19 runners have been declared for what is sure to be a hotly contested novices’ handicap hurdle on Friday’s Cheltenham card. Read on for our experts’ race preview and betting tips.
A glance through some of the previous winners of this race confirms that it almost always takes an exceptionally well handicapped horse to win it. Tony Martin hit the target with subsequent Galway Hurdle winner Quick Jack in the 2013 renewal and, predictably, his representative, Tudor City, is well fancied this time around. The 4yo was pulled up on his latest start over hurdles and is now 0-6 in this sphere but he looked in excellent nick when winning comfortably on the Flat at Limerick last month and there’s every chance we are yet to see the best of him. That said, his Flat was gained in a low-grade event and it’s very unlikely there’ll be any juice in his price.
Air Horse One is also still a maiden over hurdles and was no match for subsequent Grade 1 winner Ballyoptic when third over 2m4f at Uttoxeter on his latest outing in March. However, his trainer, Harry Fry, has reported that an issue that was affecting the gelding’s jumping has been identified since then, so we can expect some improvement from him. Another horse that may display the benefit of some medical attention is Lou Vert, a 4yo trained by Paul Nicholls who has reportedly had a wind operation. Last month’s seasonal reappearance at Fakenham was rather underwhelming and he’s yet to build on the promise of his hurdling debut in France, but he remains unexposed and don’t be surprised if we see him in a better light on today’s handicap debut.
The most appealing option at the prices, though, is BALLINURE. Nicky Henderson’s gelding is more exposed than some of these, having raced seven times over hurdles, but he looks progressive and traveled sweetly for a long way before his stamina looked stretched by a strongly run 2m5f at the October meeting here (finished fourth). Prior to that, the turn of foot he displayed to settle a more tactical event at Newton Abbot in September suggests he was nicely ahead of the handicapper there and, although this race is tougher, today’s drop back in trip could be a good move and he might still have untapped potential.
Others to consider include Debece, who would have preferred a much stronger pace when beaten at short odds in a five-runner event at Southwell last month and was quite impressive when winning a bumper and a Kempton novice hurdle beforehand. The bare form of KK Lexion‘s 2m4f handicap win at Southwell last month is not anything to get too excited about, but he’s a smooth traveler who could turn out to be well suited by a strongly run 2m here and he completes the shortlist.