With prize money of £155,000, the Betfair Hurdle is the most valuable handicap hurdle in the UK.
Nicky Henderson has won more than any other trainer, though My Tent Or Yours was his only winner in the last 10 renewals. Having lost his major hope, Consul De Thaix to injury, his hopes now rest with top-weight Hargam. Though classy he’s struggled this winter in handicaps, and it’s hard to see that changing tomorrow.
Younger horses have an outstanding record, with five and six-year-olds dominant. The Nick Williams trained Agrapart, ridden by Lizzie Kelly, took the event 12 months ago, taking the number of winning five-year-olds to half a dozen in the last 10 years.
Paul Nicholls has the only five-year-old in the field. Zubayr was a classy juvenile, and ran well in a handicap at Sandown in December. The handicapper has given him a chance by dropping the gelding 3lbs, and he’s likely to go well again, though I’d be surprised if he was quite good enough to win.
Those having a punt would usually be wise to avoid horses at the top end of the weights, with only three of the last 10 carting more than 11 stone to victory. The aforementioned My Tent Or Yours was one of those, when carrying 11-02 in 2013 and the year before Zarkandar won with 11-01 on his back. The handicap is a little more compressed this year, and ignoring those at the top end may prove unwise.
It often helps to have handicap experience to win these type of races, but that’s no longer the case with the Betfair Hurdle. Of the last seven renewals, five have gone to novices. So, which of the 16 declared for tomorrow’s main event, have an appealing profile?
Clyne is at the peak of his powers and will appreciate the testing conditions. The New One was all-out to beat him last time at Haydock, and he hammered Verni a couple of runs back, with that form taking a boost at Taunton in the week. He’s a gutsy sort, and though he’s having to lump 11-9, I’m struggling to discount him. He’s also the wrong age and has far too much experience to win on recent trends. But my gut tells me he’ll go close.
Wait For Me is a horse I like, though he’s yet to achieve what appeared likely when he finished third in the Champion Bumper of 2015. He’s closely matched with William H Bonney on their Cheltenham run last time, but is twice the price at 16s. He likes Newbury, and he’ll enjoy the testing conditions. He’s another ‘trends buster’ at seven, but despite his age I fancy he’ll run a huge race.
Movewiththetimes and Ballyandy also appear closely matched, on the evidence of their run behind Moon Racer at Cheltenham in November. I’m convinced that both need further, but the ground will help. They both fit the profile, and are likely to be fighting for favouritism on Saturday. Of the two, I’d come out in favour of Ballyandy, especially in the conditions. He looks a tough sort, but has a touch of class.
Yet another I find myself drawn to, that has completely the wrong profile, is eight-year-old Gassin Golf. He likes Newbury, and ran a cracker at the track in November. That was in a two-and-a-half-mile handicap, which clearly stretched his stamina. This minimum trip is ideal, and he has bits of form that make his current handicap mark look particularly attractive. Kerry Lee’s horses go well in the mud, and I think his price of 25s is generous.
It’s slightly disappointing that such a valuable handicap has only attracted 16 runners, but the low turnout has not made the event any easier to predict. The betting appears to have it about right, and certainly the key trends point towards Movewiththetimes and Ballyandy. I’m coming out in favour of the latter, to give Nigel Twiston-Davies his second win in four years. I expect Clyne to go very close, and I’ll be putting a few quid each-way on Gassin Golf to sneak a place. Best of luck to those having a punt.