Ballyandy heads 16 runners for the £155,000 Grade Three Betfair Hurdle, the highlight of a fantastic seven-race card at Newbury on Betfair Super Saturday 11th February.
The extended 2-mile contest, Britain’s richest handicap hurdle, has been won by subsequent G1 scorers My Tent Or Yours and Zarkandar in recent years.
Ballyandy (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Sam Twiston-Davies, 11st 1lb) has made his handicap debut. The six-year-old captured the Listed bumper impressively on this card 12 months ago and went on to win the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.
He is yet to win over hurdles this season but has twice run well behind Moon Racer and was last seen out finishing second to Messire Des Obeaux in a G2 event at Sandown Park in December.
Another novice Movewiththetimes (Paul Nicholls/Barry Geraghty, 11st 2lb) is one of three runners for owner JP McManus. Movewiththetimes captured novices’ hurdles at Fontwell and Wincanton, and, in between, was an unlucky fifth behind Moon Racer and Ballyandy in a G2 contest at Cheltenham.
McManus, who has enjoyed success in two of the last seven renewals of the Betfair Hurdle with My Tent Or Yours (2013) and Get Me Out Of Here (2011), is also represented by Irish challenger De Name Escapes Me (Noel Meade IRE/Aidan Coleman, 11st 5lb) and top-weight Hargam (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville, 11st 12lb).
Clyne (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge, 11st 9lb) is 5lb well-in after going down by a length to The New One in a G2 hurdle at Haydock Park on 21st January.
Both Song Light (Seamus Mullins/Kevin Jones (5), 10st 13lb) and Kayf Blanco (Graeme McPherson/Kielan Woods, 11st 2lb) have run well in big handicaps this season. Song Light was an eye-catching third behind North Hill Harvey in Cheltenham’s Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November, while Kayf Blanco followed home Brain Power and Consul De Thaix in a two-mile handicap at Sandown Park in December.
Kayf Blanco, also a good seventh in last year’s County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, was slightly disappointing last time out when fourth in handicap hurdle at Exeter on 1st January.
Gloucestershire-based trainer Graeme McPherson, having his best season, explained: “Kayf Blanco didn’t enjoy the holding ground at all at Exeter on New Year’s Day.
“The time before that he ran an absolute cracker behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown. He was not beaten far and that is obviously strong form judged on what they have done at Ascot since.
“He goes to Newbury in great form and I think he should run a nice race. If it is very holding, sticky ground, he won’t like it. He has gone on soft and heavy ground before and as long as they are getting through it, he won’t mind it all.”
Alan King is bidding for a first Betfair Hurdle triumph with William H Bonney (Wayne Hutchinson, 11st 3lb). The six-year-old carries a 5lb penalty for winning a competitive handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on 28th January.
Champion jockey Richard Johnson has been on the Betfair Hurdle runner-up on three occasions; aboard Rooster Booster (2001 & 2004) and Cheltenian (2015). He teams up with the highly-regarded Wait For Me (Philip Hobbs, 11st 4lb), who was fifth behind William H Bonney at Cheltenham.
Zubayr (Paul Nicholls/Nick Scholfield, 11st 7lb) and Beltor (Robert Stephens/Tom O’Brien, 11st 1lb) were both high-class juvenile hurdlers, having captured the G2 Adonis Hurdle at Kempton Park in 2016 and 2015 respectively.
Veinard (Jack Kennedy, 10st 6lb) goes for Irish handler Gordon Ellliott. The last Irish-trained winner of the Betfair Hurdle was Jessica Harrington’s Spirit Leader in 2003.
The line-up was completed by course scorer Gassin Golf (Kerry Lee/Jamie Moore, 10st 13lb), Ballyhill (Nigel Twiston-Davies/Tom Humphries (7), 11st 2lb), Boite (Warren Greatrex/Mr Tom Greatrex (7), 11st 8lb) and Eddiemaurice (John Flint/Ian Popham, 10st 6lb).