Known as the Betfair Hurdle since 2012, the race was originally the Schweppes Gold Trophy and first run in 1963.
Nicky Henderson has enjoyed his fair amount of success with five victories, dating back to 1998. That sparked a run of four wins in seven renewals. His recent victory came in 2013, when classy hurdler My Tent Or Yours landed the prize en-route to a second-place finish in the Supreme Novices’ at the Cheltenham Festival.
That trend of talented novices taking the race has proved a theme of the Betfair Hurdle in recent times. Get Me Out Of Here, Recession Proof, Splash Of Ginge, Agrapart and last year’s winner Ballyandy were all first season hurdlers. Five or six-year-olds have won the last 10 renewals, with the age groups notching five apiece.
A maximum field of 24 go to post on Saturday with Nicky Henderson responsible for five. Jenkins heads the market and the six-year-old is currently on the crest of a wave. Always highly regarded by the Seven Barrows team, the application of blinkers appears to have worked the oracle. He’s won his last two, ably assisted by James Bowen last time at Ascot. The pair are re-united tomorrow with Jenkins off top-weight. The horse must cope with a 5lb rise in the handicap, with the jockey now only able to claim 3lb as opposed to five last month. It’s a tough ask to keep this run going, but both horse and jockey are firing on all cylinders.
Irish Roe is battling for favouritism and like Jenkins arrives in sparkling form. The seven-year-old mare was last seen getting within a length of Maria’s Benefit in a Grade Two at Doncaster. That was a cracking performance and suggested that her handicap mark should be some way higher than the current 134. She’s clearly progressing at a fair rate of knots and a race weight of 10-12 looks ideal.
Only three of the past 10 winners have carried more than 11 stone, with 11-2 the biggest weight carried in that time.
Kalashnikov is one of the younger brigade and the five-year-old has impressed in his three outings over hurdles. Having won his first two over timber, he lost out to Summerville Boy last time in the Tolworth Hurdle, though the pair pulled clear of some talented rivals. He has the right sort of profile for the race and his handicap mark looks fair for what he has achieved thus far.
Henderson has another fancied pair in Kayf Grace and Verdana Blue. The former is a classy mare and despite now being an eight-year-old has few miles on the clock. Good enough to beat Augusta Kate in the mares’ Grade Two bumper at Aintree in 2016, she’s proved fragile since, but won cosily last time at Kempton and seems to be back on track. Nevertheless, a handicap mark of 140 is possibly high enough and she’s not for me.
Verdana Blue is yet another mare and was last seen finishing third in a competitive handicap at Ascot (had several of these behind). Despite her form reading stronger, Nico De Boinville has chosen to partner Kayf Grace. She looks an improving sort, though off 145 I fancy there’ll be others in the race with a more lenient mark.
Lalor is one such sort and is back from a wind-op. The novice hurdler was a leading bumper horse last term and is now trained by Kayley Woollacott after the tragic recent death of Richard. The six-year-old has run well but failed to win any of his three starts over hurdles. He’s looked a little weak in a finish, hence the operation. His form stacks up and a handicap mark of 137 looks fair. He should be a leading contender.
Gary Moore has a decent record in the race and runs the eight-year-old Knocknanuss. A decent bumper horse in Ireland, he arrived at Moore’s in 2015, but only got to the track back in May of this year. Twice a winner and twice runner-up from four starts over hurdles, he’s unexposed and on the upgrade. This is a much tougher assignment than his last win at Fontwell, but he’s an interesting contender.
Henderson’s Lough Derg Spirit gets in off 138 and that looks fair enough. He was a good novice last term and returned with a second-place finish in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. Of all the Seven Barrows contenders this fella looks the one who could be well-in.
Moon Racer is an intriguing challenger and another back from a wind operation. Hugely talented as a youngster, he took the Champion Bumper back in 2015. He beat Ballyandy in his first run over hurdles but failed to be competitive when somewhat thrown in at the deep end in last year’s Champion Hurdle. Ballyandy ended his hurdling campaign off a mark of 147, whilst Moon Racer gets in here off 142. He has plenty to prove but the Pipe’s now how to prepare one, and he’s a horse that goes well fresh. His odds of 25s are tempting.
Divine Bere is another at a price that could run a huge race. The five-year-old only just lost out in last year’s Fred Winter before getting close to Defi Du Seuil at Aintree. He showed nothing on return at Ascot but was duly dropped 4lb by the handicapper. He’s probably carrying a little too much to win but he’s a stonking 40/1.
You’d expect a handicap of this nature to be competitive and it certainly is. Any of the above could win, plus a few that I’ve failed to mention. I’m going with Lalor in the hope that the wind-op has done the trick. He has the right profile and his bumper form was outstanding. I fear Kalashnikov, as he could be the class act in the field with plenty more improvement to come. The one for the each-way punters has to be Moon Racer. He could just as easily finish last, but a wind operation, coupled with an interesting handicap mark, makes his odds of 25/1 too tempting to turn down.
Best of luck to all those having a punt in this head-scratcher.