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Betfair Hurdle preview

If it ever stops raining, we might have a decent race day at Newbury tomorrow. One of the features of the day is the Betfair Hurdle, and the astute Andrew Downes, @17forlife, previews the race.

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Betfair Hurdle

The Betfair Hurdle is one of the most widely anticipated handicap hurdles of the entire National Hunt season and whilst this year’s race doesn’t look the greatest renewal, it is as competitive as ever. This Class 1, Grade 3 often throws up important clues for the Festival, especially in the novice ranks.

The novices have a very good record in this race, often running very well in the Supreme the following month. My Tent Or Yours, last year’s facile winner of the Betfair Hurdle went on to finish a very close second. Darlan, the previous year, would probably have won had he not fallen in the Betfair before placing in the Supreme. There are several more examples therefore looking at the novices is often a good place to start.

The current second favourite for the Supreme, Irving, was ante-post favourite for this race however he has been pulled out due to the heavy ground. This year’s renewal is really lacking that star novice; in fact there is only one novice, maybe two at a push, who look Supreme bound. Dell Arca is the one novice coming in here with high quality form.

He was an expensive purchase from France who came over here with a tall reputation. He duly won another non-Festival big handicap hurdle, the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. He won by a head there off 128; he runs here off only 8 higher and has to have a huge chance. This unexposed sort handles the ground and it would be a surprise to me if he hadn’t improved since that win, he must have a huge chance. He unseated when going well enough in his only outing since. His price, 6/1 second favourite is a little skinny for me having only just won off 128, form which hasn’t worked out well. There are others at bigger prices that attract me more, having said that he is sure to be a player.

Now that the novices have been dismissed as a betting proposition, the next angle would be a McManus-owned horse. Sounds a slightly ridiculous angle but his record is so good, that it really has to be respected and taken seriously. However, he usually wins with his star novice and he just doesn’t have that this year. (He probably did in Regal Encore but the virus at the Honeyball yard has put pay to that.) His runners are always worth a second look in this but they all seem to be up against it.

The ground is going to be heavy, that we can be sure of! Surprisingly though, all the market principles and likely winners in my opinion, have very good form on this heavy ground. By my reckoning, Deep Trouble and Prompter are the only horses in the entire field who haven’t won on Soft or Heavy. A strong majority have won on heavy. It is safe to say whatever you fancy, the ground shouldn’t be the reason they got beat.

The interesting one in the race is Smashing from Ireland. Willie Mullins has to be respected with his Irish raiders and this French-bred has impressed since arriving in Mullins’ care winning its last two easily. That form isn’t bad but it’s hard to get a gauge on it so I looked to his French form which is far from fantastic. He even went chasing which Mullins has put on hold. I’d be surprised if he can come over here and win this off 144.

Cheltenian has proved very popular in the market in the last couple of weeks. The Cheltenham Bumper winner from three years ago needs a serious return to form to finish in the first 10, let alone threaten the placings. He ran well enough in the Supreme for a long way before blowing up. Many people say he bounced but a horse who has suffered such a long-term injury needs to come back and show his form before carrying my money. That win before the Supreme was in the words of his jockey, ‘not good enough to win off 134.’ You have to have a seriously good memory to be backing this lad at single figure prices! Ludicrous price, ludicrous.

Three of the top six in the market fill the top 3 weights. They were all top juveniles last year. Rolling Star, joint second favourite with Dell Arca, doesn’t appear to me to be thrown in off a rating of 150. He disappointed in last year’s Triumph and then again at Aintree behind a few of the rivals he will face here, to whom he has to give weight. He is highly rated at home but that doesn’t always translate to the racecourse. This unreliable sort can be relatively easily removed from the shortlist.

Irish Saint, the current favourite at 5/1 is surely only favourite due to being 7lbs well in thanks to his visually impressive win at Ascot last month. The handicapper clearly has to be respected but I think that was a massive overreaction. That form isn’t great at all and that is being nice. Yes he was impressive but in a very poor race and on heavy ground which can exaggerate winning distances and the drop back in distance is hardly ideal. I wouldn’t back him at double his current odds.

That leaves Far West who looks to have a cracking chance with the very useful Harry Derham taking off 5lbs. He races off 143 due to that claim which could be very helpful in this ground. A repeat of his run behind Melodic Rendezvous would see him go very close. The reason he isn’t the selection is because he flopped last time. He ran a shocker, yes horses aren’t machines and he probably had a valid excuse but I can’t back a horse in a competitive race like this that ran a race like that last time. I may, however, live to regret not backing him. A huge danger.

That brings me on to my selection, Vendor. This Alan King grey was the talking horse of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival going off a very short 7/2 due to trainer comments and an impressive English debut. He ran more than a creditable race to finish third in a race where it all seemed to happen a bit quick for him. He showed enough promise that day, staying on up the hill over 2m to think the trainer’s confidence may not be misplaced. The following season was a write off, he wasn’t right. Every run was bad and thanks to that his mark came tumbling down. He came to Newbury in Npvember, in similar ground conditions to those he will face on Saturday, and cantered all over them to win by a comfortable 2 1/2 lengths. The way he travelled that day suggested the old Vendor was well and truly back and with seemingly a lot more to come. Aside from that season when he was sick, he’s two out of two at Newbury. Alan King’s horses are absolutely flying since the yard opened back up and the reports from the gallops could not be more positive about this talented grey. I snapped up 20s in the week and he’s now as low as 11s that suggests I’m not alone in my view.

Selection: VENDOR 12s and trading at about 16s on Betfair.
Danger: FAR WEST 10s

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