Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle analysis

I’ve written the official analysis of the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle for the Betfair forum so reproduce it below. There is no recommended bet on this race at this stage although at this stage I’d side with Quel Esprit.
With three key horses having been in action at the weekend and William Hill and Paddy Power opening their books, now a good time to start looking at the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle.
Introduced as the Spa Hurdle in 2005 when the fourth day was added to the Festival, despite it’s short history it’s been won by English, Irish and French trained horses. Originally sponsored by Brit Insurance (until 2008 when it became a Grade 1) the race is open to four year old novice hurdlers and is run over three miles.
Whilst it’s looked upon as the poor relation to the Neptune Investment Novice’s Hurdle (the 2m 5f novice hurdle on the Wednesday) it’s been won by some good horses such as Black Jack Ketchum in 2006 and Wichita Lineman in 2007. Both were trained by Jonjo O’Neill and ridden by Tony McCoy.
Only five races to go on when looking at trends but fancied runners aged six or seven who have finished first or second in a graded race last time out should be on the short list, especially if trained by Jonjo and ridden by AP. As explained later Willie Mullins’ entries also merit respect.
Age: One seven year old, two six year olds and two five year olds have won
Distance: All winners had won over 2m 5f or further
Form: All winners had won or finished 2nd in a graded hurdle last time out
Betting: Favourite has won or placed every year and 9/1 was the biggest SP – Moulin Riche in 2005 and Nenuphar Collonges in 2008.
The main contenders at this stage are the Irish pair Quel Esprit and Shinrock Paddy and Tell Massini, all three of whom won at the weekend and are all five year olds. The problem with assessing the race at this stage is that any or all of these three, and indeed other horses quoted in the market, could run in the Neptune and of course not at the Festival at all.
Quel Esprit won a Grade 3 Novices Hurdle at Cork yesterday for Willie Mullins, who had his best ever Festival last March with three winners. The ground was heavy so very different from what he is likely to get on the 19 March 2010 and his form seems to indicate a preference for soft. However, with only 5 career runs this may be misleading and he jumped very well and quickened up to win very easily. A winner of four, with his only defeat being behind Dunguib in last year’s Champion Bumper and trained by Willie Mullins, he has to be taken seriously. After the race Mullins said: “Quel Esprit is at home over a trip, and we look forward to sending him over fences in the future. He’ll be entered in the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle and Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham.”
Shinrock Paddy won at Navan in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over 2m 4f in the soft beating the favourite and another potential Willie Mullins’ Albert Bartlett contender Rhyl Accord. Willie will therefore have a line on how good the winner is compared with Quel Esprit. Shinrock Paddy was very impressive and like Quel Esprit is four wins from five with his defeat also coming in Festival Bumper. The trainer, Paul Nolan seems keen on going for the Albert Bartlett, “More than likely he’s a stayer and with better ground likely during the spring we’ll probably go three miles with him, so at this stage we’d be looking at the Albert Bartlett.” Surprisingly, he’s not currently in the Betfair market for this race.
Tell Massini maintained his unbeaten record by beating a field full of winners in the 3 mile Grade 2 novices hurdle, sponsored by Albert Bartlett, on the Saturday of the Boylesports meeting when the ground was soft. He kept on strongly up the hill and did it well. He does seem to need soft ground which his trainer, Tom George confirmed: “He has to have soft ground, so we’re not making any plans about the Festival at this stage. If the ground was right he might run, but he’s going to be a chaser next season and everything will be geared to that.”
From a racing history point of view the other horse worth mentioning is Gorge who, if all goes to plan, will be the first Australian runner at the Festival in this race. It will be interesting to follow his progress in the build up but given the low standard of jump racing down under I can’t see him mixing it with the best British and Irish novices here, so I don’t see him as a contender.
In summary, I’d side with Quel Esprit at this stage over Shinrock Paddy given Willie Mullins’ impressive record at the Festival, the fact he had the third in this last year with The Midnight Club and that Quel Esprit is Willie’s horse to follow on his website. Interestingly, his Black Harry wasn’t that far behind Wichita Lineman when toppling over at the last in 2007 and he also ran the well backed Uncle Junior in 2008 so Mullins does appear to train one for this. Quel Esprit is currently available at 6.4 to back in the Betfair market. Following Tom George’s comments on Tell Massini you could only consider him once running plans were confirmed.