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Betfair Hurdle preview

Just over a month ago until Cheltenham, and feature races are starting to thin out as everyone keeps their stars wrapped in cotton wool for the Festival. The Betfair Hurdle though is an exception. amazing what a big wad of cash will do...

With the preview, it's regular contributor Chris Day, @chrisday100

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Betfair Hurdle
Newbury
Grade 3 Handicap, 2m 110y, £155k.
1535 GMT


The Betfair Hurdle, run under various guises since my early memories of it as The Schweppes Hurdle, is the most valuable handicap hurdle run in Britain and, not surprisingly, has a roll of honour which includes many horses who go on to compete in top open or novice company at the Cheltenham Festival and beyond.

As we’d also expect, the race lends itself to unexposed younger horses who have only partly shown their hand to the handicapper and we’re probably best looking at five and six year olds in order to unearth the winner.

Heading the weights from a mark of 149 is Nicky Henderson’s William Hill Hurdle winner, Sign Of A Victory, and he certainly has the ability to rate much higher than Saturday’s mark under optimum conditions, which may well be a sharp test over two miles on good ground. In short, he’s unlikely to get that here and the two horses who filled the places at Ascot have won over two and a half and three miles since.

John Ferguson is having a stellar season and I predict a big spring with his hurdlers and runs Pine Creek in this. You certainly couldn’t take anything away from this one who followed up a solid fifth in The Greatwood with a second in The Ladbroke, two of the season’s hottest handicap hurdles. The negative is that he’s gone up 8lbs for those two excellent efforts and you have to believe something better treated will emerge.

Henderson, a trainer with a great record in the race, has a second string to his bow in the shape of Vasco Du Ronceray, still only a six year old but 5lbs higher than when winning a much weaker Haydock handicap and I can’t have him at all.

Harry Fry saddles two also, Activial, last season’s Adonis Hurdle winner and a staying on third in The Ladbroke under his ideal conditions and Jolly’s Cracked It, a dual Ascot novice hurdle winner before finding the potentially top class L’Ami Serge too good at Sandown. The former has been raised 7lbs for his last run but I think the latter is very interesting. Although his Ascot form seems nothing special, he travels so well in his races that Saturday’s contest should see improvement and the trainer is no mug when it comes to placing his horses.

Aso is interesting for Venetia Williams, another horse likely to be suited to a strong pace but possibly likely to prove better over further, Balgarry is clearly thought capable of better but is a bit old for this at eight (could win the new veterans’ hurdle though), Goodwood Mirage could be a huge blot on the handicap but will need to prove more tractable than at Ascot when the stable were struggling for winners and I’d really have liked to see more from Amore Alato at Sandown last time in order to consider him here.

Evan Williams relies on On Tour from his original entries, having won at Haydock over further on Betfair Chase day pulling a train after winning on much better ground at Stratford. I think he’s a really progressive one but may be tapped for toe when they put their feet to the metal late on.

Dan Skelton, a trainer with a good record in the top two mile handicap hurdles admittedly from a small sample, runs the former Nicholls-trained Fascino Rustico, a horse who may turn out to be very well handicapped but my feeling on him at Newcastle was that he’s more of a chaser in the making and I’ll pass him over at a fairly short price.

Unusually, though, the one I can’t get away from is the favourite, Calipto, a 5yo who won twice under very different conditions over course and distance last season before going off favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. He was cantering coming to two out but his stirrup leather broke and left Darryl Jacob trying to ride a finish reminiscent of Brod Munro-Wilson on The Drunken Duck in one of those legendary Foxhunter Chases some of us older brigade remember from bygone days.

He may have been over the top at Aintree but he seemed to get lit up by a horse colliding with him in mid air early on in the race and faded into third then travelled all over Triumph Hurdle winner, Tiger Roll, before choking when coming under pressure at Cheltenham on his reappearance.

The champion trainer clearly knows the remedy for that issue and immediately had his wind operated on with this race in mind. He’d earlier laughed at Activial and Seedling here and the former has shown that form to be very solid in this context, the trainer says he’s working well and all he really needs from a mark of 143 is that little bit of luck all horses need and I can’t see him being beaten.

His price may be short enough unless you took some of the early double figure offers but there are some horses you have to back and he may be bigger on Saturday morning if we’re lucky but, if you’re looking for something more speculative, Jolly’s Cracked It makes each way appeal at 16-1.

As a guide to Cheltenham, a placing in this race is normally a very good pointer to The Coral Cup and the two who I’ll be hoping can fill the places with that race in mind are Activial and Pine Creek.

Comments

  1. How practical is subscribing to this service if you live in Australia? Most of the bookies used are UK ones.
    Thanks Scott
    Geoff

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