Once again due to take place on the fourth and final day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 event run over three miles, and has often proved a good pointer towards the following season’s RSA Chase.
Since the inception of this race in 2005, nine of the ten winners have been ridden handily throughout the race, and last year they went a suicidal pace in-front which enabled Very Wood who was ridden with more restraint to pick up the pieces. I think once again it’ll be good practice to focus on those ridden towards the front end of the field.
A few key stats to keep an eye on before making a selection;
- Seven of the last 10 winners have prior course form.
- Seven of the last 10 winners had contested a race over three miles.
- Eight of the last 10 winners were in the front five in the betting market.
- All 10 winners of the race had previously run three times or more over hurdles.
Heron Island (IRE) (12.0f) — Annalecky (IRE) (Bob´s Return (IRE) (10.1f))
Notes: Just a couple of starts over hurdles this season for what was a high-class bumper horse last season. Fourth in last year’s Champion Bumper, he forced a punishing pace which suited those ridden with more restraint at the close but he kept on pluckily for a well-earned fourth. It is very possible he was over the hill by the time of the Punchestown disappointment and that the previous months effort had taken its toll. An easy winner over a two-mile hurdle on his return in November, he stepped up on that effort over a mile further in distance when readily accounting for a decent horse in Alpha Des Obeaux in December and will head to The Festival a fresh horse who looks to hold excellent claims of enhancing his course form.
High Chaparral (IRE) (10.5f) — Campanella (GER) (Lomitas (11.1f))
Notes: This lightly raced son of High Chaparral has improved at all rates since being switched from bumpers to hurdlers, and remains unbeaten over the obstacles heading into this contest. His most recent effort reads well when taking the Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle at Doncaster and in the process claimed the scalp of Blaklion in a close finish. Cheltenham will present a different test for him however but on what we’ve seen so far you have to imagine he goes there with more than a punchers chance.
Milan (13.8f) — Johnsalice (IRE) (Zaffaran (USA) (14.0f))
Notes: Carrying the yellow silks with the navy sash of owner Barry Connell, this horse has really impressed me with his attitude this winter, most notably when edging out Outlander at Limerick over the Christmas period when it seemed it was Outlander’s for the taking. Although the form suffered a reversal last time out the trip was much more suited to the Willie Mullins horse, and Martello Tower lacked the required gears to make any inroads into the winner when pressed. The likely honest pace and decent ground we are likely to encounter here look sure to suit, and although he may slightly lack the class of a couple of these he is a horse you can be sure will give his all. Whether it will be good enough on the day though remains to be seen.
VYTA DU ROC
Lion Noir — Dolce Vyta (FR) (Grand Tresor (FR))
Notes: It is likely that he will head down this route although does hold a provisional entry in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle also, this looks more within his compass though based on what we’ve seen thus far. Although unraced over the trip he seems to see out his races really well and stepping up to this distance could unlock further potential for a horse who never wins by very far, but is clearly progressing for Nicky Henderson.
NO MORE HEROES
Presenting (13.8f) — What A Breeze (IRE) (Naheez (USA) (12.9f))
Notes: A real powerful machine in the bumper sphere last season who transferred the ability over to hurdles early in the season, most notably when claiming the scalp of Shaneshill in December. His most recent effort was disappointing when well beaten at Leopardstown in a race he really should have been troubling the judge in and his profile suggests he is at his best when the mud is flying. The likelihood of getting his ground on the Friday of The Festival whilst isn’t impossible is unlikely, and at the current prices although respected he is best watched at this stage.
Kayf Tara (13.8f) — Franciscaine (FR) (Legend Of France (USA) (11.1f))
Notes: Hailing from the Nigel Twiston-Davies camp and arguably has shown some of the best form we’ve seen from a staying novice this side of the Irish Sea this campaign. A narrow defeat to the hands of Caracci Apache at Doncaster in the River Don Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2), there is an argument to suggest he would have come back at the winner had he been able to duel with him on the run-in, as opposed to drifting away from him. He looks the perfect candidate for this three-mile test on likely decent ground, and his form reads really well – one for the shortlist.
VALUE AT RISK
Kayf Tara (13.8f) — Miss Orchestra (IRE) (Orchestra (10.1f))
Notes: A high-class bumper recruit when trained in Ireland last season by Philip Fenton, he has since switched into the care of Dan Skelton and has made a very favourable impression on his two hurdles starts to date. His debut at Newbury he couldn’t have been any more impression when bolting up by 22 lengths over what wasn’t the worst field in the world by any stretch of the imagination. His next effort came up in trip at Cheltenham when narrowly edged out by the Alan King trained Ordo Ab Chao. However the gelded son of Kayf Tara got warm beforehand and was coming again at the line, so the extra distance should work to the benefit of Value At Risk with a more assertive ride, he looks a real player with the better ground also likely to suit.
Sir Harry Lewis (USA) (14.8f) — Tentsmuir (Arctic Lord (11.7f))
Notes: Improving with each run for Harry Fry and most recently with a composed success when giving away weight and a beating at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day. His form stacks up really well on what we’ve seen so far and time will tell that trying to give away 8lb and a beating to Out Sam was a near impossible task two starts ago. His dosage profile suggests he has it to do given previous winners of the race but like a lot of Sir Harry Lewis’ progeny they seem to have a lot more stamina in there than the figures give them credit for and he has to be respected.
Fletchers Flyer is a horse who is highly regarded by those at Harry Fry’s yard and narrowly failed to give 3lbs and a beating to a very fair horse in Definitly Red at Haydock on Valentine’s Day. The trip and race look perfect for him and he is one who can outrun his odds (20/1 currently).
Out Sam is another with plenty of stamina in his pedigree and had room for improvement given he has only had two starts to date. His yard also have a couple of other options to throw at this race but should he make the line then he’d have to be kept on side, (20/1 currently).
Arbre De Vie cut such a favourable impression when running away with a novices’ hurdle at Warwick 11 days ago, and although likely raced and still a shell of a horse put enough forward to suggest he’d be worth chancing at a race of this nature and is very overpriced at 25/1 if he makes the race (Boylesports 20/1 NRNB may be the best action to take).
Killultagh Vic hasn’t really delivered as much as he promised over hurdles this season but has been the victim of a rather bizarre campaign by Willie Mullins. In reality he has been used as a benchmark to see how good our opposition are and although you’d expect him to improve for better ground and return to a more suitable trip it is likely he just isn’t good enough at this level.
Beast Of Burden improved for the step-up in trip when successful last time but again his profile suggests he will struggle in a truly run championship race of this nature.
Shantou Bob was reported to have bled from the nose when third at Warwick last time, and it would be almost impossible for me to consider backing him on that basis so close to a hard race like the Albert Bartlett.
At this stage it is looking like a very competitive renewal and there isn’t really a massive standout in the race which means we are getting still getting decent prices about those to the fore of the market.
You can give chances to many but after looking through the last 10 winners of the race those that best fit the criteria are between Black Hercules, Caracci Apache, No More Heroes and Vyta Du Roc.
No More Heroes looks sure to require softer ground to be at his peak level of form and that has to be regarded as a concern as historically the ground has been decent at the Cheltenham Festival over the years, that doesn’t mean he faces an impossible task however and still has to be respected.
Vyta Du Roc doesn’t win by much but it is still unclear just how much improvement he has in him at this stage. Untried over the trip but looks like he’ll stay no problem, he’s a likeable sort who will go well in these sorts of contests but his tendency to hit a flat-spot during his races could work against him in this quality of field as holding his position will be key.
Caracci Apache is lightly raced and improving and has to be high up on the shortlist but the race he won at Doncaster has a terrible record in producing winners of this race (F8587) and that has to be a worry.
So that leaves me with BLACK HERCULES who looks the best equipped on the data I hold to make a winning return to Cheltenham next month. An excellent fourth in the bumper last season, he hasn’t put a foot wrong in two starts over hurdles in Ireland so far this campaign, and is tactically versatile in regards how the race will be run which is another string to his bow. The return to likely better ground is also another positive for this son of Heron Island and he can be expected to improve on what we’ve seen so far to take this prize.
Of the remainder I really do like Arbre De Vie and he’d have a really good chance if he lines up, so I’m going to include him into the advised bets as a small saver option but once again using the NRNB concession with Boylesports.