The Albert Bartlett market is headed by Thyme Hill, whose form so far this season probably gives him the strongest claim be the leading novice hurdler in Britain at this stage of the season.
Third in last year’s Champion Bumper, the son of Kayf Tara already has three graded novice hurdles to his name this season. He kicked off the campaign when beating runaway Tolworth Hurdle winner Fiddlerontheroof in the Persian War and backed that up when beating the more experienced Champagne Well, himself a Grade 2 winner this season, in the Hyde at the November meeting.
He probably didn’t have to be at his best to take the Challow last time out, but got the job done tidily from wide margin Newbury handicap scorer The Cashel Man.
Trainer Philip Hobbs said after that victory that Thyme Hill’s choice of race at the Festival would be ground dependent, with the Ballymore, a race in which he’s also prominent in the betting, being considered as a potentially sufficient test of stamina if the surface were to prove on the heavier side.
Though all of those victories have come over distances closer to the trip he’d encounter in the Ballymore, the way he’s shaped suggest he’d be equally as adept over three miles, though as no concrete target has been set by connections yet, if you fancy Thyme Hill as the Albert Bartlett winner, waiting for the non-runner no-bet concession looks the most sensible option, though the Ballymore looking the likeliest destination for Gordon Elliott’s potential superstar Envoi Allen may help the Hobbs team make up their mind.
The manner in which The Big Breakaway has won both of his hurdles starts has arguably been more impressive than the style of Thyme Hill, and he also rates as one of Britain’s top novices at this stage.
The winner of point-to-point at Quakerstown back in April, The Big Breakaway made his rules debut for the Tizzards at Chepstow and demolished the 128 rated Blackjack Kentucky by eight lengths without ever having to be asked a question by Robbie Power.
He backed that up with a similarly bloodless performance from Jonjo O’Neill’s expensive Papa Tango Charly at Newbury. It’s impossible to quantify where the ceiling of The Big Breakaway’s ability lies, but he’s already looked in a different league to two horses we already know are fairly decent, and the way he’s galloped to the line on both occasions suggests he’s undoubtedly a future three miler.
However, both his wins have come over two and a half, and looked to have enough natural zip to prove a force over the shorter distance in better company, so a tough call will have to be made by connections in weighing whether this or the Ballymore is the more suitable target.
Fury Road won’t go off for this race at 1/25, the price he came in at when winning Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan in November, but remains unbeaten over hurdles and is the shortest priced of the Irish contingent in the betting at this stage.
He tanked through the race when adding a third success to his tally in the Grade 2 Land Rover Novice Hurdle at Limerick over Christmas, only having to come off the bridle after an untidy leap at the last, and though the first four home finished relatively well grouped, the impression remained that Fury Road had a little bit more in hand than the bare form shows.
Crucially when analysing this race from an antepost perspective, Fury Road looks almost guaranteed to line up in this event at the Festival, given that he’s already won over 2m6f and 2m7f this season, of course, the nearby presence of Ballymore favourite Envoi Allen at Cullentra House will surely make it a simple decision for Gordon Elliott to continue campaigning Fury Road over staying distances.
Fury Road is the only one of the first five in the market for this that doesn’t occupy a similar position in the betting for the Ballymore, which surely makes him a more comfortable betting proposition for this race at this stage- it’s entirely feasible that Fury Road wouldn’t need to show any improvement in form line up as favourite for this race, only for those around him in betting to defect in favour of the Ballymore.
Latest Exhibition took the costly scalp of Andy Dufresne at Navan last time out. Outspeeded by Supreme favourite Abacadabras over two miles earlier in the season, Latest Exhibition showed he was better suited by the step up in trip two and a half in winning the Grade 2, even giving the impression that another step up would further enhance his capabilities.
Paul Nolan’s gelding doesn’t look the sort to be knocked about, which would would stand him in good stead, but I think he might actually have a deceptively decent amount of speed for one who looks like a thorough stayer, and I’d be intrigued to see whether his team decide three miles is his trip at this stage, or to continue over the intermediate distance.
Contrary to what has often been the case in recent seasons, the powerful combination of Willie Mullins & Rich Ricci don’t appear to possess a novice with“hype” surrounding them this year, but they clearly have an above average young hurdler in Monkfish.
Runner up to another potential Albert Bartlett player in Longhouse Poet in a bumper at Punchestown, Monkfish opened his account over obstacles in December, clearly appreciating every inch of the 2m7f trip.
That was only in a run of the mill maiden hurdle, but Monkfish always looked to have the race entirely at his mercy, and, given the abilities of those surrounding this six-year-old, it would be no surprise if Monkfish also proved a force to be reckoned with in better company.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Mossy Fen battled his way to Grade 2 success at Warwick earlier this month
That wasn’t the deepest race for the level, but Mossy Fen showed a likeable attitude and is probably the sort of slogger that won’t be unfazed by the attritional contest the Albert Bartlett can often become.