Cheltenham 2024 | Festival Focus – Novice Hurdles

Cheltenham, Horse Racing

The countdown is on for the Greatest Festival on Turf. The Cheltenham Festival is back and so is the Festival Focus. In the first of the eight-part series, we take a deep dive into the contenders for the four novice hurdles. Often competitive, and a look as to who the future champions of the Festival will be.


Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 87yds – Grade One

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The curtain-raiser for the entire week. This year’s renewal looks to belong the Irish, but who will land the first prize out of 28?

Ballyburn’s destination still hasn’t been decided on, but his run in the Tattersalls Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival looked to be the perfect trial for the Supreme.

However, in the two races he has won, the form hasn’t worked out and the class performances is all we have seen. So is he as a good horse that the market makes out?

The race is a potential reunion with Firefox, who beat Ballyburn in a competitive maiden hurdle at Fairyhouse in December.

Firefox was stepped up by Gordon Elliott in January when running in the Lawlor’s of Naas, but was found out by Readin Tommy Wrong.

The step down in distance looks to be the plan for Elliott and team. His bumper form also has a lot to back up Firefox’s talent. It might just be he didn’t stay the trip in the Lawlor’s.

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Tullyhill is the only one in the top three of the market not to have won a Grade One race, only finishing second in last year’s Champion Bumper.

He won a Listed contest at Punchestown in testing conditions but has both of his hurdle runs well to put him in the frame for the race, but conditions need to be testing for him to hold a big chance.

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Jeriko Du Reponet represents the UK’s leading chances in the race.

He won the Rossington Main at Doncaster and had the form of the race franked when Lump Sum went and won the Dovecote at Cheltenham.

Nicky Henderson is only one of two British trainers to win the race in the last ten years, and he’s won it three times too.


IF Ballyburn turns up in the Supreme, he holds every credential to win and win well, with a big boost winning at the DRF to make him the one to beat. 5/4 (Unibet, BetUK). If not, Jeriko Du Reponet wasn’t up to his standard at Doncaster, but still won well and the form was backed up by Lump Sum too. 13/2 (Unibet).

Each-way pick: Mistergif is one horse that has not been picked up by anyone yet after a monstrous maiden hurdle win at Limerick back in January. That 18-length win gave him an entry into the race and is, possibly, the number one runner for owners Munir and Souede. Willie Mullins also said on his stable tour he “screams a real good horse to me” 22/1 (Unibet), is very generous for an emphatic win.


Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 5F – Grade One

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Once again, it’s a case of does Ballyburn come here. Playing Mullins bingo is not for the faint-hearted.

Having won by 25 lengths over the distance, he’s potential to stay. But the run at the DRF tells me he’ll go for Tuesday’s opener.

Slade Steel was seven lengths behind Ballyburn at the DRF but was stepping down in distance that day and looked more comfortable over the extended trip.

He’ll want the ground testing on the day. But he’s never shone in the two wins he’s had this season.

His only win was the Grade Two at Navan by three-quarters of a length, which shows he has a fighting spirit. But you need a lot more when coming to Cheltenham.

It’s a similar case for Ile Atlantique, who was talked about when winning by 19 lengths at Gowran on debut. He was rightly stepped up in trip when competing in the Lawlor’s.

Leading after the last, he was denied by Readin Tommy Wrong, but was more impressive on the eye than his opponent.

With narrow finishes behind Firefox and Slade Steel running in bumpers, it tells us that the winning margin may not be more than a length.

Mystical Power looks to be coming here, avoiding clashing with Jeriko Du Reponet in the Supreme.

It’s an odd choice for a horse who won the Moscow Flyer in ‘Supreme-style’ and looks like two-miles is made for him.

But Impaire Et Passe won this race last year and went on to win this race too, so it’s a tried and tested route for top level Mullins novices.

Readin Tommy Wrong seems to be underestimated. He looked to be going away from Ile Atlantique and the extra furlong will suit him rather than his stablemate.

He carries an unbeaten record and has plenty of good form from his maiden race including Lisnagar Fortune and Staffordshire Knot finishing in behind.

With a Grade One under his belt, he has every chance to go and notch up another in a competitive field.


This could be a repeat of last year with Mystical Power stepping up in distance after winning the Moscow Flyer. Hopefully he doesn’t take after his mother and nosedives at the last. 3/1 (General).

Each-way pick: With all the leading contenders Irish, the best shot for the UK is Gidleigh Park. But I’m siding with Handstands for Ben Pauling. He won the Listed Sidney Bank’s at Huntingdon, beating a much-fancied Jango Baie. He’s got some engine having been a point-to-point winner over three miles and despite looking low rated, does have some quality about him. 12/1 (General).


Ryanair Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 179yds – Grade Two

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No favourite has won this race since Laurina in 2018. Last year, You Wear It Well won at 16/1 so may we have to look past the three ante-post favourite to find the winner?

Brighterdaysahead has already been identified by Jack Kennedy as his banker for the week. And it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Unbeaten in all five starts, two double figure winning distances and a Grade Three win to match, the stars seem to align for this fantastic mare for Gordon Elliott.

Her ground preference may be to the softer side, but such as the talent she possesses she won’t mind whatsoever.

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But then Jade De Grugy threw her hat into the ring. A possible Honeysuckle reincarnate in the colours of Kenny Alexander but trained by Mullins.

She was projected into the fray after an explosive 15 length win over Christmas, then backed it up in the Solerina.

She’s only had two hurdle races under her belt, which may leave her a little undercooked. But her talent only suggests she won’t stop improving.

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It’s not often Fergal O’Brien has a live hope for the Festival, but this year he has two genuine contenders to deliver him an elusive win at his local track.

Dysart Enos has a similar record to Brighterdaysahead but lacks the Graded form.

She’s been constantly impressive, including winning a novice hurdle over C&D in December. But form is lacking in some areas which puts her impressive wins into question.


Despite C&D form, Dysart Enos may just fall behind the talent that is Brighterdaysahead. And as her name suggests, there are bigger prizes to be won with her. 2/1 (BetVictor, BetUK).

Each-way pick: Majestic Force was majestic when winning on debut at Punchestown. After her mistake at the second-last, she responded to all of Rachael Blackmore’s urges and beat odds-on shot Dr Eggman by four-and-a-half lengths. She will be stepping down in distance, but a galloping track will suit her big engine. Certainly, one to keep an eye out for in the future if she enters the fray. Continuing the big price form of the race at 33/1 (Unibet, BetUK).


Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 7F 213yds – Grade One

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One of the tougher novice hurdles to work out, producing nine double-figure priced winners in the last ten renewals. When betting in the race it’s best to go digging.

Mullins occupies the first three in the betting, but withdraw Readin Tommy Wrong. He should go to the Baring Bingham as mentioned.

High Class Hero is unbeaten, but really by the skin of his teeth. Chinks have begun to show in his armour, particularly at the last where he’s never had a comfortable jump. He’ll have to sharpen up if he wants to win this ultra-competitive race.

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Dancing City’s win was more about the talent of the jockey on the day. Danny Mullins knew how to ride the race, leading then giving Dancing City someone to chase in the final strides. But short prices mean nothing in the Albert Bartlett.

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Gidleigh Park managed to pull his last victory out of the fire, after a less than convincing performance around Cheltenham. He showed plenty of class to stay on and win. He may have to bring that spirit into this race too.

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Captain Teague’s hype dipped when losing at Cheltenham in November but made up for it by winning the Challow. He steps up in distance too and has only placed at Cheltenham on previous runs.

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Shanagh Bob is, surprisingly, the form runner of the race. He shocked Nicky Henderson when winning in December over C&D. Two horses have won since including Kerryhill who won the River Don at Doncaster on his next start.


Of the front runners, Shanagh Bob is the pick. The form took a massive boost in recent weeks, and he’s been race aimed by Henderson after his victory over C&D in December. Very underestimated at 10/1 (William Hill, BetVictor, Unibet, BetUK).

Each-way pick: If it’s possible to have two, it would be Largy Hill and Croke Park. Largy Hill has already showed his class over three miles when breaking his maiden by two-and-three-quarter lengths. Then picked up a Grade Three against the highly touted Staffordshire Knot. 25/1 (Unibet).

Croke Park has been crying out for three miles since breaking his maiden over two-and-a-half miles back in November. It looked the wrong decision to run him in the Lawlor’s, but the form from that race earlier in the season could work out. Elliott has said this horse wants three miles and he can prove it. 25/1 (Unibet, BetUK).

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