Due to take place on the fourth and final day of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (registered Spa Novices’ Hurdle) is a Grade 1 event run over three miles.
Since the inception of this race in 2005, all nine winners have been ridden handily throughout the race so I think it’ll pay to focus on those to the forefront with assured stamina at the distance.
A few key stats to keep an eye on before making a selection;
- Seven of the last 9 winners have prior course form.
- Seven of the last 9 winners had contested a race over three miles.
- Eight of the last 9 winners were in the front five in the betting market.
- All 9 winners of the race had previously run three times or more over hurdles.
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Sarahs Quay (IRE) (Witness Box (USA))
Notes: A real top-class individual who has impressed me greatly by the way he goes about things in his races. Twice a winner at Cheltenham this campaign by a combined distances of 32L, the most recent of these coming in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett over C&D in December. He is a powerful long-striding type who will bid to either make all or sit handy, and looks the ideal type for this race. He is very much the one to beat.
Shantou (USA) — Backaway (IRE) (Bob Back (USA) (12.4f))
Notes: Winner of the Champion Bumper at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, Briar Hill has made an impressive transition to hurdles winning his first three races including the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle, and Grade 2 Slaney Novices’ Hurdle at Naas on his most recent efforts. Bred to improve further for the step up to three miles, and the quicker ground looks sure to suit him also on pedigree. We know he excels at the track and the money has continue to pile in on him all week, and given he is from the Willie Mullins powerhouse he very much has to enter equations.
Westerner (9.0f) — Hollygrove Samba (IRE) (Accordion (IRE) (12.0f))
Notes: Has continued to improve with each start for Nicky Henderson, and most recently showed his wellbeing with an emphatic success in the Challow Novices Hurdle (Grade 1) at Newbury at the end of December. Unraced over this trip under rules so needs to prove he gets the trip, running style suggests he will and looks one of the more likely types with ground likely to be ideal for this good actioned type.
Robin Des Champs (FR) — Betty Brune (FR) (Dark Stone (FR))
Notes: Not seen since having a really hard race at Doncaster when edging out Blakemount in a thrilling finish. He is a hard horse to get a handle on, he has put together back-to-back solid efforts in the low 140’s on RPR’s on his most recent starts so clearly has plenty of ability. Malcolm Jefferson knows how to best prepare a horse for the big days, and he is another dark horse in this at prices that could throw a curve ball into the mix of the more likely types in the race.
Westerner (9.0f) — Louisas Dream (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f)
Notes: A son of Westerner who has got better with racing for trainer Oliver Sherwood. A winner of the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick on his most recent start that is clearly the pick of his form shown to date, and is a horse that seems to like plenty of juice in the ground. Is closely matched with Champagne West on their Warwick running back in December, and looks a likely sort to be around the placing’s should he continue that upward curve.
Westerner (9.0f) — Wyndham Sweetmarie (IRE) (Mister Lord (USA) (12.0f))
Notes: Has improved with each run this campaign, and most notably on his two most recent starts, both on heavy ground. He has shown a liking for the deeper surface, and his form on the quicker stuff doesn’t appear as good. He needs to improve, and prove he is as good on quicker ground and he is a touch short for me in the market with these concerns hanging over him.
Flemensfirth (USA) — Patio Rose (Petoski (10.3f))
Notes: A dark horse who I think has plenty of potential. Well backed to make a winning return at Exeter at the start of the season, he has since followed up with a facile win at Leicester against inferior opposition, and then put daylight between himself and rivals when taking the Listed Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock on his most recent start. He ran to an RPR of 141 that day, and although he’ll need to improve further to have a say in this, does look overpriced at around 20-1 and is worth a closer look.
Presenting (13.8f) — Smashing Leader (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: A northern raider from the Grand National winning trainer Sue Smith yard, and so far this horse has shown he lacks nothing in the stamina department. Narrowly edged out by Urban Hymn in an attritional test at Doncaster when last seen, he is a horse who is improving with experience and the better ground over this longer distance looks likely to suit him. His run when third behind Ballyalton and Oscar Rock at Newcastle three starts ago reads well given he was doing his best work late, and he is another at prices that has to enter equations.
Prince Siegfried has a mixed profile over hurdles so far. Was in the process of giving Irving a race when coming down at the last in the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot two runs ago. Was never in the hunt behind Royal Boy last time out, and steps up to this trip for the first time, he wouldn’t be for me but better ground could bring improvement.
Port Melon has only had one run under rules and that was a well beaten third behind Creepy at this track back in November. This leaves him with plenty to do on the basis of how far Kings Palace has beaten that rival, and can’t see him being good enough for this off the back of one run.
Sausalito Sunrise is a horse I like a lot, and even made it in my 20 to follow list for the season. He was beaten on merit last time, albeit on ground softer than ideal so hard to make a case for him in this.
Apache Jack is an improving type who tried his heart out in defeat when beaten by Briar Hill last time out. He was getting 7lb from that rival on that occasion and will now have to meet that one again off levels, so hard to see him reversing that form.
On all known form this looks like being a race which will revolve around the first two in the market. Kings Palace for me is the one to beat based on what I’ve seen this year, and his gallant front-running will win him plenty of fans should he be able to lead them all a merry dance on the day.
The well punted Briar Hill has shown his liking for that track with a powerful staying performance in the Champion Bumper last year, and has been prepped to peak on Friday. His pedigree suggests he’ll have no problems with this extra distance, and he has already won a point-to-point over three miles.
At prices I have respect for both Urban Hymn and Mosspark who both come into this race as dark horses, but the one I’m going to side with to attempt a shock is the Sue Smith trained BLAKEMOUNT. He’ll need to improve on what we’ve seen so far, but being by Presenting the prospect of better ground, and a track which his sire do very well at make him a fair proposition for this. He wasn’t stopping in bad ground at Doncaster last time when narrowly out-pointed by Urban Hymn, and like the Malcolm Jefferson trained runner has been given a break to freshen up after that effort.
The prospect of a true pace on decent ground should really draw the stamina out of Blakemount, and I think he’ll be running on when many have cried enough, and could hit the frame at lucrative odds at 20-1+ (likely to be bigger on the day).