Matt Tombs / Thursday 13th February 2014 / 13:15
Of the 3 Grade 1 novice hurdles, the Albert Bartlett has been the most predictable. Brave Inca was the last favourite to win the Supreme a decade ago (at 7/2), since which only 3 winners have started at single figure prices. The Neptune has been in the middle with two favourites, (Simonsig at 2/1 and Mikael D’Haguenet at 5/2,) winning in the last decade and two winners going off at a double figure price.
In the Albert Bartlett 4 favourites have gone in – At Fishers Cross (11/8), Bobs Worth (15/8), Wichita Lineman (11/8) and Black Jack Ketchum (evens,) with only one winner going off at a double figure price. I think there are two main reasons for this. Firstly, the race is less prestigious, (only became a Grade 1 in 2008,) and the field tends to have much less depth. Secondly, they go that much slower which gives the best horses more chance not to get into trouble in running.
It’s therefore not been a race where it’s paid to try to be too clever. I’ll always work on a value basis, but there are some races where their nature lends more to backing something nearer the front of the market.
There are 12 at 20/1 or shorter and plenty we can discount for ante-post purposes. Faugheen (14/1) is apparently heading for the Neptune, (even after the same connections Clondaw Court was scratched, there doesn’t seem to have been a change of plan.) Red Sherlock (14/1) and Royal Boy (20/1) also both run in the Neptune.
Of the remaining 9 there are a number who have other feasible targets. Deputy Dan (16/1) has been progressive, winning a Grade 2 at Warwick last time, (2m5f, heavy.) With favourite Rathvinden falling just as it was getting interesting, it’s hard to evaluate that form. His progression has coincided with heavy ground and whilst he has form on good to soft, his breeding suggests he could be a mudlark. Oliver Sherwood has said he’s keeping his options open, but he’s clearly hoping for soft ground so he can run Deputy Dan in the Neptune - so he can’t be backed ante-post for this.
Rathvinden (20/1) then ran a good race to be 2½l 2nd to Red Sherlock (who received 3lb) at Cheltenham. On the heavy ground there he looked to be outstayed over an extended 2m4f and he doesn’t obviously look like he wants 3m at this stage. It’s not clear how Willie Mullins will shuffle his pack but the likes of Briar Hill and Sure Reef look more obvious candidates for this, for all they’re in the same ownership. He’s therefore another who can’t be backed ante-post.
Champagne West (20/1) beat Deputy Dan 1l in December and has won off 123 and then in a novice since. Having qualified, the plan was the Pertemps Final. However, Philip Hobbs was trying to get him up to 137 as that was the mark he guesstimated he’d need to get a run – but he’s been hiked to 145. Given how well in you need to be to win the Pertemps Final, and that the highest mark given to an Albert Bartlett winner so far is 154, it might make sense for him to take his chance here, especially as the yard now has Fingal Bay as a Pertemps Final possible. He’s one to keep an eye on.
Urban Hymn (20/1) has always had a big reputation and started to fulfill it last time in the Grade 2 River Don, (extended 3m, soft,) when chinning Blakemount. He’s seen as a chaser for next season and with Oscar Rock in the same ownership its looking as if will run in the Neptune or bypass the Festival. I’m not sure whether he’d be effective on good ground.
Blakemount (20/1) was only a short head behind Urban Hymn in the River Don on soft ground, and being by Presenting you’d imagine he might well improve if getting a sound surface in this. 3m looks to suit and he has each-way prospects, without having exuded star quality as yet.
Briar Hill (5/1) was an impressive winner of the Bumper at last season’s Festival. He’s 3/3 over hurdles, having started at between 1/3 and 1/9. He’s made hard work of beating Azorian by 4l, (subsequently beaten miles by Faugheen and Vautour,) and Apache Jack, both over 2½m. He may just be lazy and only do enough, but last year’s Festival Bumper hasn’t worked out well and he might just have outstayed a substandard field. He could be anything, but he’s priced up on his Festival win and having a string of 1s next to his name. I’m open minded about how good he’ll turn out to be and, even in what’s looking a threadbare field, he’s not a betting proposition.
Sure Reef (16/1) pulled very hard last time when winning a Grade 2 at Leopardstown and Willie Mullins was understandably concerned that he wouldn’t settle in this. Being in the same ownership as Briar Hill, its possible he’ll go for the Neptune. He may fall between two stools – not quick enough for the Neptune, but not settling well enough for the Albert Bartlett.
The favourite is King’s Palace (7/2) and you couldn’t see a better jumper in a novice race. He’s fast and accurate but his form is starting to unravel. The 4 horses that chased him home last time have all been well beaten since, and whilst Creepy (who chased him home in October) won a Grade 2 next time, he’s been thrashed three times since. David Pipe has described him as a Welsh National horse and I’m not sure he’s got the class for this. I certainly wouldn’t be backing him ante-post at a skinny price.
Captain Cutter (10/1) brings Grade 1 form to the table from the Challow and beat King’s Palace in a bumper, (despite racing very wide and King’s Palace having had the advantage of a run). I’d thought that there would be the usual post-Challow debate about whether the winner should go for the Neptune, but this year commons sense appears to have prevailed and the Albert Bartlett is the target.
In Faugheen’s likely absence, I think Captain Cutter is the most talented horse in this. He was well on top of some classy novices in the Challow and, whilst he doesn’t yet jump as well as King’s Palace, he’s achieved more over hurdles and the feeling is that there’s much more to come. He’s versatile as to ground conditions and the only downside is that he’s been a bit fragile in the past - but the Henderson team appear to have had a pretty clear run with him this time.
It wasn’t until I really went through the market that I realised how few of these look likely to run, and how weak a race it could quickly turn into. I can see his price contracting significantly over the next month as the race takes shape. Ideally he’d be backable non runner-no bet, but based on last year there’s another 10 days before that’s going to be available – and I’d rather go in now ante-post and secure what looks a good price.
Despite it being a race for short priced horses, one that’s interesting at a big price is Gilt Shadow (40/1). He was a good 2nd to The Liquidator in the Grade 1 Bumper at the Punchestown Festival. He bolted up on his hurdles debut and went off 9/2 for the Grade 1 Royal Bond, but didn’t fire. Given a break, he was supposed to have needed the run when 3¼l 3rd to Sure Reef (who received 3lb) in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown over 2½m. That Leopardstown race is usually a strong contest and he was too keen off a slow early pace, before looking to blow up. It’s not clear if he goes to the Festival yet, and if he does whether he runs in this or the Neptune. He’s one to look at once non runner, no bet is available.
1pt Captain Cutter to win the Albert Bartlett @ 10/1