Stuart Williams takes an in-depth look at the runners for the Ballymore Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick on Saturday.
Leamington Novices’ Hurdle Preview & Runners Guide
Both The New One and Willoughby Court were victorious in this contest en route to success in the Grade 1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013 and 2017 respectively, which clearly demonstrates the calibre of horse that this Grade 2 contest attracts.
Indeed the mighty Inglis Drever etched his name onto the trophy in 2004 before winning a host of Grade 1 prizes including three Stayers Hurdle crowns and three victories in Ascot's Long Walk Hurdle.
It's impossible to know whether such a horse will emerge from this years field, however, it does appear to be a competitive renewal on paper and the emphasis will undoubtedly be placed on stamina given the forecast conditions.
Messers Nicholls, Tizzard, Skelton, King, Fry, Pipe, Murphy, Lacey and Pauling are all represented, and all will feel that they have a decent chance of success. So let's take a closer look at each of their inmates and attempt to solve the puzzle put before us.
Leamington Novices’ Hurdle Runners
Adrimel has always been held in highest regard by connections and rates a big player in this Grade 1 contest having missed the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at the eleventh hour.
Tom Lacey has done little to hide the regard in which he holds the former point-to-point winner, who cost connections an eye-watering £280,000 at the Aintree Sales in April 2019. His only defeat to date came in the Cheltenham Festival bumper and he has won both of his starts over hurdles in commanding fashion, suggesting that he is well up to competing in this higher grade.
The smart six-year-old comfortably defeated a subsequent scorer on his hurdling debut at Sandown and was equally impressive when following up at Haydock. This step-up in trip looks sure to suit and all five of his victories to date, including his point-to-point, were achieved on testing ground. Therefore he should be ideally suited the conditions on Saturday.
Richard Johnson has ridden Adrimel in all bar one of his five starts under rules and the four-time champion jockey will maintain the partnership this weekend. The only obvious negative is that he will have to concede 3lbs to all of his rivals. However, he is built to carry weight and that is certainly no barrier to success.
Make Me A Believer
Make Me A Believer demonstrated a determined attitude when making a successful racecourse debut in a hotly contested bumper at Chepstow last season, and he was unfortunate enough to bump into Nicky Martin's exciting prospect Bear Ghylls on his hurdling debut at Lingfield in October.
The winner has won both of his subsequent starts including a handicap off a mark 130. While the third placed Take Your Time was successful next time before placing second in novice company at Chepstow and third on his handicap debut. Therefore that form of that Lingfield contest looks very solid indeed.
David Pipe's six-year-old went to Cheltenham in December and again showed a tenacious attitude when out-battling Neil Mulholland's promising inmate Any News in a ding-dong battle up the hill, clocking a 2 seconds quicker time than the handicap hurdle run later on the card. It's fair to say that Make Me A Believer was firmly on-top at the line, and he will definitely be suited by stepping-up in trip on Saturday.
Make Me A Believer underwent wind surgery prior to that success and clearly remains open to significant improvement. Interestingly, he fell in the same point-to-point won by the aforementioned Adrimel, and he could easily atone for the unfortunate error this weekend and even up the score.
It was third time lucky for Oscar Elite in point-to-points, however, he is already 2-2 since competing under rules and he is guaranteed to stay this trip following a smooth success over 3 miles at Chepstow last month.
The Oscar gelding ran out a facile 20 lengths winner on his racecourse debut at the same track in November and has seemingly relished the testing conditions on each occasion. Therefore connections will likely grow more confident with the every drop of rain that falls between now and 2.25 on Saturday afternoon.
Naturally, this race will prove a much sterner test of his credentials as the form of his two victories to date does little to set the pulse racing. However, he clearly possesses a fair about of ability and will not be found wanting for stamina in a race that features many whom are unproven at the trip.
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Mint Condition failed to get his head in-front in three starts over hurdles last season but has clearly improved greatly for his elongated summer break, as he defeated a subsequent dual scorer on his seasonal reappearance at Bangor and has since won twice either side of a fourth placed effort in competitive handicap company at Aintree.
An official rating of 135 put's the Jennie Candlish trained seven-year-old firmly in the mix, and both his progressive profile and wealth of experience make him an interesting contender in this Grade 2 contest.
Naturally, there are others in the field who remain lightly raced and possess the scope to improve past what Mint Condition has achieved thus far. However, his three wins this season have all been achieved on testing ground, and he could easily make his presence felt if his well touted rivals fail to live up to expectations.
Jay Be Why
It's fair to say that Jay Be Why was pretty disappointing when placing tenth in an admittedly hot bumper at Newbury last January when sent off a relatively well supported 4/1 chance. However, he underwent wind surgery during the summer and returned to action with a smooth nine-and-a-half-lengths success over this course and distance last month, suggesting that his admirers last winter had reason to be optimistic.
It's hard to understand exactly what he achieved in victory last month as there is little collateral form to decipher. However the third, whom was beaten nine-and-a-half-lengths, could only place fifth in a weak looking novice hurdle at Chepstow last Saturday.
That said, Jay Be Why could only beat what was put in front of him and he did so with ease, whilst also proving that he is effective on soft ground. Therefore he rates an intriguing proposition on Saturday.
Dan Skelton has plundered this prize twice in the last five years, firstly with Three Musketeers in 2015 and latterly with Beakstown in 2019. He also saddled Knight In Dubai to finish third in 2018 and Grade 1 winning novice chaser Shan Blue filled the same position last year, therefore we know that the master of Lodge Hill likes to aim one of his more promising novices' at this contest, which bodes well for the prospects of Midnight River.
This promising chestnut gelding beat a subsequent dual scorer on his hurdling debut at Uttoxeter in October and was well supported prior to chasing home a subsequent Grade 2 winner at Cheltenham three-weeks-later. That form looks fairly solid and he he got back to winning ways at Leicester in November, albeit a narrow success at prohibitive odds of 1/4.
That race did bring into question whether Midnight River was equally effective on slower ground, which is naturally a concern given the forecast ground on Saturday. That said, he wasn't disgraced when placing third behind Champion Bumper runner Ask A Honey Bee and subsequent dual scorer Solwara One in a soft ground bumper at Wetherby last season, therefore it may be too soon to presume that he needs better ground.
Clearly this race has been his target ever since Leicester and he could easily run well for a bang in-form team.
Lord Of Kerek
Lord Of Kerek has three-and-a-half-lengths to find with Adrimel on their Sandown running in November, however, he was clearly well suited by stepping-up in trip at Uttoxeter last month and connections will he hopeful that their €240,000 recruit will be capable of competing at this level.
Olly Murphy's six-year-old defeated a vastly more experienced rival, who was admittedly returning from an absence, at the Midlands track and he naturally remains open to any amount of improvement on just his second start at the trip.
This contest will clearly prove a much sterner test of his credentials and he will have to jump better having made multiple mistakes in his three outings to date. However, he is learning all the time and is related to numerous previous winners, therefore he could easily prove up to this level.
Ben Pauling saddled subsequent Grade 1 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle scorer Willoughby Court to land this prize in 2017 and therefore knows the type of horse required to plunder this prize. Clearly the Bourton-on-the-Water based handler feels that Optimise Prime has the right credentials to compete, and he proved that his 50/1 success at Hereford in November was no fluke when running out a comfortable winner over the same course and distance last month.
Both of those victories were achieved over a trip just shy of two-and-a-half-miles on soft ground, and his pedigree certainly suggests that he will will be sound stayer as his career progresses.
Optimise Prime is the youngest horse in this field at just five years of age and I do wonder whether he will have the resilience of her elder rivals on Saturday. Official ratings certainly suggest that he has something to find with many of his fellow challengers, however, it's hard to quantify what he has achieved thus far as there is little, if any, collateral form to go on, therefore he is hard to accurately assess and may be worthy of a market check.
Pure Bliss may well boast an unblemished record had something not gone amiss at Ascot last February, and she rates a fascinating contender now taking on the boys following a brace of comfortable victories in mares only novice hurdles.
Harry Fry's promising mare ran out a ready 2 lengths winner on heavy ground at Exeter last month and will receive a handy 7lbs mares' allowance this weekend, which puts her firmly in the mix on official ratings.
It goes without saying that this is Pure Bliss' toughest assignment to date by quite some way, and she will need to stay well in order to feature. However, she won over a trip just shy of two-miles-and-three-furlongs at Exeter and was successful on her solitary start between the flags. Therefore stamina should not be an issue.
Sending Love was well held on his belated racecourse debut at Uttoxeter last February before pulling-up at Wincanton in March. However, he did defeat Harry Fry's dual novice chase scorer Ask Me Early and Sunday's Exeter winner Martinhal on his seasonal reappearance at Ffos Las in November, therefore he is clearly much better than he showed during the spring.
That said, he was a shade disappointing when finishing third of three - beaten 11 lengths - behind Evan Williams' smart prospect Star Gate in the Grade 2 Winter Novices' Hurdle at Sandown in December, and he will need to improve on that form in order to make his presence felt this weekend.
Clearly he is entitled to improve further for that experience and, on a more positive note, Paul Nicholls could hardly have his string in better form at present having enjoyed a sensational seven-timer on Saturday. Therefore Sending Love should not be readily dismissed.
Fitz Well was only beaten a shade over 4 lengths when placing fourth on his racecourse debut at Hereford in November, however, he failed to beat a solitary rival home on his second outing at Newbury in December - with the exception of two whom did not complete - and he will need to improve markedly in order to feature on Saturday.
Glen Mooar has placed thirteenth and seventh at prices of 150/1 and 300/1 respectively in two starts under rules and, like his aforementioned stablemate Fitz Well, will have to find significant improvement in these much deeper waters.
Leamington Novices’ Hurdle Tips
Jay Be Why ran out an easy winner over this course and distance last month and rates a fascinating contender in this much higher grade. Dan Skelton's has a fine record in this race, which has probably been Midnight River's target for some time. While Oscar Elite, whom is the highest rated horse in the field, certainly won't be found wanting for stamina and should be well suited by conditions.
Adrimel is held in high regard by connections and has always shaped as though this trip will suit. However, he was forced to bypass the Tolworth Hurdle at the eleventh hour and he will need to be at the peak of his powers to triumph in this company. Therefore preference is for MAKE ME A BELIEVER, who has solid form in the book and also looks sure to be suited by this longer trip.
David Pipe's six-year-old bumped into a smart horse on his hurdling debut at Lingfield and had clearly benefitted from wind surgery when scoring at Cheltenham. The Presenting gelding displayed a gusty attitude on that occasion and began to forge clear in the final furlong, which bodes well given that this race could easily develop into a test of wills.
David Pipe currently boasts a 25% strike-rate having sent out 5 winners from 20 runners in the last two weeks, therefore the yard are firing on all cylinders and a big run looks likely.
Leamington Novices’ Hurdle Entries
- Make Me A Believer
- Oscar Elite
- Mint Condition
- Jay Be Why
- Midnight River
- Lord Of Kerek
- Optimise Prime
- Pure Bliss
- Sending Love
- Fitz Well
- Glen Mooar
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