Originally known as the Classic Novices’ Hurdle, it is a Grade 2 National Hunt hurdle race which is open to horses aged four years or older. It is run on the New Course at Cheltenham racecourse over a distance of about two-and-half-miles, and during its running there are ten hurdles to be jumped. The race usually takes around five minutes to run.
A field of eleven runners are scheduled to contest this renewal, half of which all won last time out so are clearly on the upgrade. Below are the contenders and I have assessed their chances ahead of Saturdays race. Forecast SPs correct at time of publication.
O’Brien’s Bonttay the one to back?
HENRI THE SECOND is trained by Paul Nicholls and won the Winter Novices Hurdle (Grade 2) at Sandown last time out. The form has been boosted a little by a subsequent win for Park This One who was ten lengths behind the winner that day. Despite being a multiple Champion Trainer, this prize has so far eluded Paul Nicholls. If he is ever to win it today may well be the day as there is still any amount of improvement to come from this six-year old, despite a five-pound penalty. He has to be high on any shortlist.
MOFASA is trained by Michael Scudamore and he lost his unbeaten status over hurdles when pummelled by Tiger Jet at Newcastle back in November. Having trailed in last of four runners and beaten nearly 30 lengths, he now has serious questions to answer. Perhaps the short break will have freshened him up but it will have needed to.
CAN YOU CALL is trained by Evan Williams and has a bit of a mixed profile. He was last seen winning on bottomless ground at Uttoxeter where he beat Hermes Boy by eight lengths. The step up to this sort of trip clearly brought about some improvement and the yard are no strangers to success at this track. This is a significant step up in grade but if he handles the better ground today, he could go close.
CRUZ CONTROL is trained by Tom Lacey. The lightly raced son of Saint Des Saints could not have been any more impressive than when winning on his hurdles debut by eight lengths. This is a step up in trip and in grade but he has probably earned it. Others have more experience though and that could prove to be his undoing.
DOCTOR BROWN BEAR is trained by Martin Brassil is still a maiden and his ability is clearly limited. He is way out of his depth here unless improving significantly for the step up in trip. Limited appeal.
MOKA DE VASSY is trained by Jane Williams now has questions to answer. He remains a maiden after five previous starts and did very well to get within nine lengths of Pied Piper at this meeting last season. He has been well beaten twice since and is another that a line can be drawn through.
PEMBROKE is trained by Dan Skelton and has cruised home at Wetherby and Ludlow on his two most recent starts. The manner in which he won suggests that this extra half-mile will suit. He is clearly a better horse than the level he has been racing at and he is clearly well suited be some give in the ground. Harry Skelton is once again on board and he will know the best way to ride him. He looks sure to be involved given what we know he is capable of.
ROCK MY WAY is trained by Syd Hosie and ran a good race over this course and distance in a maiden hurdle earlier in the month despite being sent off at 66/1. He needs to significantly step forward again from that to get involved against more proven types here. Hard to make a case for based on what we know so far.
WAR SOLDIER is trained by Sandy Thomson and has won his last wo races in workmanlike style. His ability to last home over this extra half-mile has to be taken on trust. The yard are certainly in form and once again Ryan Mania is in the saddle. He appears to be better suited with some give in the ground and with the track drying out all the time here, it may well be against him.
WAY OUT is trained by Syd Hosie and looks to be very much the stable second string. He has been well beaten in lesser company and is still a maiden under rules. He seemed to appreciate the step up in distance at Taunton last time in a first time hood. It has been left off again here so difficult to know what to expect. He looks out of his depth and should struggle.
BONTTAY is trained by Fergal O’Brien is lightly raced and has never finished outside of the first two places in any of her five career starts. She is the only mare in the race and having been beaten over two miles on her last two runs, she may benefit from this step up in trip. She certainly loves this track and won two bumpers here last season. Hard to ignore her chances given she receives seven pounds from her male counterparts.
Forecasted starting prices
7/4 Pembroke, 11/4 Henri The Second, 6/1 Rock My Way, 7/1 Can You Call, 10/1 Cruz Control, 14/1 War Soldier, 20/1 Bonttay, 20/1 Mofasa, 25/1 Doctor Brown Bear, 33/1 Moka De Vassy, 66/1 Way Out
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle betting tips
With neither Alan King or Nicky Henderson being represented this year, this race looks to be more competitive that it initially looks. Many of the runners are trying the trip for the first time including the likely favourite Pembroke. At the bottom of the weights Cheltenham specialist BONNTAY certainly takes the eye as she receives weight from all of her rivals this afternoon and she has been looking as though she needs a step up in trip now and is the each-way selection. Paul Nicholls has a woeful record in this race and Henri The Second is also carrying a penalty so may find this tough.
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