Shantou Bob looks the horse to beat in a field of eight
The Leamington Novices’ Hurdle has thrown up more than its fair share of future Cheltenham Festival winners, with The New One, No Refuge and Inglis Drever all successful since the event was inaugurated in 2002.
Last year’s winner, Deputy Dan went close to adding to that fine tally when runner-up to Very Wood in the Albert Bartlett in March.
If there is another Cheltenham hero in this year’s renewal, then it appears likely to be Shantou Bob, who boasts much the strongest form on offer, having won twice already.
The half-brother to the impressive Uncle Danny, highlighted in our Top 10 Dark horses to Follow in 2015 piece, he enhanced his reputation with a staying-on second to Vyta du Roc in the Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown last month.
That one went down only narrowly in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury, while Tara Point, third at Sandown, was a facile winner at Taunton recently.
It’s hard to poke holes in the form, and the slog at Warwick should prove up this point winner’s street. He’ll surely be hard to beat, but is there a dark one lurking somewhere in the field?
First for the microscope is Anteros, who is held on a line through Blaklion, and also gave the impression that he was helped by being held up at Cheltenham last time. That form is a little shaky, in our opinion, and he doesn’t have obvious scope to improve by the significant amount needed to win this prize.
Ballagh may be a different cup of tea having run only once over timber, and that came when shaping well behind Different Gravey at Newbury in November. Ben Case’s gelding is by the same sire as Shantou Bob, and hails from the family of Gold Cup winner Jodami, so looks just the type to outstrip his fairly useful bumper form in this sphere.
Not at all knocked about on his hurdling bow, it’s hard to get a measure of what he might achieve, but he’s open to more improvement than many of his rivals, and tackles a trip in line with his pedigree for the first time, so merits respect for an underrated yard.
Two who are even less exposed are Three Musketeers and Alisier d’Irlande.
The former had a solitary outing between the flags at Dromahane before winning a novice hurdle at Wetherby last month on his debut for Dan Skelton, while the latter won his sole point start at Templemore before an encouraging third at Ascot having been sold to Roger Brookhouse for £300,000 in the interim.
Both will improve, but Three Musketeers is the more likely to be suited by a test of stamina given he’s by Flemensfirth out of a Mister Lord mare. Alisier d’Irlande is related to winners at around this trip, notably Renard d’Irlande, but he’s quite a keen going sort, and could prove best given less of a test at this stage of his career.
Flintham is bidding to uphold family honour, being a full-brother to 2008 winner Carruthers, and he’s on something of a roll after gritty wins at Chepstow and Ascot. Those have been in handicaps, though, and this represents a much stiffer task on paper.
He will keep going when others have cried enough, but needs to raise his game markedly if he’s to win at this level.
Of the others, Red Tortue is having his third start for as many yards, and while he looks an intriguing prospect having scored in the mud at Hexham in November, this is something of a baptism of fire on his first run for Charlie Longsdon.
Rons Dream is consistent, but she looks to have reached her ceiling in the short term, and was readily held in a listed mares’ event at Haydock three weeks ago.
Peter Bowen has his team in rare form given his usual tendency towards barren winters, but it will be a massive shock if the daughter of Kayf Tara could beat the boys, even in receipt of weight.
The BetBright Verdict
Selection: Shantou Bob
The race gets underway at 3pm at Wawrick Racecourse on Saturday, January 10th.