With the Cheltenham Festival now firmly on the horizon, it’s time for The Judge to take advantage of some more value in the ante-post markets.
The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, run on the last day of the meeting , is a race that always interests me from an ante-post perspective as it is for novices run over 3 miles which makes it a unique test of stamina, courage and class for any novice.
Contenders who are stepping up to 3 miles for the first time are easily discounted in my opinion as this event is usually a war of attrition and horses who have contested and performed well in good quality races at 3 miles are certainly the ones to concentrate on. I would also discount entries aged 5 or younger as they have a poor record in this event which makes perfect sense when considering the attributes needed to win.
Willie Mullins’ Boston Bob heads the market at this stage and it is easy to see why as he is unbeaten in 3 starts this season, the last twice winning impressively in graded company, and his handler has made it clear he holds him in the highest regard. He does however have an alternate engagement in the Neptune earlier in the week and may ideally want softer ground than he is likely to encounter, so with that in mind and at his current odds I will look elsewhere.
The Paul Nicholls’ 6 year old Rocky Creek created a good impression when galloping on resolutely to land a grade 2 at Doncaster over an extended 3 miles, beating a very promising sort in Emma Lavelle’s Gullinbursti by 3 ¾ lengths. A winning pointer over 3 miles on good ground prior to joining the champion trainer, Rocky Creek looks a major player with conditions likely to suit and no stamina concerns, but with only two starts over hurdles under his belt, I have a sneaking suspicion that he may lack a bit of experience when it comes to a battle of wills up the Cheltenham hill.
Gordon Elliott has a live contender in Mount Benbulben. A comfortable winner of a Grade 2 at Navan in November where he displayed a terrific attitude when, after being badly outpaced turning for home, his stamina and guts got him to the front on the run-in to beat a decent field. He was then comprehensively beaten by Boston Bob in a Grade 1 at the same venue prior to Christmas but I am inclined to forgive him that effort as he never jumped or travelled with any fluency and it is testament to his tenacious attitude that he managed second place beaten 4 ½ lengths. Kept fresh for this race ever since by his astute trainer Mount Benbulben is very fairly priced at around 8/1 and I will keep him on side.
The horse I am particularly keen on is Charles Byrnes’ Sea Of Thunder. A big scopey gelding and former point winner over 3 miles, he got off the mark over hurdles at the second attempt when winning at Thurles over 2 miles. He was then sent to Wetherby for another 2 mile event but was readily outpaced by the decent Hazy Tom, eventually finishing a well beaten second.
It was his next start in the Bristol Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham that marked him down as a serious contender for the festival. Showing massive improvement for the step up to 3 miles and encountering genuine good ground, he travelled like a dream and was in the process of thrashing a decent field when setting off a stride too soon at the last and coming to grief. That particular trial in early December has been a solid guide to finding the winner of the Albert Bartlett in recent years with previous winners Black Jack Ketchum and Nenuphar Collonges taking that prize before becoming festival heroes and Mossley narrowly missed the target last year having won ‘The Bristol’.
The 7 year old showed no ill effects from his tumble when contesting a Grade 2 at Leopardstown in January. He travelled supremely well but couldn’t quicken from two out on the prevailing heavy ground, conditions he won’t have to deal with at Cheltenham in all likelihood.
Charles Byrnes took the Albert Bartlett in 2009 with Weapons Amnesty and in Sea Of Thunder he has a fantastic chance of winning another. Sea Of Thunder is one of my strongest festival fancies and I advise you get stuck in at the very generous 10/1 available.
The Judge’s Big Bets
Sea Of Thunder (Albert Bartlett Nov. Hurdle)
Ante-Post Portfolio (already advised)
Rubi Light (Ryanair Chase) 0.75pt EW@12/1
First Lieutenant (RSA Chase) 1pt EW@16/1