Entries have been revealed for the three G1 championship novices’ hurdles at The Festival™ presented by Magners.
These are: the £125,000 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m, Champion Day, Tuesday 12th March), the £125,000 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f, Ladies Day, Wednesday 13th March), and the £125,000 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (3m, Gold Cup Day, Friday 15th March), plus the £125,000 G1 JCB Triumph Hurdle (2m 1f, Gold Cup Day, Friday 15th March) for four-year-olds.
There are a total of 403 entries across the four races, including a record 225 from Ireland.
Britain’s champion Jump trainer Nicky Henderson holds a strong hand in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (98 entries), with Sky Bet’s ante-post favourite Angels Breath and Mister Fisher among his four entries.
Irish point-to-point graduate Angels Breath captured the G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle on his Rules’ debut at Ascot in December, while Mister Fisher landed a corresponding contest at Haydock Park on 19th January. Angels Breath is entered for the Sky Bet Supreme Scottish Trial Novices’ Hurdle at Musselburgh on Sunday 3rd February.
Henderson’s quartet also includes Champagne Platinum, who impressed in taking minor contests at Newcastle and Newbury in December, as the trainer chases his fourth Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victory.
Angels Breath’s part-owner Dai Walters has another leading contender in Al Dancer (Nigel Twiston-Davies), who made it three from three over hurdles with an impressive handicap success at The International at Cheltenham in December. Al Dancer is the hot favourite for next month’s Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury, which has been a key trial for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in recent years.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies reported: “Al Dancer has been in good form since Cheltenham and the plan is to run next in the Betfair Hurdle as it is a nice race to win.
“The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the long-term aim and the Betfair Hurdle will tell us more.”
A strong British challenge is bolstered further by G1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle victor Elixir De Nutz (Colin Tizzard), successful over the course and distance in the G2 Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle at The November Meeting.
Ireland’s champion trainer Willie Mullins has been the handler to follow in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, with three of his five victories in the G1 race coming in the last six years.
Mullins accounts for 23 of the 57 Irish-trained entries, with his string led by Aramon, a 10-length winner in G1 company at Leopardstown over Christmas, and promising maiden hurdle victor Klassical Dream.
Ante-post favourite Champ (Nicky Henderson) is among 139 entries, including 77 Irish-trained, for the G1 Ballymore Novices Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles.
Champ propelled himself to the head of the betting with a commanding victory in the G1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury on 29th December – with Getaway Trump (Paul Nicholls) and Brewin’Upastorm (Olly Murphy) in behind.
Henderson’s nine-strong team for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle also includes unbeaten Festival Trials Day scorer Birchdale, who like Champ is owned by JP McManus, and impressive Wetherby scorer Clarendon Street.
Beakstown (Dan Skelton) marked himself down as a contender when taking the G2 Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick on 12th January.
Samcro provided trainer Gordon Elliott with his first Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle success in 2018. Elliott has 12 entries in total, headed by Naas G1 victor Battleoverdoyen and Vision d’Honneur, who looked the part when winning a maiden hurdle at Punchestown earlier this month.
Willie Mullins, who has lifted the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle on four occasions, has a remarkable 33 entries. They include top-class bumper performers Relegate and Tornado Flyer, plus improving Naas G2 scorer Easy Game.
The Irish-trained contingent also includes exciting mare Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead), who has won all three of her starts impressively this term.>
2018 G1 Weatherbys Champion Bumper runner-up Carefully Selected (Willie Mullins), who has yet to race over hurdles, is among 107 entries for the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles.
The 58 Irish-trained entries also feature Derrinross (Philip Dempsey), who had Sams Profile (Mouse Morris IRE) in behind when winning a G3 contest at Cork and subsequently followed up in a G2 contest at Limerick over Christmas. Maiden hurdle victors Commander of Fleet (Gordon Elliott) and The Big Dog (Peter Fahey) are also entered.
British-trained hopes include Lisnagar Oscar (Rebecca Curtis) and highly-regarded point recruit Dickie Diver (Nicky Henderson), who were separated by a head in a novices’ hurdle at Chepstow on 18th January.
Ask Ben (Graeme McPherson) produced a 50/1 shock when overhauling subsequent G2 scorer Beakstown in the French Furze Novices’ Hurdle at Newcastle in December, but proved that was no fluke next time out when registering a 19-length success over three miles at Ayr on 20th January.
Trainer Graeme McPherson, who is based just outside Stow-on-the-Wold in Gloucestershire, said: “Ask Ben is in very good form and we were delighted with his performance at Ayr.
“His next start will hopefully be in the G2 Albert Bartlett trial next month at Haydock [Saturday, 16th February]. That meeting can have quite soft ground. He acts on that ground, but I don’t think he necessarily needs it.
“That race is four weeks before the Albert Bartlett at The Festival. So if everything goes to plan, it will be Haydock in the middle of February and Cheltenham in March.
“He is an extremely exciting prospect and to have a horse around like him at this time of the year is hugely exciting for me and all of the team.
“Ask Ben won at a big price for us first time out at Newcastle in December and has kept on improving. After Ayr, people have taken him seriously and the form of his Newcastle win has also taken a boost.
“To have people talking about him as a potential Cheltenham Festival contender is fantastic and hopefully all goes to plan between now and then.”
The highlight for four-year-olds at The Festival™ presented by Magners is the JCB Triumph Hurdle over two miles and a furlong, for which there are 59 entries, of which 33 are trained in Ireland.
Irish trainer Joseph O’Brien has a very strong hand thanks to high-class Flat recruit Sir Erec, who defeated Tiger Tap Tap (Willie Mullins) on his hurdling debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, and impressive Festival Trials Day victor Fakir D’Oudairies.
Elliott captured the JCB Triumph Hurdle in 2018 with Farclas. The Co Meath handler’s six contenders include Chief Justice and Coeur Sublime, who finished first and second in a G3 contest at Fairyhouse in December.
The leading British-trained hope is Quel Destin (Paul Nicholls), who followed up G2 triumphs at Cheltenham and Doncaster with a hard-fought victory in the G1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on 27th December.
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