The Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle is an opportunity to see the next great crop of horses attempt to make their mark at Cheltenham Festival.
The majority of competitors will be making their bow at Cheltenham, with only a handful of races under their belts over hurdles.
Owners and trainers will be desperate for their charges to make an immediate impact in battles that could define jumps racing for the next three to four seasons.
Willie Mullins has been the most successful trainer in the history of the event, notching four victories with Ruby Walsh in the saddle.
Klassical Dream could be his best hope for the event, although he may also deploy his charge in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which could cause him a few headaches on declaration day.
We’ll now break down the leading contenders for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival.
Nicky Henderson’s charge has been installed as the favourite for the event and has the form to back up the claim. He has reeled off four wins on the bounce since the end of the last campaign, firing on all cylinders ahead of his first appearance at Cheltenham Festival. Champ notched the first of his victories at the end of last season at the Grampian Hotel Maiden Hurdle at Perth. Henderson’s charge delivered a dominant performance to win by 10 lengths after being named the race favourite. He was able to match his standard of display with another fine run at Warwick in a Novices’ Hurdle again finishing comfortably ahead of his nearest rival.
Champ made a statement with a brilliant outing in the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle. He faced a talented field, but was not daunted the increased level of intensity at Newbury Racecourse. Aidan Coleman had his charge in rhythm and was able to make a steady surge to the front of the pack before closing out the win by four-and-a-half lengths ahead of Le Musee. The Irish-bred horse put forward another sublime performance in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle, notching his fourth victory on the bounce. Getaway Trump applied pressure down the stretch, but Henderson’s charge had the ability to see out the win. Champ definitely has the quality to notch the win at Cheltenham.
Gordon Elliott’s charge is one of the horses that is hard to predict entering the Cheltenham Festival race, although he has known nothing other than victory during his career. The bay gelding has competed three times in the National Hunt, but only twice over hurdles. He began his career in a two-mile flat race at Punchestown and his potential was known as he was named the favourite for the event. He duly delivered a polished performance, displaying his speed by finishing six-and-a-half lengths ahead of his nearest rival. Battleoverdoyen next appeared at Navan in his Maiden Hurdle event and with Jack Kennedy in the saddle, he enhanced his reputation with a dominant outing.
The Irish-bred horse was fluent through the race and was able to up the ante down the stretch to canter over the line. Elliott’s charge faced a competitive field in his next outing at the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle. Battleoverdoyen was not in complete control of the race as he lingered in the middle of the pack before making a move. His surge was almost disrupted by a mistake at the final hurdle, but he was able to regain his stride to claim the win. The six-year-old is raw, but has the potential to defeat Champ.
Mullins will be weighing up his options for his charge, although the French-bred horse is not the favourite in either race. He faces stiff competition in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, while Champ and Battleoverdoyen are well placed to box him out for the win in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Klassical Dream recorded only one win in his time in France before he was switched into the hands of Mullins from Mlle I Gallorini’s yard. He made his bow under the charge of Mullins at the end of December in a Maiden Hurdle event at Leopardstown. The French-bred horse was a slight outsider for the victory behind Vision D’Honneur, but he proved a point with a fine performance with Paul Townend in the saddle.
He took charge of the race two hurdles out before displaying enough speed to finish ahead of Entoucas by one-and-three-quarter lengths. Klassical Dream laid down his credentials for Cheltenham Festival with the best performance of his career. He was installed as the favourite for the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle. It was not a clean ride from Ruby Walsh in the saddle, but when it mattered the most the horse had the speed to charge down the straight to beat out his stable-mate Aramon by a head.
Martin Brassil will not have many better opportunities to record a victory at Cheltenham Festival than with his charge in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. The six-year-old has been in prime form over the last year, winning four races on the bounce to enter the event with momentum. His run started at the end of the last campaign in the Punchestown Event Centre Flat Race, notching the first victory of his career with a solid performance to edge out Valdieu by one-and-a-half lengths. City Island was an outsider at 10/1 for his Maiden Hurdle at Galway.
However, Mark Walsh in the saddle was able to get a fine display out the bay gelding to record a comfortable victory ahead of Getareason. He sustained his momentum on Boxing Day, delivering on expectations with another clean run to victory in the Thorntons Recycling Maiden Hurdle. At Naas last time out, City Island was flawless to complete another comfortable triumph – finishing six lengths in front of his nearest challenger. He is certainly one to watch at Cheltenham.
Champ and Battleoverdoyen are the two horses to watch until Mullins decides what he is going to with Klassical Dream. City Island has performed well, but the standard of competition could be too much for him to handle on this occasion.
Champ has solid wins under his belt, particularly at the Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle. However, the raw potential of Battleoverdoyen is exciting and he has excellent value for the meet. Back him to produce a fine performance and upset Henderson’s charge at odds of +400 with 888Sport.
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