Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival 2018

SAMCRO – The name on everyone’s lips for the 2018 renewal of the Ballymore Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival 2018. The big questions for all punters are:

  • Can he be that much of a banker?
  • What price makes him a play not a lay?
  • Are any of the others capable of raising their game to trouble this Irish charge?

Before I get really stuck into my Ballymore preview JP has asked me to point out that you can access more previews and a whole host of useful stuff with information on tickets, accommodation, night life, race schedule and more here: Cheltenham Festival 2018

No better place to start than to discuss the short price favourite SAMCRO. This horse first burst onto the scene as a highly touted purchase from the point to point scene, as a 4 year old. Making his rules debut as at Punchestown in November 2016, he made nothing more than a satisfactory debut that day and the same could be said for his follow up win at Navan in December. Connections decided against defending his unbeaten record in the Cheltenham Bumper that season and instead opting to allow the horse to physically develop whilst learning his trade. His next run was a smart performance at Fairyhouse, where he won with any amount in hand. Going unbeaten always builds optimism so when he made his hurdles debut at Punchestown, it caught the eye that he was bigger, stronger and quite simply in a league of his own in that field. His victories at Navan and Leopardstown whilst stepping up in grade and company just confirmed that this Gordon Elliott trained horse is something special.

Every single pundit has listed this horse as a banker for the meeting. They may go on to be correct, but horses don’t know their price and it’s important to look for reasons to vindicate that or take him on with value elsewhere.

Possible reasons to take him on?

  • This season he has been campaigned over different distances and its obvious to me that his future lies as a staying chaser, connections don’t seem 100% certain what race will be the most suitable.
  • There are plenty of others who have had very good campaigns from very strong yards, who will offer better value – even for a place!
  • The ground is a big unknown right now, Forecasts are simply unreliable and change daily. Most of SAMCRO’s form this season has been on soft ground, would he act as effective on good, Good to soft ground if it happened to be that?
  • Finally…. it’s Cheltenham, this track is unique, some horses love it, some don’t. As we speak nobody can guarantee what camp SAMCRO falls in.

So, what of the challengers?

ON THE BLIND SIDE of Nicky Henderson is another who has an unbeaten record to protect in this year’s race. So far, he has improved with every run and showed a clear liking for that stiff finish up the Cheltenham hill when getting the better of Momella in the Grade 2 (former Hyde Novices Hurdle) This horse is worthy of his place in this field and as 2nd favourite. The ground will likely be a key factor in his chances, as you would think on breeding that Good ground would be important come the day. As a punter what you can feel confident on this horse is the way he will see his race out, connections must have been tempted to swerve SAMCRO and go to the Albert Bartlett, I think they’ve made a good call in confirming him for this race. If the favourite isn’t what we think he is, this one could pick up the pieces.

BLACK OP is probably the value in the race, A fair bit of money has started to come for this one, the ground could go in his favour, especially after his magnificent run on trials day at Cheltenham. He and the highly regarded SANTINI quickly scooted clear to battle out the finish in horrible ground. A mistake at the last probably cost BLACK OP the race that day as SANTINI showed why he is a serious prospect for this years Albert Bartlett. In behind that day were multiple winners and some very well thought of horses. The distance they put between them, and the 3rdAYE AYE CHARLIE was 29 lengths, which suggests both horses might be worth following. With 3/1 available for this horse to place, you have to weigh up if that’s a better bet than backing the favourite at his current price of 4/6?

NEXT DESTINATION will be the Willie Mullins main hope in this race. He finished 4th in last years Champion Bumper which, at the time looked an above average bumper. However, I’m not as convinced now that it was. Winners have come out of it and plenty take their chance next week in novice races but, when the 2nd and 3rd are getting beat the way they have it leaves me feeling a bit unsure on the level of that form and certainly backing the 4th to be good enough to win the Ballymore. What we have seen of this one over hurdles will indicate that if it was to turn up soft or worse he has the form in the book to be in the mix. Similar to ON THE BLIND SIDE this horse looked a stayer in the making and relished coming off the pace and running right to the line. I wouldn’t put anyone off this horse, especially with Ruby Walsh likely to be back on board, I just feel value lies elsewhere right now.

Of the likely big price runners TIKKANBAR done nothing wrong until getting beaten on Trials Day. He will go on most ground but good to soft would probably see him to best effect. A strong travelling horse who will go from the front or near the pace. He lost his rhythm at Cheltenham last time and the ground was awful. He was looked after and come home in his own time. I expect him to outrun current odds of 50/1.


A great race in prospect. It’s very hard to look past SAMCRO as the winner of this race. He has stacks of class and looks like a future star. He isn’t bulletproof as some might are saying, but, he is a worthy favourite. I would advise to leave backing him until the end of Day 1. I feel he is a good solid play at around (Evens – 11/10) The general 4/6 feels slightly short for any novice Hurdler at the festival. If Day 1 is a bookmaker day, they will take SAMCRO on 100% and we might see patches of Evens available. Therefore, hold that bet for Tuesday evening/Wednesday Morning.

BLACK OP to place at 3/1 or better, is a very solid bet if the ground is Soft or worse. He should give us a run for our money at that price – Generally 14/1 to win the race if you like him.

SAMCRO – To Win (Play at Evens)

BLACK OP – 3/1 to place

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