In the late 70’s through to the 90’s, six and seven-year-olds had a firm stranglehold on Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle in its many guises, but as trainers have become more aware of the opportunity to pinch one of the biggest handicap hurdle prizes in the calendar – they have taken a chance on their unexposed youngsters ruling the roost on the first Saturday in March.
So much so that in the post Geos era (who won it as a nine-year-old in 2004), all 15 renewals have been garnered by five and six-year-olds.
Of course the weather person will have their say this time around with a dry week expected through to Friday night and then possible heavy showers on the morning of the race. That should mean that the current status quo of good to soft ground will prevail.
I firmly want to be in the corner of CIEL DE NEIGE, surprisingly the only Irish raider in the field of 24.
Since his strong finishing third in the Fred Winter I had earmarked him for this race and in anticipation of a big run here, I have backed him at huge odds for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival, as I believe he needs extra yardage to fulfil his true potential.
Although beaten at odds on in a Limerick maiden last time out, his young jockey reported that the five-year-old hated the heavy ground and the stop-start pace was against him.
A mark of 135 is very fair based on that Cheltenham run and as long as the field go a fair rattle, I fancy he can hit the frame at the very least at a double-figure price at time of writing for trainer Willie Mulins.
At a bigger price we can afford to have a second string to our bow – and I am quite keen on the claims of WHOSHOTTTHESHERIFF @ 20/1.
Philip Kirby’s team are in fine form, both on the level and over the sticks, and this son of Dylan Thomas could well have been underrated.
Three from four in minor novice events last year, Kirby was keen to let him find his feet gradually, but his three runs in some classy handicaps this year suggest we have a very smart handicap hurdler in the making.
The best of those runs came in the Betfair Exchange Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park when he perhaps ran too free through the first part of the race. But he was going so well that Sean Quinlan gave him his head. Those early exertions took their toll on the long run-in and he was eventually beaten two and a half lengths by the smart Bold Plan.
His subsequent never-nearer fifth to Not So Sleepy at Ascot can be put down to the fact that the winner had his own way out in front off a relatively moderate pace and the selection is now 18lbs better off for being beaten 14.5 lengths that day.
In any other year, ALTIOR would have two or maybe three opponents for the Game Spirit Chase (2.25) and start at 1/10, but due to his apparent demise nine expectant rivals will face the music.
I have always been of the opinion that Cheltenham has never been his track and that a flatter and more galloping course is more his domain. I very rarely back odds-on favourites, but if I can get anything in the region of 1/2 – I will be using him as a base bet for a Patent or Lucky 15.
After all, if you can only get 1.5% interest per annum in a bank account and 50% on Altior for a five-minute wait which one are you going to plump for? Enough said.
The entry for the Denman Chase at 3.00 is hardly worthy of the big horse in question and ‘The Tank’ would have carried this lot on his back in a canter. NATIVE RIVER has a straightforward task.
But, the best investment on the card comes in the three mile handicap hurdle due off at 13.50 where Emma Lavelle’s THUNDERSTRUCK (each-way) must not be missed.
He breeding lines and style-of-running suggest that he has been crying out for this kind of stamina test after being badly outpaced on each of his three runs this term. There is a load more to come from this lightly raced six-year-old (only run the five times under rules) and a double-figure price has already tempted me into having one of my biggest bets of the season.