Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the three major novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival with some big-priced, long-range fancies.
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Going in Feet first
ITCHY FEET lost his unbeaten record over hurdles at Cheltenham in November but he didn’t do a great deal wrong conceding 5lb to the winner of the Sky Bet Supreme Trial that day - Elixir De Nutz.
There was only a length and a quarter between the pair at the line and Elixir De Nutz, who has gone on to frank the form with subsequent wins at the International meeting at Cheltenham and in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown, had the benefit of a soft lead out in front.
Itchy Feet’s jumping was occasionally a touch sloppy but trainer Olly Murphy has plenty to work on in terms of raw ability and it will be fascinating to see if he heads straight for the Sky Bet Supreme itself without another run.
Murphy obviously has the likes of Thomas Darby and Brewin’upastorm in the shake-up for the novice events at Cheltenham but they both look more likely to be tested over the intermediate trip, whether that’s in the Ballymore or a handicap, and Itchy Feet definitely looks potentially over-priced at 33/1 (General) for the Festival curtain-raiser.
Prior to his most recent run, the five-year-old had bolted up in a Stratford bumper, won a Southwell novice hurdle with similar ease and sprinted to a two and a quarter-length victory over Grand Sancy in Listed company at Kempton.
The Kempton race was a bit messy as nothing wanted to lead but Itchy Feet showed his versatility with a pillar-to-post success, going on to beat the narrow Tolworth runner-up with a degree of comfort.
That defeat of Grand Sancy, plus the close second to Elixir De Nutz giving him weight, are two solid pieces of form which indicate he should be almost as short as Colin Tizzard’s runner in the Supreme market, and yet he’s almost three times the price.
The subsequent layoff could be seen as an issue but Murphy has stressed from day one this term that the son of Cima De Triomphe won’t be risked on bad ground, while his trainer has already established himself as a fine exponent with a fresh horse.
Sunday's Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown saw Klassical Dream and Aramon fight out a stirring finish, the former just edging the verdict, and there's obviously little between the pair.
Ruby Walsh will presumably keep the faith with the winner which could force his price shorter than the revised 8/1 following his weekend win, but it doesn't look an insurmountable level of form.
Nicky Henderson's Angels Breath is a terrible price at 5/1 from what we've seen so far. He obviously has a massive reputation and cost an arm and a leg but he beat stayers when making a winning start in the Grade Two at Ascot before Christmas.
He had far too many gears for his rivals but that was accentuated by the fact that the hurdles in the home straight were removed due to high winds and it developed into a real speed test. As a point-to-point winner, that natural pace has to be respected but the form doesn't amount to much yet with the third, fourth and fifth all beaten since.
Ascot runner-up Danny Kirwan was given a mark of 120 which puts it into context.
Elsewhere in the market, 141-rated Al Dancer looks to be priced up as if he’s already won the Betfair Hurdle and that’s some leap of faith given the typical strength to the Newbury race.
If it’s decent ground again at the weekend then Didtheyleaveuouto is a player if back on song and isn’t hard to see him entering the Supreme picture.
He’s currently 33/1 and could shorten significantly and another in the same JP McManus silks who might yet spring forward in the betting is Champagne Platinum (16/1). He won an introductory hurdle by a wide margin at Newbury at the end of December and looks to have bags of pace despite already being a three-mile point-to-point winner.
Don't desert Island in Ballymore
Champ stands head and shoulders above the British novices heading towards the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle.
He's clearly developed into a very smart horse this season and his Challow Hurdle form will no doubt continue to work out well.
With a mark of 150 the Henderson horse is already up to the kind of level required to be seriously competitive in a typical Ballymore and further improvement obviously can't be ruled out.
The question marks with him are that he's a seven-year-old (French Holly the last Ballymore winner aged seven back in 1998), he's completely unproven at Cheltenham and he's no bigger than 7/2.
There's no harm in taking him on at those sort of prices such a long way out and it looks likely that he'll be given most to do by the Irish challengers.
Klassical Dream is definitely a player if aimed this way rather than the Sky Bet Supreme as he looks made for this kind of trip, while Battleoverdoyen looks like the main Gigginstown hope and Gordon Elliott confirmed on Sunday that he'll head straight to the Festival - with this race nominated.
However, it could pay to look beyond the obvious trainers with Martin Brassil holding an interesting chance in the shape of CITY ISLAND (20/1 General).
He's only won a maiden over hurdles but he also won a nice Punchestown bumper in very good style last May and had effectively shown his hand already over timber, having finished first at Galway but later been disqualified after testing positive for a trace of arsenic.
He's been absent since officially getting off the mark at Leopardstown over Christmas but the form took a significant boost on Sunday when the runner-up, Dallas Des Pictons, won a well-contest handicap at the Dublin Racing Festival from a mark of 130.
City Island beat him comfortably and with his owners sponsoring the Ballymore at Cheltenham, it seems perfectly reasonable to assume we could see him sent straight for the Grade One on the second Wednesday in March.
At the prices available, he's another I'm keen to have on side against a favourite who looks exceptionally short given all the potential lurkers lining up to have a shot at him.
Kateson has class to figure
KATESON looks worth chancing at 33/1 (bet365) in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
Like so many of these ‘embryonic chasers’, Kateson’s preference would be for a complete deluge on the Thursday evening of the Festival, but that’s not something we can control and it’s best to focus on this horse’s immense talent.
A good bumper performer last season, he – quite importantly when it comes to an Albert Bartlett tilt – picked up plenty of racecourse experience in that sphere, and signed off with a very strong second in the big Grade Two event at Aintree’s Grand National meeting in April.
This time around Tom Lacey’s grey has picked up where he left off, winning his maiden hurdle at Chepstow before impressively doubling up under a penalty in novice company at Newbury.
They were really promising efforts and it was encouraging to see him step up on the bare form again when third to Champ in the Grade One Challow Hurdle last time out, where he split Getaway Trump and Brewin’upastorm.
The first two just showed a little bit too much dash after the last flight for Kateson but, despite again carrying his head quite high throughout, he stuck to the task really well and it’s significant that connections have opted to just enter him in the Albert Bartlett.
That’s a strong suggestion that Lacey thinks three miles will suit him down to the ground and it certainly looked that way in the Challow. All being well the six-year-old goes to Cheltenham with top-notch form in the book, plenty of experience and potential for significant improvement as he tackles a new trip.
If there’s any rain around during the Festival then we’ll be in a very strong position at 33/1.
Posted at 0900 GMT on 04/02/19
Antepost Angle: Cheltenham Festival schedule
- Monday January 7 - RSA Chase
- Monday January 14 - Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup & Ryanair Chase
- Monday January 21 - Unibet Champion Hurdle & Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle
- Monday January 28 - Racing Post Arkle & JLT Novices' Chase
- Monday February 4 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Ballymore Novices' Hurdle & Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
- Monday February 11 - No preview this week...
- Monday February 18 - National Hunt Chase & JCB Triumph Hurdle
- Monday February 25 - OLBG Mares' Hurdle & Trull House Mares' Novices' Hurdle
- Monday March 4 - Cheltenham Festival handicaps - including Ultima Handicap Chase, Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle and Grand Annual Handicap Chase
- Thursday March 7 - Any other business, including current positions and additional selections
Antepost Angle - 2018/19 National Hunt season record
- Arkle Chase (28/01/19) - 2pts win Cilaos Emery at 8/1 (General)
- JLT Novices' Chase (28/01/18) - 1pt win Hardline at 16/1 (General)
- Stayers' Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt win Darasso at 33/1 (William Hill, Unibet)
- Champion Hurdle (12/01/19) - 1pt e.w. Vision Des Flos at 100/1 (William Hill, Betfair)
- RSA Chase (07/01/19) - 1pt win Vinndication at 16/1 (General)
- Cheltenham Gold Cup (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 20/1 (General)
- Ryanair Chase (14/01/19) - 1pt win Sizing John at 12/1 (NRNB, General), 1pt win Mister Whitaker at 33/1 (NRNB, General)
- King George VI Chase (27/11/18) - 1pt win Politologue at 9/1
- Ladbrokes Trophy (13/11/18) - 1pt win Sizing Tennessee at 33/1 (WON)
- BetVictor Gold Cup (04/11/18) - 2pts win Baron Alco at 12/1 (WON)
- Unibet Greatwood Hurdle (04/11/18) - 1pt win Hunters Call at 16/1 & 1pt win Off You Go at 12/1 (BOTH NOT DECLARED)
Posted at 1100 GMT on 04/02/19.