Three novice hurdlers stand out for Rory Delargy in the Cheltenham betting, find out who they are and when to bet on them in his ante-post betting guide below:
In 1970 there was just one race for novice hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival, albeit one which was run in two divisions.Hunter chasers, who had both the Foxhunters’ and the United Hunts Challenge Cup, were better catered for.
The Gloucestershire Hurdle from then is now the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, and the Aldsworth Hurdle, inaugurated in 1971, is now the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (registered as the Baring Bingham).
The Spa Hurdle has been reintroduced as a three-mile event for novices and has been run as the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle for over a decade, and the mares now have the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle, further opening up options.
The Triumph Hurdle is, somewhat ironically, not a novice event, for those wondering why it’s been omitted from the list – the French race their juveniles over hurdles long before the British jump season begins, so it’s always been possible for the Triumph winner to be a second-season performer in the strictest sense.
The victory of Al Dancer in the Betfair Hurdle has propelled him to the head of the betting for this, ahead of the same owner’s Angel’s Breath, and that is correct in terms of form shown and profile.
The latter looks exciting, but no winner of this race has as little experience as him, and while trainer Nicky Henderson’s record in this race is often talked up, the fact remains that prior to Altior’s win a few years ago, he’d gone without a winner since Flown in 1992.
Flown is also the last horse to win wearing any kind of headgear, incidentally, but such hoodoos are made to be broken. Another in similar vein is that horses who have raced outside of novice company on their most recent start have a poor record, but winners of the Betfair Hurdle have a solid recent record without winning.
In addition, Make A Stand, a winner of that race as a novice, ran away with the Champion Hurdle so it’s a stat which can hardly be deemed reliable.
Form remains the punter’s chief weapon, and aside from Al Dancer, Fakir D’Oudaries holds strong claims after winning the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials Day. Owned by J P McManus, he is taking the same route as that owner’s Binocular in running here rather than in the Triumph Hurdle.
Trainer Willie Mullins had the 1-2 in Leopardstown’s key trial (now the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle), and there is nothing to choose between Klassical Dream and Aramon. Of the two, I prefer the latter, who was very impressive on his previous start and retains a little more scope for improvement, given that Klassical Dream was competing in top-level novice hurdles two seasons ago in France.
Owners Gigginstown House Stud are expected to rely on the one-dimensional Felix Desjy over Battleoverdoyen, but the latter is much the better prospect, and a late switch to run in the Supreme would make him very interesting.
Hard to find value in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle betting unless taking a punt on one expected to go for the Ballymore, but of those likely to run, Aramon makes marginally most appeal at the prices. Al Dancer has a couple of stats to bust regarding coming from a non-novice event and wearing headgear, but he’s well placed to do so, and I don't get carried away with such trifles. He’s a worthy favourite.
Champ is another favourite with history to defy, and I think there is a little more to the fact that Challow Hurdle winners have never followed up in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
The Challow Hurdle was once a juvenile hurdle, but has taken its present form since 1982, and in that time plenty of Challow winners have been fancied for this Cheltenham Festival contest, but none have won, even the mighty Denman coming unstuck.
I think that the major issue is that impressive winners of the Challow tend to have peaked too early, while the ground for the Newbury contest is traditionally very testing.
Denman’s win actually came at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day after the original contest was postponed, so we shouldn’t make too much of that - although enough horses have gone close to suggest the curse is not so strong it can’t be broken, and Champ’s win in December came on a decent surface.
My only objection to him is that he’s a flighty sort, which runs in his family (that of Best Mate, who was atypical in terms of temperament), and I wonder how well he would cope with the demands of Cheltenham in terms of atmosphere and configuration.
Battleoverdoyen looks the pick of the Irish, although he wasn’t left with a huge amount to beat when landing the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle in January, and in truth there has been more style than substance in his wins.
The one measure by which he scores highly is the clock, and he’s put up a couple of smart times despite not being extended. I’ve backed him for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and would be happy to see him run there, but connections seem adamant that this is his race, and my gut feeling is that, despite the lack of strong collateral form, he is the one to beat.
If you do like Battleoverdoyen, then you also need to respect Naas runner-up Sams Profile, who lost plenty of ground with a slow jump at the third last there, but rattled home to be second, and may have been unlucky.
He’s not certain to go to Cheltenham, and needs a little work to knock off the rough edges, but he appeals as a NRNB option as this is by far the most suitable option for him given he was outstayed over three miles at Cork on his previous start.
In a race where a few stand out and the firms are careful with the outsiders, the other to appeal is Brewin’upastorm, who looked the likeliest winner when capsizing at the last on Trials Day. He’d been fourth in the Challow prior to that, but was still green there, and is open to improvement assuming he’s not adversely affected by his fall. Commander of Fleet is another Gigginstown runner who is earmarked for a different race, but is improving all the time, and would be of interest if coming here instead.
As time goes on, I am warming more and more to the prospects of Battleoverdoyen, but whether he represents an ante-post bet at current odds in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle betting is up for debate. Sams Profile, an eye-catching second to that rival at Naas can be backed at 20/1 NRNB, and that stands out compared to the 9/2 on offer about his Gigginstown-owned rival.
Experience is all-important in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, and plenty of top-class prospects have failed to shine in it, due to it coming too early in their career path.
I’m always inclined to find an experienced runner who I think will relish the test of stamina. The favourite, after an impressive display at Haydock last weekend, is Lisnagar Oscar, and he does look very talented, as does main market rival Commander of Fleet, but I like the claims of one who was well behind him at Haydock, and that is Stoney Mountain.
He will not feature prominently in the Albert Bartlett betting because of his latest run, but still shaped well in a race which turned into a bit of a sprint, and he has continually shaped as if a strong gallop at three miles will suit.
He’s gained plenty of experience this season, mostly over shorter, and I fancy his chances of running into the frame, for all he falls short of the normal standard required to win.
Not a race to take short odds, and I suspect there will be bigger prices about my Albert Bartlett tip after declarations, but Stoney Mountain has the right profile for a race which takes no prisoners, and I will back him after final declarations to make the frame at least.
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