Stuart Williams takes an in-depth look at the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Sunday.
Betfair Hurdle Runners
Cadzand received a 11lbs rise in the weights after justifying strong market support at Kempton on Boxing Day, and Dan Skelton's promising novice remains open to significant improvement after just three starts over hurdles.
The second and third at Kempton placed first and third respectively in the same contest next time out and it's hard to ignore his trainers positives comments given his prowess at placing those in his care. Therefore he is a big player if handling the likely testing conditions.
Jonjo O'Neill landed this race the novice Get Me Out Of Here in 2010, and Soaring Glory will attempt to emulate that success off an attractive looking mark of 133.
Soaring Glory claimed the scalp of subsequent Grade 1 Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame at Chepstow in October before bumping into the potentially useful Dusart, whom received 6lbs, at Newbury next time out. The promising six-year-old travelled powerfully prior to falling on his penultimate outing at Wetherby and was far from disgraced when placing third in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial at Ascot in December.
Form of that nature suggests that he could ply his trade in graded company come the spring, which would make his current rating look extremely exploitable. While the likely strong gallop and testing ground could prove ideal as he would almost certainly fall into the category of being a staying two-miler.
Mister Coffey shaped like a very well handicapped horse when making a successful seasonal debut at Sandown in November, and he could still be fairly treated off a 10lbs higher mark in spite of being held off his new rating last time out.
It's possible that Mister Coffey simply needs more time between his races given that he boasts form-figures of 111 following a beak of 250 days or more (first figure being his rules debut), compared to 23 after a break of 27 days.
It may be significant that connections have waited patiently for this contest and it is worth noting that he is 1-1 over this course and distance.
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Buzz has displayed a highly progressive profile in handicaps this season and has already climbed 15lbs in the ratings following a 7 lengths romp at Ascot and a runner-up effort in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy.
The progressive grey is clearly in a good place at present and will have the assistance of talented 5lbs claimer Kevin Brogan in the saddle, which negates the 4lbs rise that he received following his exploits at Ascot in December. He could therefore go well once again.
The enthusiastic Edwardstone achieved a confidence boosting success at Market Rasen last month and could still prove much better than a mark of 146.
Alan King's seven-year-old placed fifth in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in November and will well suited by an end-to-end gallop on a flat track. However, testing ground would certainly be a negative.
Fifty Ball ran out a facile 13 lengths winner of a novice handicap hurdle at Sandown in December and rates an interesting contender for a trainer whom has landed this prize three times since 2007.
Gary Moore's novice will line-up off an 11lbs higher rating on Saturday and will naturally face much sterner opposition. However, he is clearly going in the right direction and won't mind testing conditions.
Wild Max hasn't looked back since placing fourth in a competitive conditional jockeys handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in October, winning both of his subsequent starts and climbing 15lbs in the handicap as a result.
Paul Nicholls has won this race twice since 2012 and clearly knows what is required to plunder this valuable prize. However, a career high mark of 147 is certainly stiff enough and five of Wild Max's 6 career victories have been achieved on decent ground. Therefore the likely conditions are a concern.
Neil Mulholland's progressive seven-year-old has shaped like a well handicapped horse on his two most recent outings, firstly when placing fourth in a good renewal of the Welsh Champion Hurdle in October and latterly when suffering significant interference in the Listed company Newbury.
Form of that nature would undoubtedly make him a big player off the very same mark on Saturday. However, the testing conditions do temper enthusiasm for Milkwood.
On To Victory
Dual purpose performer On To Victory plundered a big pot when landing the Betfair November Handicap at Doncaster in the autumn and will now attempt to repeat the feat in a valuable contest over hurdles.
Alan King's seven-year-old ran out the narrow winner of a maiden hurdle at Wincanton last month and will step into handicap company off a mark of 129, which could be fair based on his third placed effort behind Mister Coffey and Shakem Up'Arry over this course and distance last season.
There is every chance that he could improve in a strongly run handicap.
It's fair to say that Shakem Up'Arry has 'bumped into one' on more than one occasion in his short career thus far having placed second behind both last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle scorer Shishkin over this course and distance and Harry Fry's Grade 1 winning novice Metier, whom he chased home in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last month.
Ben Pauling's seven-year-old is clearly no slouch and may be well suited by a strongly run handicap. However, he was well held off a mark of 130 on his penultimate outing at Haydock (2m3f) and will compete from a rating of 136 on Saturday.
Friend Or Foe
The progressive Friend Or Foe found only the re-opposing Guard Your Dreams too good at Sandown last month and will attempt to get back to winning ways off a 5lbs higher mark.
Paul Nicholls' five-year-old earned himself a 13lbs rise in the weights following a facile 11 lengths success on his penultimate outing at Wincanton, and his effort at Sandown demonstrated that he is still heading in the right direction. Therefore another bold effort cannot be ruled out.
For Pleasure has won 4 of his last 5 starts over hurdles culminating in a Grade 2 novice success at Cheltenham in November. Therefore connections will be hopeful that he can be competitive in this valuable handicap contest.
However, it's fair to say that he was handed a very soft lead in the Cotswolds and won't be given such a luxury this weekend. While a mark of 145 and testing conditions are further hurdles to negotiate.
Thyme White looked hugely progressive when scoring at Chepstow in October, and he was in the process of running a big race on his only subsequent outing, which came over this course and distance, prior to being badly hampered and ultimately unseating his rider in Listed company during November.
It's easy to come to the conclusion that Thyme White may have more to offer from his current rating, and the fact that he has been saved for a race such as this is a clear indication that connections feel the same.
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Harry Fry's experienced seven-year-old held a narrow lead when falling at the final flight of hurdles in this contest 12 months ago and connections will be hoping for better luck this time around, especially as conditions will be much more to his liking.
Lightly Squeeze placed third in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December and boasts a very consistent record in competitive handicap company. Bryan Carver will take a handy 3lbs off his back and another bold effort seems like a distinct possibility.
Guard Your Dreams
Nigel Twiston-Davies has provided the winner of this contest three times since 2014, therefore his progressive novice Guard Your Dreams rates a fascinating contender.
The improving five-year-old is 3-4 over hurdles and was hit with a 7lbs rise following his defeat of the similarly progressive Friend Or Foe at Sandown last month. Testing conditions are right up his street and any market support would be encouraging.
Mack The Man
Evan Williams seven-year-old was all the rage for this contest 12 months ago and was still in contention when being brought-down at the final flight of hurdles. He will line-up off a 1lb lower mark this year and will also encounter much more suitable conditions, which could easily make him look overpriced.
Mack The Man failed to impress in two starts in novice chase company during the autumn, however, he made a successful return to hurdling at Wincanton last month and could easily make his presence felt here with that confidence boosting success under his belt.
Chris Gordon's progressive six-year-old has won his last three starts in novice company will will attempt to land the four-timer off a mark of 135.
It's hard to accurately assess what he has achieved thus far and this will clearly be Annual Invictus toughest assignment to date. However, he is naturally entitled to further progression and should not be unduly.
Glory and Fortune
Glory And Fortune failed to make his mark in two starts over fences but rates a fascinating contender on his return to hurdling.
Tom Lacey's six-year-old was only beaten a neck by the extremely progressive Buzz (off level weights) at Doncaster last February and also boasts a solid third placed finish behind Thebannerkingrebel and Calva D'Auge at Haydock. While a fifth placed finish behind Chantry House, Stolen Silver, Pipesmoker and Pileon at Cheltenham also reads particularly well.
Form of that nature suggests that a mark of 131 could prove lenient and it's worth noting that he has undergone wind surgery since last sighted on the track. Therefore he could easily outperform market expectations.
Ballinsker placed second behind the aforementioned Milkwood on his seasonal reappearance at Ffos Las in October before running a hugely creditable race in the Grade 3 Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham, when placing sixth after racing prominently under champion jockey Brian Hughes.
That was a fine effort on just his fourth start over hurdles and he could easily have much more to come with that valuable handicap experience under his belt. Connor Ring, whom claims 3lbs, will take over in the saddle and it may be significant that connections gave Ballinsker a pipe-opener in a 'jumpers bumper' at the start of the month.
Highway One O Two
Highway One O Two is yet contender whom has returned to hurdling after proving unconvincing over fences, and he was dropped 4lbs in the handicap following a uninspiring effort behind the aforementioned Guard Your Dreams at Sandown last month.
However, Chris Gordon's six-year-old may have been in need of that outing for one reason or another and it's worth remembering that he comfortably dispatched subsequent handicap scorers Kid Commando (third), Buzz (fourth) and Benson (seventh) when landing the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices' Hurdle at Kempton last February. Therefore he could easily be well handicapped off a mark of 141.
David Pipe's five-year-old will compete from the very same mark from which he placed second in last season's Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle after being dropped 2lbs following an uninspiring effort in the Grade 3 Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December.
It goes without saying that he is open to further improvement given his lightly raced profile, and he is fully entitled to improve from his seasonal reappearance. Therefore Night Edition could easily be slightly overpriced for this contest, especially as we know that he is effective off his current mark.
Dan Skelton's hugely progressive hurdler Cadzand make plenty of appeal and will undoubtedly attract plenty of support.
Buzz and Lightly Squeeze bring solid handicap form to the table and could easily make their presence felt once more. While the lightly raced Mister Coffey is also worth another chance based on the impression that he created on his handicap debut at Sandown in November.
However, SOARING GLORY was an above average bumper horse last season and he has already accumulated some decent form over timber, including a half-a-length success over subsequent Grade 1 Challow Hurdle scorer Bravemansgame at Chepstow in October.
Jonjo O'Neill's six-year-old chased home the potentially smart Dusart, whom received 6lbs, over this course and distance in November, and he looks tailor made for the demands of hugely competitive two mile handicap.
An opening mark of 133 could easily underestimate the true level of his ability and his shrewd trainer landed this race with a novice in 2010. Therefore all looks set for a very big run.
Mack The Man, Highway One O Two, Glory And Fortune and Night Edition all boast some smart pieces of form over hurdles and easily make the most appeal of those at bigger prices.
Betfair Hurdle Entries
- Soaring Glory
- Mister Coffey
- Fifty Ball
- Wild Max
- On To Victory
- Shakem Up'Arry
- Friend Or Foe
- For Pleasure
- Thyme White
- Lightly Squeeze
- Guard Your Dreams
- Mack The Man
- Annual Invictus
- Glory And Fortune
- Highway One O Two
- Night Edition
- Galice Macalo