Matt Tombs / Tuesday 12th February 2013 / 14:00
1pt Ballycasey to win the Albert Bartlett @ 6/1
The Albert Bartlett is a relatively new race so we’re still getting a feel for the right and wrong sort of horses for it. It’s been a good race for those near the front of the market, despite Boston Bob’s reverse last year, with bankers Black Jack Ketchum (evens), Wichita Lineman (11/8) and Bob’s Worth (15/8) all obliging and only Bertie’s Dream (33/1) starting at a double figure price.
As usual there are plenty near the top of the market who might run in the Neptune so the first task is to clear away the unlikely runners. Pont Alexandre (8/1) looks tailor made for this having turned over the odds-on Don Cossack in a Grade 1 at Navan, (2m4f, heavy) and then again made all to win a Grade 2 at Leopardstown (2m4f, soft to heavy.) He looks more like Boston Bob than Mikael D’Haguenet of Mullins’ winners of that Navan race and if he was being aimed at this he’d be a confident selection if he was still 8/1. However, the same connections have Ballycasey and Mullins likes to spread his best 3 novices between the Supreme, Neptune & Albert Bartlett, rather than running each in the most suitable race.
Champagne Fever (16/1) has the same connections as Pont Alexandre and Ballycasey. He bounced back after a poor run to win a Grade 1 (2m2f, soft) recently and looks a high class galloper. However, he’s being aimed at the Supreme to keep him apart from the owner’s other runners.
Taquin Du Seuil (16/1) sluiced through the mud to win the Challow, (2m5f, heavy) and that’s traditionally gone to an embryonic 3 miler. He’s not slow as he narrowly failed to give My Tent Or Yours 7lb over 2m previously, but he’s a typical Challow type and like Pont Alexandre, unless its soft, I doubt he’ll have the speed for the Neptune. Jonjo O’Neill seems to be getting more open minded about his Festival target but the Neptune still seems the more likely so we can’t back him for this now. If he did turn up here he’d be well worth considering.
Rule The World (20/1) is harder to weigh up having been chinned by Our Vinnie at Cork (3m, soft) and he then thrashed Minsk (who received 3lb) by 16l at Naas (2m4f, soft to heavy) when Champagne Fever bombed out. He shapes like a stayer and is described by Mouse Morris as a big raw horse. He’s only run on testing ground so far and it might be a season too early for Festival glory. The vibes are that he’ll run in the Neptune.
That leaves 10 at less than 25/1 who look more likely runners:
At Fishers Cross (6/1) has been a revelation as a second season novice hurdler, winning all 4 of his races. He won a 3m handicap off 131 at Cheltenham beating Inish Island (who received 3lb) by 1½l (heavy) and followed up by beating The New One and Coneygree over an extended 2m4f, (heavy). He’s on a rapid upward curve and deserves to take his chance in this, but his jumping has improved hugely since he’s been running in steadily run races on testing ground. There’s a real question mark over how he’d handle the hurly burly of this (smallest field so far 17 runners) on good ground. Tony McCoy was downbeat about his chances at the Festival after his last win and I’m keen to take him on. Inish Island (16/1) followed up his 2nd to At Fisher’s Cross by taking a Grade 3 at Clonmel (2m6f, heavy). Both runs look decent form but Willie Mullins sounded as if he wasn’t sure he was good enough even to come over for the Festival.
By contrast, Ballycasey (6/1) was well backed for this before his recent win at Thurles. (2m6f, heavy) where he beat 3 previous winners on the bridle. Both his breeding and Willie Mullins’ comments suggest better ground should suit and the fact that a horse as good as Pont Alexandre seems to have been switched to the Neptune to accommodate him speaks volumes. He’s much the most likely winner.
Gevrey Chambertin (14/1) is a full brother to Grands Crus and is 3 from 3 over hurdles. He has plenty of toe judged on his defeat of 130 rated Many Clouds and 131 rated Lord of House at Aintree (extended 2m, good), albeit there was a long run in there with hurdles omitted, (only 3 jumped). He bolted up off 130 at Wincanton, (2m4f, soft) and its possible that a step up to 3m will bring about further improvement. He’s interesting and if he runs in the 3m Grade 2 at Haydock on Saturday we’ll know more about his chances then.
Cloudy Copper (16/1) is unbeaten in 2 runs under rules and tricky to assess. He beat a 1/3 Paul Nicholls horse (who hasn’t run since) on his hurdling debut and then beat useful chaser Hold On Julio (who received 6lb) at Kempton, (extended 3m, soft.) Jonjo has said he needs time between his races so he may not run again before the Festival. He’d also said Taquin Du Seuil is ‘the best novice I’ve got, and by a long way, more’s the pity’ and whilst I wouldn’t take that too literally, it certainly doesn’t imply Cloudy Copper is going to win a Grade 1 at the Festival.
Busty Brown (20/1) has had 5 hurdle races this season, 4 in graded company. He was edged out by ½l by Our Vinnie at Cork (3m, soft) and after beating Seefood at Navan 2½l (2m4f, heavy) was outgunned by Pont Alexandre (who received 4lb) at the same venue (2m4f, heavy), beaten 13l. He definitely ought to improve for stepping back up to 3m but he looks a solid yardstick rather than a Grade 1 Festival winner.
Another experienced type after 5 hurdle runs is Our Vinnie (16/1) who had chinned both Rule The World and Pride Of The Parish over 3m before being well beaten (22l) by Pont Alexandre at Leopardstown (2m4f, soft to heavy). He got experience of Cheltenham in October when going down by a head to According To Trev (who gave 5lb) nearly getting back up after a bad mistake at the last. He’s tough and game and will relish the 3m, but doesn’t look a star.
Coneygree (16/1) was disputing favouritism for this prior to his 12½l 3rd to At Fisher’s Cross at Cheltenham (extended 2m4f, heavy.) That turned into a sprint and he’ll be much more effective back at 3m. There’s also the suspicion that his small yard were held up by the snow prior to that race. Previously he’d been a good winner of 2 Grade 2s at Cheltenham on testing ground, the latter over 3m, which has been a good guide to the Albert Bartlett. 16/1 looks big for an intended runner who has won two good trials here and he’s the type for each way backers.
African Gold (20/1) is on a five timer after winning handicaps off 118 and 129 and then a decent looking novice hurdle at Doncaster, (extended 2m3f, soft.) He’d have much more on his plate here and he may run in the Pertemps Final instead, a race in which his stable has a good record. He’s one to consider nearer the time.
Road To Riches (20/1) had a big reputation as a pointer and is 3 from 3 under rules, including winning a weak Grade 3 at Cork (3m, soft) in December. He’s seen by Noel Meade as a novice chaser for next season, and with the plan not to give him any more experience before the Festival, I doubt he’ll be battle hardened enough this year.
Whilst the form isn’t outstanding, the manner of Ballycasey’s victories and the vibes from the Mullins camp have been really striking. What’s also striking is that rather than fancying several at this stage, it’s the opposite here - I’ve looked through the race a few times and I always come back to him. It’s not the most exciting ante-post bet I’ve ever struck, but whilst it’s great to back long shots and see them go off at single figure prices on the day - it’s about value. He’s much the most likely winner and if the Mullins/Walsh bandwagon is rolling by Friday he could start less than half his current odds, so lets keep it simple.