Festival Focus: Novice Hurdles

horse racing

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

The curtain-raiser for the entire week. The roar will sound the start of the festival. And this year’s looks to be more open than ever before, thanks to Facile Vega bombing out of his prep run.

He is still the antepost favourite, best price 7/2, and with good reason. He is a course and distance winner, after winning last year’s bumper, he is the highest rated horse in his category and trained by top trainer Willie Mullins. So what’s not to like? Well, over his three hurdle starts, Facile Vega led from the front, which became his downfall at Leopardstown as he raced too freely. Over bumpers, he was always held up then burst through the field at the finish. Tactics like that in the Supreme are risky, front runners are more likely to win than those held up. He could well go off favourite on the day, but outright favourites have won twice in the last ten years.

So who can beat him? Marine Nationale is second favourite, unbeaten and a Grade One winner. The only thing that could hold back Barry Connell’s hope, is that he hasn’t raced since the start of December and horses coming off the back of a long break, haven’t won this race since Captain Cee Bee won after a break since mid-November in 2008.

The winner of the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival have accounted for four of the past 10 winners of the Supreme. Il Etait Temps falls into that category, despite being beaten by Facile Vega before. His running style would suit in the Supreme, tracking the leaders and pouncing on them with a few furlongs to travel. The Mullins second-sting has form at the Festival after finishing fifth in last year’s Triumph Hurdle.

The British aren’t without hope as Tahmuras won the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown. The Tolworth provided last year’s winner, Constitution Hill, and the 2018 winner Summerville Boy. Paul Nicholls hasn’t won the Supreme since 2011 with Al Ferof, and his last Festival winner was the 2020 Champion Chaser Politolouge. However, Nicholls has had a stellar season and is due a win at the Festival, Tahmuras could break the duck.

Verdict: Il Etait Temps could get the week underway to a great start for the Closutton team. With hurdle form at the Festival, and a great run last time out he could be the one to go with at 5/1 with BetVictor.

Each-way pick: Rare Edition wasn’t too disgraced in the Sidney Banks, drops back in trip and with good Kempton form, looks a little overpriced at 25/1 with Betfair.

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – 2m 5F – Grade One

Wednesday’s opener looks really competitive at the top of the market, with three vying for favouritism, and if the market battle is tense, just wait for the action on the track.

Hermes Allen has everything in his favour, bar one. He is the Challow Novices’ Hurdle winner. No horse has done the double, out of 18 winners of the Challow to run in the Ballymore. However, he has C&D form, you could argue the form got franked by Weveallbeencaught winning on New Year’s Day. His front-running style isn’t keen, it’s strong, and four favourites have won this race have won the last five renewals. Can Hermes Allen break the Challow curse?

Impaire Et Passe looks like the strongest opposition, despite having only two runs over hurdles, the furthest on debut at 2m 3F. This Mullins runner looks like he needs soft ground to run well, and given the weather forecast for Cheltenham looking dry, it doesn’t hold out much hope for this novice.

The buck then passes to Gaelic Warrior, who has been crying out to go further. Easily winning a 2m handicap hurdle at the DRF last time out, it seems that the Ricci team want to come here. Gaelic Warrior has festival form, losing by a head to Brazil in the Juvenile handicap hurdle. You could argue he wants a bit more cut in the ground looking back, but he should be perfect for the race come what may.

Grade One winners Champ Kiely and Good Land could both have says in this race, but they lack Cheltenham form, and the ability to go well on good ground. Inthepocket came second in the Tattersalls Ireland Novice Hurdle, which has produced three winners of the Ballymore in the last 10 years, but is unclear what ground he would suit.

Favori De Champdou won the Grade Two hurdle at Limerick over Christmas, which produced 2014 winner Faugheen. He’s versatile over the ground, and the form was franked by Letsbeclearaboutit winning in the New Year.

Verdict: Hermes Allen. I think you can’t pass up the favourite. The ground and the Cheltenham form are so strong, that if Gaelic Warrior were to turn up here, he’d have a tough time trying to keep up with Hermes Allen, 5/2 with bet365.

Each-way pick: Marble Sands won the Sidney Banks and goes here for local trainer Fergal O’Brien. He finished fifth in the Challow on soft ground, which wasn’t his surface and should be suited to better ground at the Festival. 66/1 with SBK.

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

A fairly new edition to the Festival line-up, established in 2016, this Mares Novice Hurdle still has to find its feet in the pecking order of races at the Festival. In the early days the favourites would always come through. Now it seems to be little tougher.

Luccia, for Nicky Henderson, is the favourite after demolishing her opposition at Exeter, against the boys no less, and she is effective over good ground and a worthy favourite. She has been lightly raced but has targeted races well which is why she should be heading here and not the Supreme.

However, this race has been dominated by the Irish. Last year Love Envoi put a stop to that, but most of Luccia’s opposition are from Ireland including Ashroe Diamond. She’s been placed in two Grade One’s this season, before going on to win the Solerina Mares’ Novice Hurdle, which is a good trial race. Ground wise, she is good on any surface but should prefer the better side of good to soft.

Magical Zoe for the Henry de Bromhead team is another eye catcher, with an unbeaten record to her name. She was last seen at Down Royal in November wining the Grade Three Feathered Lady Mares Novice. Ground shouldn’t be a problem, but maybe the long layoff might hamper her chances slightly.

You Wear It Well for Jamie Snowden has performed really well this season too. Finishing second to Hermes Allen in the Challow, she steps down in distance after dominating the Jane Seymour at Sandown. She also catches the eye with her ground record, and her graded experience too.

Princess Zoe has only raced once over hurdles, which may be a negative, but her experience over the flat will play to her strengths. She will need it softer, but her maiden shows that she is open for improvement.

Verdict: Ashroe Diamond; Two Grade One placings, a dominant win in the Solerina is enough for me to make her my pick at 7/2 with Betfair.

Each-way pick: Saylavee came fifth in the Solerina, but her better performances have come over better ground, and could spring a surprise at 20/1 with William Hill.

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

This is the race which has produced Gold Cup winners Bobs Worth and Minella Indo, who won at 50/1. This is the trend the race has taken in recent years, with the last winning favourite in 2013. Double figure prices are the ones to have in theis race.

Corbetts Cross has only had one run over three miles, in a handicap hurdle, and was seen winning a trial usually associated with the Supreme at Navan last Sunday. It shows that he ahs the stamina and could rpovde the goods for Emmet Mullins.

The long-time antepost leader Embassy Gardens after winning a five-runner novice hurdle by 35 lengths in January. Racing over three miles seems to be his forte and the ground, should stay firm enough for him to have a chance.

Absolute Notions has made the step up in trip after finishing behind Good Land at the DRF, which, on evidence, looks to be beneficial. Good on good-to-soft ground and some Grade One experience makes him look overpriced in the market.

Sandor Clegane for Paul Nolan finished behind Absolute Notions, and also looks like a step up in trip can help. Hard to say what ground he will suit, after being beaten by higher quality opposition in the past so he looks to be an interesting runner.

Monty’s Star beat Hiddenvalley Lake in the Surehaul Mercedes-Benz Novice Hurdle, a good trail that de Bromhead uses for this race. There’s no questioning he’ll get the trip, it’s a question of will he get it soft enough underfoot.

Maximillian and Rock My Way look to lead the British challenge, Rock My Way with Cheltenham form holds the cards, but it’s a big step up for Syd Hosie’s hope, after winning the Classic on Trails Day. The River Don hasn’t been the best trial over the year’s to Maximillian’s downfall.

Verdict: Absolute Notions; Grade One experience, looks to want to go further a double figure price across the board. At 12/1, with BetVictor, now he should go off shorter on the day.

Each-way pick: Seabank Bistro seems to have fallen under the radar this season after being touted for last year’s bumper. Raced well at Cheltenham, looks to be stepping up in trip to good effect. Each-way shout at 22/1, with BetUK.

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