The penultimate Grade 1 novice hurdle we’ll cover, before discussing the Triumph Hurdle in more detail, is the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Run on the final day of the Cheltenham Festival, the race is quite a serious examination of a young horse. The trip of three miles on Cheltenham’s New Course means this race is all about stamina, class and possibly being a touch precocious. Here, our man Declan Rix takes a closer look.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle ante-post preview
Heading the market for this year’s race is Barters Hill (5/2), a top-class bumper performer from last season. National Hunt flat wins came at Huntingdon and Warwick before success in a historically useful race at Newbury. This was further supplemented by a Grade 2 bumper victory at Aintree meaning the son of Kalanisi finished the season unbeaten in four starts for his young trainer Ben Pauling.
Pauling proved himself adept in the last campaign, handling a bumper horse, and this season has proved that no fluke. A further three runs have been undertaken over hurdles and this six-year-old remains unbeaten.
Sandwiched in between wins at Huntingdon and Doncaster, a Grade 1 success came at Newbury in the Challow Hurdle over 2 ½ miles where he would outclass the small 3-runner field by 12 lengths.
Questions about his stamina were answered last time out in the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Trial (3m) at Doncaster where he overcame the biggest test of his career. Despite the second-favourite not appearing to run his race, this was still a good display.
Some weren’t as impressed as us, but Barters Hill is not the type of horse to dazzle. He’s a laidback individual who can race a little lazily, but make no mistake about it, his attitude can’t be faulted. Either can his ability and while his jumping needs touching up, he is very much the horse to beat with his form looking extremely solid.
Another horse whose form looks sound is Shantou Village (6/1). Trained by Neil Mullholland, a handler with a few extra years on Ben Pauling in terms of experience, Shantou Village has the potential to be a flagship horse for his budding trainer.
Still extremely lightly-raced with five career starts, you have to suspect there is more to come from this 6-year-old. Connections wasted little time in bumpers with the son of Shantou, winning the sole race they contested after a previous point-to-point win.
He has made up for lost time this campaign however, winning his first three hurdle starts before being brought back down to earth by the exceptional-looking Yanworth last time out. While well-beaten there were still plenty positives to take.
On heavy ground, terrain he’d never encountered on the racetrack before, it was encouraging to see Shantou Village still jump well, a trait he’d shown in his previous wins. It’s also a big positive that he managed to pull 10 lengths clear of an inform 143-rated animal.
You don’t like saying it, but if Yanworth didn’t run, Shantou Village would be making an awful lot of headlines with that kind of form. The horse in question must prove his stamina for the Albert Bartlett trip, but in winning a point-to-point, analysing his pedigree and assessing how he has shaped in his races, there is every chance he will. He’s a good horse.
Barters Hill and Shantou Village are possibly a touch clear of the rest of this field on what we’ve seen, but if Up For Review (12/1) can bounce back to the form of his Grade 2 Punchestown victory in late December, he has the ability to shake-up the market leaders.
He was the horse that let down Barters Hill’s Doncaster win last time out when finishing 4th of 6, beaten 21 lengths. Willie Mullins’ horse reportedly scoped poorly after the race, something obviously amiss, and if you can forgive him that humble show, he now represents better value than the aforementioned market leaders.
The son of Presenting was a very useful bumper performer last season and started the current campaign in great style with an easy win at Fairyhouse. He followed up with a facile Grade 2 win at Punchestown 6 weeks later, winning nicely by 13 lengths.
Stamina certainly looks his forte so the Albert Bartlett looks tailor-made for this 6-year-old. A classy horse with a lovely staying pedigree, if Up For Review didn’t come here on the back of such a disappointing effort he’d be better fancied.
Despite that however, we still respect this horse especially knowing the man who will oversee his preparation.
Willie Mullins will also train another intriguing runner in Gangster (12/1), a former French-racer who has only had six career starts. The Gigginstown-owned horse has had four runs since joining the Closutton team, winning three, his sole loss coming at odds-on on what connections felt was unsuitably quick ground.
Since that reversal, the son of Green Tune has gone onto win a novice event in style at Listowel before another classy victory came in a Grade 3 contest at Fairyhouse. Here, Gangster won by an easy 10 lengths while carrying a penalty.
Although they didn’t go much of an early gallop he impressed with how he travelled through the race, everything was nice and easy for him. He will have little trouble with the trip and his classy pedigree – being a half-brother to Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage – really catches the eye.
The one worry is he hasn’t been seen since December 19 and with very little news getting out of Closutton, where he is concerned, it’s a concern. We did put up Long Dog in our Neptune preview, but at least with him we know that was his pre-Cheltenham plan.
Of those at bigger prices, Ballydine (14/1) is one that catches the eye while also falling into the bracket of holding sound each-way claims. Trained by Charlie Longsdon, Ballydine’s form has stepped-up dramatically since being asked to go out in trip.
Having finished second in an Irish point-to-point the son of Stowaway had one run in a bumper where he was well-beaten. Since that effort he has competed over staying trips and it appears to have improved him.
Since finishing second at Worcester on his hurdling debut, Ballydine has gone on to win a maiden, a novice event and finish a good second in Grade 2 at Doncaster. That run came behind the current race-favourite Barters Hill where he was beaten ¾ of a length.
That was an excellent effort and while there is a chance he was flattered – Barters Hill does little in front and helped set a good gallop – we feel there was no fluke about it. In the process of running a big race, it was great to see Ballydine’s jumping improve. Furthermore, he still looked a touch green so there is a chance he may improve. If he can on top of the gritty attitude he has shown, he could run a big race.
Best of the Rest
Recent Musselburgh winner O O Seven (20/1) is reportedly being aimed at the Neptune by Nicky Henderson. Having won over three miles last time out when appearing to idle, that is possibly the wrong route to take with the son of Flemensfirth. He’d be of more interest in this race to us.
Champers On Ice (20/1) is a lovely horse of David Pipe’s who has already won a pair of novice events and placed in two Grade 2s this season. Twice he has been comfortably beaten by Shantou Village however, and although he’ll take him on over a new trip, you’d be hard-pushed to say he can turn the tables on the current evidence available. He’s a really nice horse though, and if anything, pays a huge compliment to the second-favourite.
The Willie Mullins pair of Open Eagle (16/1) and Thomas Hobson (20/1) are talented. They clashed in the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick in January and it was the latter who came out on top by 2 ½ lengths.
It was a bit of a strange race given the early lead Thomas Hobson built-up, not many really got into the contest. Open Eagle did however, despite giving his stablemate a big headstart. He looked like he might collar him close home, but the Rich Ricci gelding found more and on this evidence you’d have to suggest he is the stronger of the pair.
Given his keen-going nature we’d have slight doubts about the trip for Thomas Hobson and Open Eagle isn’t the most straight-forward; he sweats-up, wears ear plugs and we wonder will the Cheltenham occasion suit him.
Emerging Force (50/1) and Unowhatimeanharry (16/1) are two progressive stayers worth a positive mention, but are hard to recommend given they may not run, or go elsewhere – the latter having the Pertemps Final as a possible target.
One at a big price that interests is Acapella Bourgeois (33/1), a progressive stayer for the Sandra Hughes team. This son of Network is a nice horse and on an upward curve. The prospect of better ground is sure to suit if he runs here. Unfortunately, we are not sure if he’ll bet let take his chance.
The BetBright Verdict
On what we’ve seen this season Barters Hill and Shantou Village are the two standout horses in this year’s Albert Bartlett, certainly of the ones that look likely to turn-up.
There is plenty to love about Barters Hill apart from his price. While he looks a solid option we are not sure he deserves to be as short as 9/4 especially when you consider his jumping needs improving and how lazily he can race.
The latter issue puts further pressure on his regular rider David Bass and in the heat of battle on a big occasion at the Holy Grail of horseracing, there is always a chance of panic.
We’d prefer to see Barters Hill take a lead off his rivals in the Albert Bartlett, this would help him conserve energy and also help his jockey. There is a worry Bass might keep going quicker than anything that tries to lead him early, meaning Barters Hill will be there to be shot at late.
Despite being a hugely talented individual, we’ll leave him for now.
The Willie Mullins quartet of Up For Review, Gangster, Open Eagle and Thomas Hobson will also be left at this juncture.
Up For Review because of his less than ideal preparation, Gangster as we are unsure about his well-being and the flat-bred pair of Open Eagle and Thomas Hobson, who potentially look the stable’s bit-part players, for all they are talented horses in their own right.
The two of most interest are Shantou Village and Ballydine. The former is a 6/1 shot and the latter a 14/1 play. We feel Shantou Village has real prospects on winning this contest while Ballydine holds nice each-way claims.
Should Ballydine hit the frame (1,2,3) at 14/1 we’ll be paid as a 5/2 winner, that is not great value especially if the likes of Gangster, among potentially many others, run, adding further competition to the place market.
Therefore, SHANTOU VILLAGE gets the unimaginative nod at this stage. There is a case for him to be slightly shorter in the betting. His form is rock-solid. Neil Mullholland’s charge also boasts plenty quality experience around the contours of Cheltenham and with him being a far better jumper of a hurdle than Barters Hill, that may be the deciding factor. Hopefully the rain stays away and we see him back on nice ground.
2pts each-way SHANTOU VILLAGE @6/1
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.
READ MORE OF DECLAN’S CHELTENHAM 2016 ANTE-POST PREVIEWS: