Marten’s Perspective: A vintage crop of Novices Hurdlers…..

February 1st, 2013 | Marten's Perspective

When trainers of the calibre of Jonjo O’Neill, Willie Mullins, Nigel Twiston-Davies and the vastly experienced Oliver Sherwood say that they have “one of the most promising horses they have ever trained” then it’s time to sit up and take notice.

Oliver Sherwood, for example, may not have the quality of former years but having trained six Cheltenham Festival winners he knows class when he sees it.

The West Awake is the only horse to have won the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle and the Sun Alliance Novice Chase. He also sent out Rebel Song to win the Sun Alliance Hurdle, Aldino to win the Grand Annual Chase, Young Pokey in the Arkle Chase and Coulton in the Cathcart.

Large Action and Arctic Call also won decent races while, in more recent years, Eric’s Charm served him well over many seasons. There have been others, but Puffin Billy seems to have something special.

Whereas those good horses were old-fashioned galloping types, Puffin Billy is blessed with gears. Like Sprinter Sacre he tends to be keen but also, like that horse, he still has enough in hand at the finish to quicken away and win with something in hand. Unbeaten in four starts, two bumpers and two hurdles, he has a special talent.

The trainer’s latest thinking is to aim him at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle if the ground is soft, with the Neptune more likely if the going is good.

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle market is headed by Jezki, unbeaten in four successive starts over hurdles – twice at Grade 1 level. Jessica Harrington’s son of Milan is not always fluent at his hurdles, but he travels very well through a race and finds plenty at the finish. The trainer believes he will be seen to even greater effect on better ground.

Those close to Willie Mullins believe he has something rather special in the form of Un Atout. I was advised to back him at 16/1 for the Supreme after he won at Navan in December, since when he has beaten Rory O’Moore by 19 lengths at Naas. It is hard to assess him on the strength of that run but the trainer says he has plenty of gears and has no intention of stepping him up in trip at the present time.

My Tent Or Yours is another strong traveller. His defeat of Taquin Du Seuil – about whom more later – at Ascot in November may look pretty useful form by the end of the season. He hated the heavy ground when second next time at Newbury, before returning to winning ways in a novices’ contest at Huntingdon.

Like Puffin Billy he is a very keen horse, so the stronger pace of the Supreme should suit him. The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury is first on the agenda.

Nicky Henderson, trainer of My Tent Or Yours, has another possible candidate for the Festival opener in River Maigue. He put up a very decent effort on his hurdling debut, to chase home Dodging Bullets at Cheltenham, before beating New Year’s Eve by seven lengths at Kempton. He is another who could be suited to better ground.

Dodging Bullets commands respect. The five-year-old has more experience than his rivals, having run nine times on the Flat in Ireland and a further six over hurdles. He ran fourth in last year’s Triumph Hurdle and finished third to top-class proven performer Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. He seems to have improved from a wind operation over the summer.

It is a reflection of the high quality of novice hurdlers we have around that Melodic Rendezvous can be backed at 14/1 for the Supreme. Jeremy Scott is a very underrated handler and with this horse and bumper winner Empiracle he has two ‘live’ challengers for March.

Melodic Rendezvous beat Pendra, recently acquired by JP McManus, and Royal Boy with something in hand at Sandown in what used to be called the Tolworth Hurdle. In a higher profile yard he would be a single-figure price.

The Neptune market is headed by Pont Alexandre, a horse Willie Mullins rates as an exceptional talent. Apparently he works as if he needs five miles at home, which may be why Ruby Walsh has ridden him from the front to win his two races over hurdles. He beat a couple of useful rivals in the form of Sizing Gold and Our Vinnie in a Grade 2 contest at Leopardstown last month.

Nigel Twiston-Davies says The New One is, potentially, one of the most promising horses he has ever trained. His reputation took a bit of a hit when At Fishers Cross outstayed him in a Grade 2 over the extended 2m 4f here in January. The heavy ground would not have suited him that day, while the jockey thinks he would have won if he had hung on for longer. Connections seem unruffled by the defeat.

Jonjo O’Neill has said that Taquin Du Seuil is, “by some way”, the pick of his current bunch of novice hurdlers. A fair handicapper on the Flat in France, he ran well when chasing home My Tent Or Yours at Ascot in November before winning a Grade 2 at Sandown and the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle at Newbury in December.

Rule The World, trained by Mouse Morris, ran away with a Grade 2 contest at Naas in January. He looks a likely sort for the Neptune, while another to consider is last year’s Festival bumper winner Champagne Fever.

At Fishers Cross, Ballycasey, Cloudy Copper and Coneygree are four likely types for the Albert Bartlett while, looking further ahead, early signs suggest we have an equally promising crop of bumper performers.

The aforementioned Empiracle and recent Irish winners Golantilla and Le Vent Dantan look very decent, while Mick Channon thinks he has something special in Sgt Reckless.

From a personal viewpoint I cannot remember a time when there have been so many promising novice hurdlers in training. Judging by the comments of Messrs O’Neill, Sherwood, Mullins and Twiston-Davies, there seem to be a few trainers out there who think they same.

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