While the official UK hit singles chart still deals with the top 40 – at Timeform we tackle rating the top horses 100 at a time!
Novice hurdlers are often a bone of contention when the updated list gets sent round every Monday, and usually spark the greatest debate ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. With just two weeks to go, these are the leading contenders as things currently stand:
The title of Timeform’s leading novice hurdler is currently shared by Al Dancer and Champ who are both rated 148p (the small ‘p’ denoting that the horse is likely to improve), and each is a favourite for a Cheltenham Festival race, the Supreme and the Ballymore Hurdle respectively.
The unbeaten hurdler Al Dancer was an eye-catching winner of the Betfair Hurdle last time, further improving the impressive record of novices in that race, while Champ achieved plenty himself when extending this season’s winning streak to four when last seen in the Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
Champ’s Irish rivals in the Ballymore could include the unbeaten Battleoverdoyen (140p) and Klassical Dream (146p), who has been easy to back for the Supreme despite making a good impression when winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown in February.
With connections possibly thinking he needs more of a test of stamina to be at his best, Klassical Dream may go up in trip at Cheltenham, leaving that day’s runner-up Aramon (145) as the stable’s main Supreme hope.
The best Supreme value, though, could lie with Grand Sancy, who is rated 147. He was runner-up to Elixir de Nutz (139) in the Tolworth – as last year’s Supreme winner Summerville Boy had been earlier that season – and is highly rated by Paul Nicholls. He underlined that opinion beating Sceau Royal in the Kingwell Hurdle.
The only slight worry might be his County Hurdle entry, but an official handicap mark of 152 probably makes that too tough a task for a young horse.
He’s worth backing for the Supreme.
For comparison, the Supreme second favourite Fakir d’Oudairies – who may yet head for the Triumph (although the betting suggests otherwise) – has a Timeform rating of 144p.
The Triumph market is dominated by the Finesse Hurdle winner Fakir d’Oudairies’ stablemate Sir Erec.
Having found only Stradivarius and Thomas Hobson too strong in the Long Distance Cup on the Flat at Ascot in October, he ran away with the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in February, and looks one of the bankers of the meeting.
His rating of 146p (over hurdles) means he leads the juveniles, though it’s also worth keeping an eye out for Pic d’Orhy, who is rated 145 from his time over hurdles in France; he’s due to make his British debut at Kelso this weekend.
Moving up in trip, stablemates Birchdale (143p) and Dickie Diver (128P) lead the charge for Nicky Henderson in the Albert Bartlett on the Friday
Brewin’Upastorm (143p), who had just been joined by Birchdale when falling at the last at Cheltenham last time, is a big player in the Ballymore on ratings, so Birchdale would appear to hold excellent claims in the longer race.
Market leader Commander of Fleet (137p) will need to improve again for the step up to three miles if he is to come out on top.
In terms of the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, your name has to start with ‘L’ and you have to be trained by Willie Mullins to win it. It’s bad news for ante-post Lamarckise backers, though, as the French import won’t be going to Cheltenham.
Instead, the leading contenders are the exciting Epatante (121P) and Honeysuckle (137p). The last-named has undoubtedly achieved more, and looks the type to improve again now stepped back up in trip for Henry de Bromhead, while the former has won hard-held on her two starts to date.
The thriving Posh Trish (141p) and Minella Rocco’s half-sister Sinoria (131p) are others to consider very closely.