Is there any value in the ante-post for the novice hurdles?

The Ballymore Novices has 98 entries, 49 of them from Ireland. That’s 49 horses this side of the channel that trainers think they can win a Festival Grade 1 but wait 21 are from Willie Mullins and 18 are from Gordon Elliott.

With Mullins holding the ace cards, it’s then where do you place Facile Vega, Champ Kiely, Gaelic Warrior, Impaire Et Passe, Inthepocket, Hunters Yarn, Grangeclare West and Quais De Pairs.

So many wide margin maiden winners – the Dublin Racing Festival, when horses actually meet and form lines can be fitted, should clear the air on the home scene.

The Supreme is dominated by Facile Vega since he passed the post first in the Champion Bumper last season.

A big reputation was created by his trainer before he ran he ended the season a Festival winner and of the three main bumpers at the three big Festivals across Ireland and Britain.

The 2022 Champion Bumper was by no means a good race, the British challenge was poor. Champion Bumper winners have a mixed record going into the following year’s novices.

Even good winners like Cousin Vinny, Dunguib, Cue Card were beaten favourites in their novices.

Montelado, Champagne Fever, Envoi Allen, Sir Gerhard went back to win but interestingly over the longer distance.

Best horse

Some of us are very happy with a 25/1 Marine Nationale taken after Barry Connell said he was the best horse he had trained after he win his maiden. Needing good ground is a slight concern this winter. Connell also has Leopardstown two and a half mile winner Good Land at best 14s for the Ballymore.

Willie Mullins had won five of the last 10 renewals, Nicky Henderson three in that period with seven runners in the first three.

Labaik at 25/1 and Summerville Boy at 9s were the two outliers in that period. Willie Mullins had a beaten joint favourite and favourite (Melon and Getabird) in those years too. And his Min was favourite over Altior in 2016.

High Definition is the intriguing runner. One time Derby favourite, he did plenty right on his hurdling debut and if sharped up and making it a good test from the front, it will be very interesting how Facile Vega copes with him at Leopardstown. Better ground could favour the O’Brien horse and I still think Facile’s action is a slight concern if it was a fast pace on the Cheltenham course on decent ground.

It’s 20/1 v 10/11 for the Supreme and I’d be letting Facile go at those odds.

Strong team

Gordon Elliott has a strong team in numbers by normal standards, but most of them look more like stayers.

Second placed in the Bumper last year, American Mike has stepped up in trip this year. The 25s best for the Ballymore if he is over the ailment he had at Navan in November.

The Albert Barlett is possible easier to work with as the longer distance race has horses being targeted at it. Three Card Brag looked a leading contender this week while Hiddenvalley Lake, Sandor Clegane and Corbetts Cross add a welcome few new trainers into the mix among the Mullins contenders.

Horse like Deeply Superficial could come into the Albert Bartlett at big odds but it’s a bit of a minefield. Recent winners, Minella Indo (50/1), Vanillier (14/1) and The Nice Guy (18/1) wouldn’t make you plunge in at this stage.

Of the British, Grey Dawning has claims for the Skletons.

Could we have a totally Closutton Triumph Hurdle? We only had eight runners in 2021, Willie certainly could have four runners. Lossiemouth and Blood Destiny have been hugely impressive and Gala Marceau and Gust Of Wind, both winners in France and entered in the Grade 1 at the DRF could all yet come into the mix. Gust Of Wind is currently 25s but could he be a one run Boodles plot like Gaelic Warrior?


The British challenge sits around Paul Nicholls who landed the two Grade 1 in January – the Challow at Newbury and the Tolworth at Sandown. Both had Irish-trained runners but any chance to get some form lines went out the window when Newbury became saturated and unsuitable for Paul Nolan’s Joyeux Machin while Henry de Bromhead’s Arctic Bresil flopped in Sandown.

Opinion was tough, that it was a better Challow than usual but the conditions made it a much more of an extreme test and he was still able to completely dominate. However, leader to three out Vicki Vale was beaten at odds-on in at Ffos Las on Monday.

Tahmuras took the Tolworth but from 16, 18 and 20/1 shots as his main rivals disappointed. Authorised Speed was 11 lengths behind Facile Vega in last year’s Champion Bumper but jumped poorly here and also made mistakes on his hurdling debut.

Charlie Longsdon’s Rare Edition also got a ‘best we’ve had’ tag after winning at Kempton at Christmas when he impressed on the clock. He is difficult to fit into the equation but unbeaten in his three races this season.

The one who could be value and overpriced with a run is Nicky Henderson’s Luccia. She was favourite for the Tolworth before missing it with a dirty scope. Hopefully she would not take the easy Mares’ Novice option.

In the Triumph, remember there is still plenty of time for a new player to appear a la Pentland Hills or Burning Victory into February.

Paul Nicholls’ Afadil cost €255,000 at Arqana and won on his British debut by two lengths at Taunton without being asked any questions. He certainly didn’t look the finish article that the two Mullins market leaders have looked but there is a bit of 25s available and today’s Cheltenham opener should clarify the current pecking order in Britain with the Moore’s Jupiter Du Gite needing to build on his impressive debut.

The Nicholls stable’s Dixon Cove gave Comfort Zone a fright at Chepstow over the new year and Nicholls also trains French import Irandando Has who has yet to appear.