Grade One novices’ hurdles
With just under six weeks to go until The Festival gets underway, entries have been revealed for the four Grade One novices’ hurdles over the four days:
- The £120,000 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm, Champion Day, Tuesday, 15th March)
- Rhe £120,000 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm, Ladies Day, Wednesday, 16th March)
- The £120,000 JCB Triumph Hurdle (1.30pm, Gold Cup Day, Friday, 18th March) The £120,000 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50pm, Gold Cup Day, Friday, 18th March).
Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the first race on Champion Day, always gets The Festival off to a flying start. The triumvirate of owner Rich Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh have taken the last three runnings of the extended two-mile contest with Champagne Fever (2013), Vautour (2014) and Douvan (2015).
They are responsible for this year’s hot favourite Min, who is unbeaten in two starts since joining Mullins. The French-bred five-year-old was last seen out when sauntering to a facile nine and a half-length success in the Grade Two Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on 9th January.
Willie Mullins accounts for no less than 18 of the 64 entries for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, with his other possibles including Yorkhill, successful in the Grade One Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park on 2nd January.
Almost half of the entries are trained in Ireland – 31 in total. In addition to Willie Mullins’ battalion, other leading hopes include Tombstone (Gordon Elliott), runner-up to the Mullins-trained Long Dog in a Grade One contest at Leopardstown over Christmas, and Supasundae (Henry de Bromhead), who got the better of 2014 Weatherbys Champion Bumper winner Silver Concorde (Dermot Weld) at the same meeting.
The British challenge for Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle glory is led by Nicky Henderson, who has made five entries including Altior, who won over the course when landing a Sky Bet-sponsored race at The Open in November, and Buveur D’Air, an impressive scorer on both his starts over hurdles.
Michael Shinners, Racing PR Manager at Sky Bet, said: “This year’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be a cracker with Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh and Rich Ricci trying to win the race for an incredible fourth consecutive year.
“The very impressive Min heads the market and the Mullins team also have the unbeaten Yorkhill but, with the home defence led by a strong challenge from Nicky Henderson, it looks set to be another great renewal.”
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle
There are 78 entries for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, with over half (41) trained in Ireland.
Yanworth (Alan King) tops the ante-post lists for the two mile and five furlong contest following a flawless campaign that has yielded four victories, two of which have come at Grade Two level. The JP McManus-owned six-year-old’s most recent success came easily in the Grade Two Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham on Festival Trials Day, 30th January.
Willie Mullins is again very well represented with 22 entries. Bellshill appears to be the main hope for Ireland’s champion Jump trainer following three wins from three starts over hurdles, the latest of which was in a Grade One event over two and a half miles at Naas on 3rd January.
Lambourn trainer Warren Greatrex broke his duck at The Festival last year with Cole Harden in the World Hurdle. He appears to have another smart performer on his hands with Ma Du Fou.
Ma Du Fou started his career when easily winning a bumper at Wetherby in April, 2014. He debuted over hurdles last season but failed to win in two attempts. However, he has left that form well behind this year with facile successes at Ffos Las in November and Bangor the following month.
Greatrex said: “I’ve always thought a lot of Ma Du Fou; he’s won his two races nicely this year.
“A lot will depend on his next run. He could go for the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon (11th February) and there is also a Listed novices’ hurdle at Exeter (14th February) to consider. Hopefully, he can make one of them and if he runs well then he’s still in the reckoning for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.
“He’s always one I’ve liked but mentally wasn’t right last year and he has just taken a bit of time to come to himself. Last year he wasn’t right, just health-wise he wasn’t there. He ran OK twice but I thought he was far better than that and this season he’s won two fairly easy races very easily. Though a lot will depend on what he does next, he is a nice horse.”
JCB Triumph Hurdle
Aidan O’Brien, best known at The Festival for his handling of three-time Champion Hurdle victor Istabraq, has the warm favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle with Ivanovich Gorbatov. Owned like Istabraq by JP McManus, the son of Montjeu won twice on the Flat before making an eye-catching hurdling debut at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting under the supervision Joseph O’Brien.
There are 54 entries for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, which takes place over two miles and nearly a furlong, including 11 from Ireland, 12 from Paul Nicholls and five from race’s most successful trainer, Nicky Henderson, who had the first three last year from three runners.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Barters Hill (Ben Pauling) is undefeated in all seven career starts and he is the firm favourite for the three-mile Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. The six-year-old was a Grade Two winner at Aintree last season and has stepped up this campaign with his three victories over hurdles headlined by the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury.
There are 73 entries for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, of whom 32 are trained in Ireland.