Cheltenham Festival 2015 – ALBERT BARTLETT PREVIEW

One of the most stamina sapping races of the festival is the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. Run over 3 miles on the new course on Gold Cup day, the phrase often used to describe the race is a ‘war of attrition’. The race has been won in recent years by future chasing superstars. Weapons Amnesty won the race in 2009 and went on to land the RSA Chase the following year. Bobs Worth won this race in 2011, before going on to transition in to a chasing superstar by winning the RSA Chase in 2012 and then the big prize, the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2013. Will there be a future chasing superstar in the field this season, or perhaps a future staying hurdler champion? Let’s take a look at some of this year’s leading contenders. Blaklion With three impressive victories to his season so far at Perth, Cheltenham and Chepstow, the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained 6 year-old has clearly got leading claims for the race this year. Two of his defeats this season have been to the John Ferguson trained Parlour Games, who is joint favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle. Both of those runs were contested over 2m5f, a trip that may not be far enough to bring out the best in Blaklion. His only run over 3m this year was the extended trip at Doncaster where he started an even money favourite. He ran a very tidy race before going down narrowly, by just a head to Carraci Apache who also holds a big chance come March. With good course form at Cheltenham, and a step up in trip, it could bring out the best in the horse. My only concern would be, is he has been on the go for a long while now, travelling high and low around various racecourses in the UK, and completing a total of 6 races. He can be backed at a general 14/1. Black Hercules Many punters will remember the recent connections of Willie Mullins and owners Graham and Andrea Wylie having two ‘so called ‘festival bankers in recent years in the shape of Boston Bob and Briar Hill in this race. Needless to say both of them ended up getting beat at very short prices. This year the same connections have the favourite again in one of last season’s leading bumper performers Black Hercules. The 6 year-old started off by winning his hurdling debut in November over 2m at Cork at long odds on, and followed up in early December by winning again at Cork, this time over 3m. This could be the horse to break the Mullins hoodoo on this race. He looks assured to stay the trip, jumps soundly and a bit of better ground will not harm his chances either. He seems a horse who likes to bowl along in front, and with retained jockey Ruby Walsh demonstrating some winning similar tactics in recent festivals on Champagne Fever and Vautour, punters will be keen to take a strong hold of this lad one feels. Black Hercules is currently 5/1 favourite for the race. No More Heroes When it comes to having winners at the festival, Gigginstown House Stud are no strangers to this. They own the highly progressive 6 year-old, No More Heroes, trained by Gordon Elliot, who himself is a regular winner at the March showpiece. Starting off at Punchestown in November very long odds on favourite, he won easily by 8 and half lengths over 2m6f and rocketed to the top of the ante post market. Next up was a date at Navan against Neptune ante post favourite, Shaneshill. No More Heroes was set off 3/1 for the race run over 2m4f. Showing off a good jumping technique, and an impressive engine, he had enough turn of foot to beat off his main rival by a length and three quarters. His last run at Leopardstown on 25th January, he started 11/8f. He did not go a yard in the race and jumped very much like a novice, almost a bit green. The race was won by Outlander, the Gigginstown second string in the race. I can put a line through that race for sure, as it turns out he scoped badly after the race. His connections have maintained their faith in the horse and he still looks set to line up in the Albert Bartlett in March. The 3m trip looks set to play to his strengths, a true stayer in the making and future chaser, he is my idea of a proper Albert Bartlett horse. No More Heroes can be backed at 10/1 for the race. Fletchers Flyer / Vyta Du Roc One of the strongest lines of form from the season has emerged from the first race of the season contested by the Harry Fry trained gelding Fletchers Flyer. Running over 2m4f at Sandown in October, the 7 year-old would finish a length 3rd behind winner Shantou Bob and Padge, who has subsequently gone on to frank for the form since, by winning at Taunton. Vyta Du Roc who also holds a prominent position in the ante post market for the Albert Bartlett went on to beat Shantou Bob by a nose at Sandown in December. Vyta Du Roc has won two Grade Two events this year, losing his unbeaten UK record in the Grade One Challow Hurdle by only a quarter of a length to Parlour Games. Fletchers Flyer has gone on to compliment the form and performances of all around him by winning his latest two starts, both over 2m6f at Ascot and Wincaton respectively. Both of these horses look rapid improvers, and could be set to do battle in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle on Gold Cup Day. I would hand the slight edge to Vyta Du Roc, as he has course form, by winning at Cheltenham this season, and also having good performances to his name in top graded company. Race Verdict The race has been known to throw up a few big priced winners in recent years, with the likes of Berties Dream in 2010 winning at 40/1 and Very Wood last year winning at 66/1.This year I think the main protagonists at the top of the market will take some beating as the form looks very solid. I will be keen to keep an eye on how Parlour Games runs and performs in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle on the Wednesday, as he holds some good forms lines against many of the market leaders for the Albert Bartlett. The horse who remains unexposed to the most extent is the market leader Black Hercules, who has ran in a couple of races only and lacks experience in open graded company. I would be willing to take him on. The one horse who for me shows signs of improving and coming on the most for the trip is No More Heroes. Putting a line through his last run after scoping badly, I would be willing to give him another chance. No More Heroes – 2 pts win @10/1 Tea For Two – 1pt e/w @ 16/1 Written by Scott Ruderham