The opening race on day 2 of the festival, the Ballymore Novices Hurdle (formally the Neptune), ran over 2m 5 furlongs. This race has tended to be won by short priced runners in recent years, over the last 6 years all barring the hugely promising Willoughby Court last year (SP 14/1) went off at 9/2 or shorter.
There is a large number of trials for this race, which may give a key indication on which horses will be targeted at this one throughout the season, and also gives clue to the big players come March.
In the few trials we’ve seen so far this term, we have witnessed the likes of the mighty Samcro demolish the field with ease in the ‘Monksfield’ Novice Hurdle. Travelled like a dream until breezing into the lead around 3 out, and stayed on to win by 12l. Gordon Elliott's charge had a huge reputation going into this season, and he looks every bit as good as we thought. Currently best priced at 9/4 for this race, there isn't much value for ante-post betting, however I would imagine he’ll be much much shorter at the off.
We’ve also seen Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side win 2 of the trials, quite convincingly I might add. Initially it looked as though they would go down the Albert Bartlett route (which may still be an option), however it seems he has the turn of foot required to win a race of this nature. In the most recent of those at Sandown (Winter Novices Hurdle) he dispatched with some smart rivals quite early on, most notably White Moon. The Tizzard inmate didn’t appear to be firing on all cylinders that day, and was outpaced early on before finishing stone last. There will be more to come from the grey gelding and it’s far too early to be writing him off as of yet, as he was so dominant in his first couple of runs winning with any amount in hand.
Samcro best priced 9/4
On The Blind Side best priced 10/1
White Moon best priced 40/1
This 3m novice chase event, is a Grade 1 race for horses aged 5 years old and upwards. It is effectively a gold cup for novice chasers, and runners will jump 19 fences in total.
Last year viewers of this race witnessed Might Bite, almost throwing the race away when the field was at his mercy. He show a real gutsy effort to get back up in the dying strides. We always knew he had his quirks but that was something else. After getting the wobbles after the last and drifting badly to his right, Whisper came through to take the lead with ½ furlong to go but was headed just before the line. The Henderson gelding really does have a mind of his own, but what a talent he is.
With Might Bite being only the second winning favourite since 2009, this can be somewhat of a punting minefield. However, like most races at the festival this one is dominated by Mullins and Henderson. Willie Mullins runners have at least hit the frame with a strike rate of 33%, whilst Nicky boasts a slightly better record of 50% in the last ten years.
Usually a tricky race to predict, with many of the market leaders very strong in the betting already. Monalee 7/1 currently sits at the head of the market, whilst a couple of others to note are Presenting Percy 10/1 and Death Duty 14/1.
The feature race on day two, ran over 2m with 12 fences to jump. This is the pinnacle of the minimum distance chasing division, with past winners such as the real fan favourite Sprinter Sacre. Watching the Henderson inmate land this prize in 2016 for the second time it up there with my favourite races of all time, an almighty training performance from Nicky, and what a round of jumping from the superstar.
Unlike the majority of other races, Willie Mullins hasn’t had much luck in the race which has been won three times each in the last ten years by Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. The Closutton handler has had just the one placed horse in that timeframe - Un De Sceaux finishing runner up last year.
For some time now, every national hunt follower has been eyeing up the mouthwatering clash between Altior and Douvan although it is still unclear whether we will have the luxury of being able to witness this battle between the superstars. With Douvan missing the Tingle Creek meeting after Mullins didn’t declare him at the final stage, punters were left guessing if things were amiss at home. The King George may still be a possibility albeit a very slim one, however it remains to be seen whether he retains all his ability to be able to cope with some of the challengers in that field whilst returning from a long absence.
Similarly, Altior missed the Tingle Creek too. The Henderson trained horse had a breathing issue and requires surgery on his larynx (don’t get me started on wind op’s...), and we won’t be seeing him until at least March. Nicky is hoping he’ll be right come the festival, but looking at the market as it is now it would be a difficult ask for Altior.
That leaves us guessing at which one of the plethora of talented individuals in the line up will land the spoils. With the likes of Fox Norton, Min, and Politologue all best priced at 8/1, it will be interesting to see how each of them fair going forward to March. The latter of the trio further enhanced his claims at Sandown when landing the Tingle Creek under and excellent ride with a clear round of fluent jumping, powering home ahead of Fox Norton.
The final race of day 2 is the Grade 1 Champion Bumper, for horses aged 4-6 years old. Won last year by the ill fated Fayonagh, this is the most prestigious national hunt flat race of the calendar. The bumper always attracts a huge field and we have seen the likes of Cue Card win this race back in 2010 at a huge price of 40/1.
Irish trainers have fared best in this race with only seven British trainers landing the prize since conception.
This year the betting is headed by Hollowgraphic, a horse very highly regarded by everyone with a frame to match! The chestnut gelding is huge, and the son of Beat Hollow showed us all again why he is so well thought of at Punchestown when galloping the field into submission. The going was heavy, and he handled it with ease, with a punishing run and winning by 13 lengths. Currently best priced at 10/1, and with such a dominance from Irish trainers throughout the years, it would be no surprise to see this much shorter at post time.
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