Martello Tower to steal a march in the Albert Bartlett
At the second declaration stage we still have 50 horses left in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Run over three miles on Cheltenham’s New Course this race is all about stamina. Apart from two shock 33/1 winners in 2014 and 2010 it usually goes to one of the more fancied runners so it may pay not too get too clever.
Run on Friday this Grade 1 contest is the prelude to the week’s biggest race, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Here our man previews the race.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Preview
This year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle looks a fiendishly tough race. A half-century of horses remain after the second declaration stage meaning we will possibly get a maximum field. Leading the betting is Willie Mullins’s Black Hercules and we’ll start with him.
A high-class bumper horse last season for the Irish Champion Trainer Black Hercules finished fourth in the 2014 Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Given his sheer size jumping obstacles was always going to bring out the best in him and while the son of Heron Island will be even better over fences he may be able to score at the highest level over hurdles.
The six-year-old started the campaign in good style over the minimum trip at Cork. While having stamina in his pedigree and winning a point-to-point Black Hercules showed he had the class to win over two miles, albeit he returned at an SP at 1-6.
A step-up in grade and trip came at Cork three weeks later when winning the Grade 3 Kerry Group Stayers Novice Hurdle over three miles. Once more the strapping gelding made the running, travelled well before going on to win snuggly.
Under Paul Townend the pair were granted an easy lead, but despite this niggle the form looks useful given the runner-up went on to finish second to Douvan on his next start. Graham Wylie’s horse doesn’t lift his feet too high so we can’t see better ground posing a problem, although his three month absence from the track is a major concern.
Ireland hold a strong hand in this year’s Albert Bartlett and the race second favourite is Gordon Elliott’s No More Heroes. A useful bumper for Gigginstown in 2013/14 the six-year-old made a nice start to his hurdles career at Punchestown.
In a front-running capacity the son of Presenting would jump well before running out an easy winner. It wasn’t much of a race, but he showed his well-being, an ability to jump and how well he can stay.
Gordon Elliot has been raving about No More Heroes since his bumper days so it wasn’t a surprise to see him step the horse up in grade on his next start. In the Navan Novice Hurdle Barry Geraghty would pick-up the spare ride with Bryan Cooper suspended and the pair would impress.
In beating Willie Mullins’s Shaneshill the form looks useful, but it was style of the victory in the Grade 2 contest that marked No More Heroes down as a novice to follow. Although a chaser in the making he jumped well before showing an ability to quicken to win cosily.
Disappointment followed in the Grade 2 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle, however, when No More Heroes could only finish fifth of seven runners despite being an 11/8 favourite. Connections were shocked by the display, but a subsequent scope found him to be suffering from an infection.
He now comes here on the back of a disappointing effort and that is the worry. His trainer has great faith in him, however, and that is worth remembering.
Ireland could well have had the first four in the betting in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle had Value At Risk not moved from his disgraced former trainer. The stoutly-bred son of Kayf Tara now resides at Dan Skelton’s yard, one of Britain’s youngest and most exciting handlers.
While a disappointing run in last season’s Wetherbys Champion Bumper is a blip on his CV the six-year-old has ultimately been a consistent horse. Value At Risk was once of Ireland’s top bumper performers last campaign and that form has been translated over hurdles since his stable transfer.
A devastating impression was made when winning at Newbury on debut. While an 11/8 favourite for the race he would go on to win like an odds-on shot as he cruised clear to win by 22 lengths. Even with three hurdles left to be negotiated there was only one winner.
Next up came the Grade 2 Classic Novices’ Hurdle, historically a good trial for the Albert Bartlett. Connections were keen to get some positive course experience after the disappointing Cheltenham Bumper run last year and while a victory wasn’t obtained there were plenty of positives.
Having sat second off a good gallop Value At Risk travelled best at the bottom of the hill. However, when the rest of the field hit top stride he was outpaced as he only stayed galloping at the one pace. At one stage Dan Skelton’s charge looked like he would be nicely beaten, but he stuck on nicely, showing a good attitude, and nearly got back up to score.
Based on this run and looking at his pedigree he will relish the step-up to three miles. For a big horse Value At Risk jumps well and the only doubt we have is the ground getting too quick.
Another stout stayer that warrants respect is Martello Tower. Of the aforementioned trio of fancied horses this son of Milan is the only one to have winning form over three miles. Margaret Mullins’s inmate in fact has won twice over the staying trip meaning he won’t lack for stamina at the business end.
This is obviously a big plus given the test these young horses will face. While stamina is a key ingredient for winning here, as pointed out in the intro, class is also a pre-requisite for success.
Looking at this seven-year-old’s profile from his point-to-pointing and bumper days he has always struck us a classy individual. Small injuries held him up earlier in his career, but he appears to be over those given he has seen the racetrack five times this campaign.
He is twice a Grade 3 winner already and well the form of the former race at Cork couldn’t be considered Grade 1 form Martello Tower has done nothing but improve as the season has progressed.
Two starts back he won the Grade 3 Cliona’s Foundation Novice Hurdle at Limerick – the race Faugheen used as a stepping stone to Cheltenham Festival success in 2014. There he showed great determination to get back up on the line to collar a subsequent Grade 2 winner in Outlander who he gave six pounds.
The drop down to two-and-a-half miles found him out next time at Leopardstown behind Outlander. While not being able to confirm the form he did shape positively for a step back up in trip. Barry Connell’s horse will be much suited to the extra distance of the Friday race and with Martello Tower shaping as if better ground would suit we respect his chance.
Caracci Apache has been a bit of a slow burner it seems, but despite this being the case and him apparently still learning he burst on to the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle scene with his Grade 2 River Don Novices’ Hurdle win at Doncaster last time out.
This son of High Chaparral has done nothing but surprise his trainer and the fact remains he is still unbeaten this season in three runs with his form looking sounder and sounder as the year goes on.
At Sandown’s Tingle Creek meeting the five-year-old was sent off an unconsidered 14/1 shot for a useful novices’ hurdle. Under Barry Geraghty the pair would cause a shock as they overturned the much fancied trio of Clean Sheet, Aso and Kings Odyssey. This form now looks useful.
With that win at Sandown seemingly a fluke connections went to Plumpton for another novices’ event under a penalty. Again Caracci Apache would cause an upset as he turned over the fancied even-money favourite when running out a facile winner.
He continued to surprise, but when winning a Doncaster graded event like he did last time out people really sat up and took notice. Despite running green or looking a touch outpaced on Doncaster’s flat surface he stayed in touching distance of the leading pair before running on strongly at the death to score.
The Seven Barrow’s inmate never once looked like winning till he crossed the line, but he got the job done. Stamina is obviously his forte and he appeared to have something left at the end given he spooked at the railing. In beating the useful and consistent Blaklion this form looks solid.
The demands of the Albert Bartlett look tailor-made for the young horse on this evidence. The fact is he still remains unbeaten this campaign, represents a top trainer and shapes as if a certain stayer. With all that in mind along with his classy pedigree we can’t understand why is still as big as 14/1?
Best of the Rest
Plenty in here could easily have been given more prominent mentions such is the depth of this race. Blaklion was just done by Caracci Apache in not making the top cut. Nigel Twiston-Davies’s horse is hugely likable. He’s a sound jumper, consistent and better ground will help his cause.
The son of Kayf Tara also promises to stay, but Caracci Apache is open to more improvement being a younger horse with less runs. The seven-year-old could easily run into the frame.
Out Sam is another horse that could’ve snuck into the main piece, but is one more being kept out by Caracci Apache, his stablemate. Now, this is one call we may get very wrong, but we fancy the latter mentioned over Out Sam.
The six-year-old is still unexposed, but he doesn’t jump as well as his Caracci Apache and unlike his Seven Barrow’s inmate has to prove his stamina for the trip. Barry Geraghty’s call on which one he will ride will be telling.
Harry Fry is a trainer we have plenty of time for and his Thomas Brown looks more than useful and certainly good enough to run well. He shapes like staying the trip and better ground will help, but he looks a chaser in the making and his at times clumsy jumping may cost him.
We are not sure if Definitely Red, Fletchers Flyer or Native River run here given their multiple entries while Shantou Bob may need soft ground to show his best. A son of Presenting, Snow Falcon is interesting at a big price given faster ground will suit.
The BetBright Verdict
With Black Hercules and No More Heroes not having ideal preparations we are willing to take them on at this stage. Black Hercules is a huge horse and we wonder will his physique be misleading in how fit he really is. There must be a chance he’ll need the Run in his first race in 96 days.
Vibes are strong about No More Heroes, but his preparation run is not ideal and we are willingly to take him on at this stage on the back of that given his price.
Blaklion, Out Sam and Thomas Brown can run well, but we just prefer others at this stage.
The three for us to concentrate on are Caracci Apache, Martello Tower and Value At Risk who are priced at 10/1, 12/1 and 9/1, respectively. The one thing we can be sure on is this trio of horses will stay the three miles trip.
Value At Risk does have to prove it, however, but everything from his last run and his pedigree suggests he’ll stay. Given the prices look a touch of value we are going to suggest two plays, one from Ireland and one from Britain.
Obviously that means MARTELLO TOWER gets the nod. Now seven-years-old he may come into the race with a maturity advantage over plenty of his rivals. This, along with him having stamina assured means we’ll side with the son of Milan who also jumps well. Faster ground looks like it will suit.
At the prices we’ll also suggest CARACCI APACHE over Value At Risk. The decision is solely based on current odds. Value At Risk is a thoroughly likeable horse, but is just passed over at the moment.
Caracci Apache is a young, progressive type who looks all about stamina based on his Doncaster win last time out. Given he is only five and having just quintet of starts in his career he is open to any amount of improvement. From a top stable he ticks a lot of boxes.
1pt win MARTELLO TOWER @ 10/1
1pt win CARACCI APACHE @ 12/1
The 2015 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Chase goes off at 14.40 on Gold Cup Friday, March 13th.