice division last season, the horse regularly billed as a freak of nature – in the kindest possible sense – proved equally imperious in open company.
An effortless winner of the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle, the son of Blue Brasil then faced his date with destiny in the Champion Hurdle, where the best of the English and Irish contenders lay in wait in the hope of exposing a chink in his armour. Those hopes were dashed in devastating style, as nothing could get near the mount of Nico De Boinville who – even in the hottest hurdle of the season – looked to be in a completely different league. Not quite so impressive when landing the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f on his final start, it will be interesting to see where he is targeted next season, with everything from a Champion Hurdle defence to a shot at the Gold Cup being mentioned. The trip of that latter event may well stretch him, but over two miles, he looks just about unbeatable.
Rising Star: El Fabiolo
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Marine Nationale and Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle champ Impaire Et Passe warrant a mention here, but Arkle hero El Fabiolo just gets the nod. Going in the same Simon Munir & Isaac Souede silks as Impaire Et Passe, the six-year-old wasn’t quite so heavily touted headed into the Cheltenham Festival, but he proved just as impressive in powering away from Jonbon up the Cheltenham Hill.
Following up when landing a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival in an eleven-length canter, he looks primed to make a bold bid for all of the top 2m Chase prizes in 2023/24. Going back to that Arkle success, El Fabiolo became just the second horse to beat the admirable Jonbon, with the other to achieve the feat going by the name of Constitution Hill.
Moment of the Year: Honeysuckle – Close Brothers Mares Hurdle
In terms of a single day’s racing, Day One at the Cheltenham Festival stood head and shoulders above the rest. Proceedings began with Marine Nationale striking an early blow for the smaller yards when landing the Supreme – just as trainer Barry Connell said he would. Next up came our rising star of the year in the Arkle. That was swiftly followed by Corach Rambler’s brilliant defence of his Ultima crown, before Constitution Hill laughed at the opposition in the main event of the Champion Hurdle.
Those four contests alone would likely have made the Tuesday at Prestbury Park the raceday of the season, but an emotion-drenched cherry on the top was still to come in the Mares’ Hurdle. It had been a devastating year for trainer Henry De Bromhead following the tragic death of his son Jack at just 13 years of age, whilst his star mare Honeysuckle had looked a fading force in her previous appearances of the season. The dual Champion Hurdle Queen had however read the script, rediscovering her sparkle at the scene of her finest hour to record a tenacious success, and just about lift the roof off the stands. Tears flowed, commentators’ voices cracked under the strain, and all saluted the most popular winner at the sport’s greatest meeting.