2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips
The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is run over three miles, and was added to the Festival line up in 2005. It already has an illustrious alumni with RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth, the probable pick of the pile. Known affectionately as 'the potato race' (Albert Bartlett supply over 20% of the UK's spuds), it is a race for thorough stayers.
2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Trends
As with all of the newer races, data are limited so trends should not be used as alpha and omega. However, there are some strong patterns emerging.
Age: All bar the first winner - a precocious French-trained, bred and raced five year old - were aged six or seven. However, there is a fairly even spread of placed horses from five to eight, so it may be dangerous to infer too much into the win stats.
Last time out: Eight of the nine Albert Bartlett winners were first or second on their final outing before lining up at Cheltenham, with only 33/1 Berties Dream's cap not fitting. He was fourth in a Grade 2.
Curiously, all nine winners had run in a Grade 2 event last time, despite only 51 of the 162 (31%) runners matching that profile.
Experience: Berties Dream had already had an incredible fourteen hurdle races before carving his name into the trophy. That compares with seven of the nine winners who had either three or four hurdle starts in their career to that point.
All had won at least one hurdle race, with six of the nine winners (67%) having won three or four races from just 35 qualifiers (22% of the runners).
All had won a Graded race, except Listed winner Moulin Riche, and seven of the nine had won a Grade 2 race or better.
Days since a run: Only the unbeaten even money favourite, Black Jack Ketchum, has been able to defy an absence of longer than 60-ish days (Nenuphar Collonges was off for 61 days when winning). None of the 29 horses to be racing within 25 days of its last start has even placed.
Horses to map best to this type of profile are Deputy Dan, Urban Hymn, Blakemount, Sure Reef, Apache Jack, and Masters Hill.
2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Preview
As with most of the other novice events at the Festival, we are looking for a potential winner of the race to surpass anything it has shown previously. It is perhaps for that reason that there has only been one previous Grade 1 winner to claim the prize, whereas horses with Grade 2 winning form have often leapfrogged to the ascendancy.
The favourite for this is yet another Willie Mullins animal, last year's Champion Bumper winner, Briar Hill. He's now unbeaten in five rules starts - two bumpers and three hurdles - and, but for a slightly longer than ideal absence, would be a perfect profile fit.
That the absence of 68 days is almost exactly the same as he'd been off before ambling home in the Champion Bumper suggests it is of little consequence, and this fellow will likely be tough to beat. He's won his last two despite the small fields, not because of them, and the quicker they go, I feel the better he will perform.
He was held up in the bumper here last year and joined the leaders turning in as though he'd only just started. He'd put seven lengths between himself and Regal Encore by the finishing line.
Briar Hill reminds me of a sort of equine Yaya Toure, looking a bit cumbersome and laboured until asked to do something, and then responding with speed and acuity. 9/4 is an unexciting price, but he is surely the most likely winner.
Next best according to the prices is David Pipe's Kings Palace. He's unbeaten in his last three hurdles runs, the last two of which were at Cheltenham, and the last one of which was in a Grade 2. Although he did it nicely there, it looked a fairly shallow race, and he had fourteen lengths to spare over Masters Hill.
3/1 comfortably factors in his level of form, and I'd be uncertain how he'll respond in a much stronger contest, likely to be run at a much truer gallop. The issue with Kings Palace is that he's yet to actually run in a fast-run race. It's possible of course that he could be even better in such circumstances, but 3/1 allows little scope to be wrong on that score; especially as he's been off the track for 90 days.
So it is that Captain Cutter, a nag I've backed non-runner money back for the Neptune, may line up here. He is the third market choice currently, at around 8/1, and is one of a number also entered in the shorter Neptune Novices' Hurdle, run on Wednesday. For most of them, the situation is that if it's soft ground, they'll go Neptune, while drying ground leads to 'the potato race'.
Absent since Christmas, Captain Cutter was last seen winning the Grade 1 Challow Novices' Hurdle over the Neptune distance but in heavy ground. That implied a reserve of stamina necessary to get competitive in the Albert Bartlett, and he's a progressive type.
Incidentally, though I wouldn't read too much into it, he did beat Kings Palace in a bumper on his debut last season.
That 76 day hiatus may be sub-optimal but the trainer is making quite positive noises and, if he lines up here, I think he may again finish in front of Kings Palace. Whether that will be good enough is another question, but 8/1 looks a robust each way play, if you're happy he'll be match fit after a break.
Faugheen may still turn up here but is more likely to run in the Neptune, and is ignored for the purposes of this preview. Likewise, Red Sherlock.
Champagne West and Deputy Dan are a pair of 16/1 chances for this who locked horns in an above average maiden hurdle at Warwick in early December. In a great tussle - the pair well clear of the rest - Champagne West just got the better of Deputy Dan to trigger a hat-trick of hurdling wins, none of them above Class 2.
It might well be that, of the two, Deputy Dan has improved more, and he's another I like for whichever engagement he assumes. Given the likely drying ground, he may well show up in this three-miler, and he looks a thorough stayer with a great hurdling technique.
He had nine lengths to spare over Masters Hill, with subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner, Splash Of Ginge, back in third that day. Rathvinden also ran in the race, but fell when coming under pressure after a third consecutive hurdling error down the back.
Deputy Dan looks a fair each way bet.
Flat-bred Sure Reef is another of the Mullins battalion and I understand he's more likely to go the handicap route (County Hurdle over two miles, curiously).
Urban Hymn and Blakemount are both 20/1 chances, and were separated by the proverbial cigarette paper at Donny last time, the former just getting the verdict. That was a slow-mo finish, and it's unlikely that either is quite quick enough - even over three gruelling miles of the Cheltenham oval - to bid for gold.
Apache Jack, second to Briar Hill last time, may be best of the rest, but should not be good enough.
2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Tips
Briar Hill demands huge respect, and he is the most likely winner. He could be really short as well if the Mullins horses are firing, and the current 9/4 might look value come race time. Still, he's worth opposing each way at least, and those that appeal most are Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan.
I've backed both horses for both this and the Neptune, non-runner money back, as I think they're progressive types and perhaps a bit under-estimated by the market. They should at least give us a good run for our money.
Whilst Kings Palace is a dual Cheltenham winner, he hasn't really beaten much of merit and I'm against him, though he may make me eat my words.
Most likely Albert Bartlett winner:
Briar Hill 9/4 bet365 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Best Albert Bartlett each way alternatives:
Captain Cutter 8/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Deputy Dan 14/1 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)