Matt Tombs / Thursday 8th January 2015 / 16:51
Much is made of the difficulty of betting in the all-age Grade 1 novice hurdles at this stage, with Willie Mullins seemingly having half of the first ten in every market. Whilst there’s always value in working out which of his novices will run in which race, at the moment I’m focusing on the fact that he has won the Supreme 4 times and the Neptune 3 times – but never the Albert Bartlett. The Albert Bartlett is a newer race but only Tourist Attraction’s Supreme win predates its introduction in 2005.
It would be wrong to say Mullins has a bad record in the race – Boston Bob, Inish Island and The Midnight Club have all been placed, but I think its fair to say that the type he buys is more likely to be a Supreme or Neptune horse.
Whilst he has 5 of the 15 quoted at 20/1 or shorter, none look like betting propositions at the moment. You should never say never about the targets of Mullins’ novices – I was surprised when Champagne Fever lined up in the Supreme two years ago. However, I’d be even more surprised if Alvisio Ville (20/1) ran in this. I had thought Tell Us More (16/1) might be his Albert Bartlett horse as he’d described the point winner as a stayer. However, after he was beaten in the Grade 1 at Naas over 2m4f on Sunday, Willie was talking about a drop back in trip.
Killultagh Vic (20/1) was a bit disappointing when brushed aside over an inadequate 2m by L’Ami Serge in the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot. His running at Ascot was presumably in part to get a line on the British novices, which suggests Mullins didn’t have him down as an Albert Bartlett horse, (can be keen so might not settle well enough to get home).
Black Hercules (10/1) was a good 3¾l 4th to Silver Concorde in the Champion Bumper last season. He won a maiden over 2m and then a Grade 3 over 3m at Cork, giving the promising four year old Alpha Des Obeaux (20/1) 5lb and beating him 2½l. That looks pretty solid form, without being brilliant – both look about the right prices.
Milsean (16/1) is interesting, in that he shapes as if this trip will suit, (won a decent maiden over 2m at Navan on his only hurdles run so far.) He does look like a chaser in the making who wants to get his toe in though. Gigginstown have stacks of good novice hurdlers this season, (including favourite No More Heroes,) and how he’ll fit into their and Mullins’ plans isn’t clear at this stage. He’s one to consider closer to the race.
Willie has other possibilities such as Roi Des Francs (25/1), but whilst I can see another Mullins’ double in the Supreme and Neptune, I’m starting to look at the Albert Bartlett and thinking there may be value in taking his horses on.
The opposition to the Mullins battalions is headed by Gordon Elliott’s No More Heroes (6/1). He beat Milsean in a Naas bumper in February and is 2 from 2 over hurdles. In his last run he won a good Grade 2 at Navan over 2m4f, outstaying Shaneshill to win by 1¾l, which looks strong form. He isn’t slow and so the Neptune is a possibility but the vibes are very much that he’ll run in this. He looks a worthy favourite but not the sort of superstar in the making that I’d want to back at 6/1 ante-post.
The shortest British trained horse in the market is Blaklion (10/1). He’s got plenty of experience, (a big advantage in this as it’s a tough race,) having won Grade 2s over 2m4f at Chepstow and 3m at Cheltenham. He was visually impressive in the latter, though that was a weak race for the grade. He’s twice been done for toe by Parlour Games over 2m5f and this definitely looks his race. He’s a worthy contender without looking a world-beater at this stage and there’s no juice in his price at 10/1.
Vyta Du Roc (16/1) also has plenty of experience and boosts good form at much shorter, winning a Grade 2 at Cheltenham, (extended 2m,) and then giving 3lb and edging out the fast finishing Shantou Bob (25/1) in a Grade 2 at Sandown over 2m4f. He was then a ¼l 2nd to Parlour Games, (Blaklion behind,) in the Grade 1 Challow, and Nicky Henderson is now targeting this race. He’s not an easy horse to assess but I’m not convinced he’ll get the trip. I’d prefer the chances of Shantou Bob at a bigger price to reverse that Sandown form over another half mile. He pulled off a shoe at Sandown and puts his credentials on the line at Warwick on Saturday in a 2m5f Grade 2, (won by Albert Bartlett runner-up Deputy Dan last year.)
Thomas Brown (20/1) and Out Sam (25/1) clashed at Newbury in a strong novice over 2m5f, with Out Sam taking advantage of the 8lb he received to win by 3l. That’s Out Sam’s only run under rules so far, (though he’s also entered in the Warwick Grade 2 on Saturday), and whilst he may make up into a contender, you couldn’t back him at this stage. Thomas Brown then won a good novice over an extended 2m4f at Cheltenham, finding plenty for pressure when beating Robinsfirth, (who received 4lb,) by ½l. Thomas Brown looks well worth a try at 3m, though the less experienced Robinsfirth (33/1) does too and would have prospects of reversing the placings in the Albert Bartlett.
Value At Risk (14/1) is a fascinating contender. He met trouble in running when only 13th in the Cheltenham Bumper but was 2¼l 3rd to Shaneshill in the equivalent at Punchestown. Switched from Philip Fenton to Dan Skelton he made a really eye-catching debut over hurdles at Newbury over 2m3f, annihilating a decent horse in Foryourinformation by 22l, (who’d been only 7½l behind Out Sam at Newbury on the same terms). His dam won the Midlands National and whilst he could end up in the Neptune, he ought to stay well. The Albert Bartlett is a race where experience counts for a lot though, and having only made his hurdling debut just before Christmas, I wonder whether he’ll be kept to calmer waters with chasing in mind in the autumn. If he looks like running at the Festival I can see myself backing him nearer the day.
Fletchers Flyer (16/1) has looked a bit tricky so far. It might be greenness or he might have his quirks, but he looks to have a good engine and stay well. First time cheekpieces worked the oracle for Very Wood last year and some headgear to help him concentrate might enhance his chance. Whether the cautious Harry Fry will want to subject an immature horse to a race like this is open to question – especially as he’s targeting the race with Thomas Brown.
Willie Mullins had thought Outlander (25/1) might be on his Albert Bartlett team but he was outstayed close home by Martello Tower (20/1,) despite getting 6lb, in a 3m Grade 3 at Limerick. This looked a classy performance from the well regarded Martello Tower and he should be at home on better ground in the spring. He’s a really tough type, which is crucial in this race, and his Limerick win looks strong form. He could do with tidying up his jumping, and if he does he looks to have sound claims.
This hasn’t been a race for the mega yards, (neither Mullins nor Nicholls has won it, and Henderson has won it once.) It looks really open at the moment and there seems plenty of depth to the staying British novices.
I think the Sandown Grade 2 form between Vyta Du Roc and Shantou Bob might be the key piece of form. Shantou Bob would have won in another stride having found loads for pressure, and looks likely to relish the 3m trip – he’s just the sort of tough grinder that wins this. His half brother Uncle Danny won a Punchestown bumper on good to yielding in May and Shantou Bob won his maiden on good to soft in October, (Fletchers Flyer behind) – I’m expecting him to improve again on better ground.
He’s a big price at 25/1 and if he wins the Grade 2 at Warwick on Saturday we’ll have missed the boat so I’m going in now.
1pt Shantou Bob to win the Albert Bartlett @ 25/1