Deloitte Novice Hurdle Preview

And so this week we head across the Irish Sea to check out the cream of the crop in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle. It’s a race with a glittering roll of honour – Nichols Canyon, Vautour and Champagne Fever have taken the prize in the last three years. And unsurprisingly, we find Willie Mullins responsible for five of the nine runners to have stood their ground in this contest, which will once again raise questions around the competitive nature of contests in this current era. What we can’t argue about is the quality of horses the master of trainer is putting forward himself. And there may just be a chance of a certain Gordon Elliott coming to spoil the party. Let’s take a look at the main protagonists.

BELLSHILL (Rating 150 – Best Price 7/4)

His position at the head of the Neptune market should come as a surprise to no-one. It’s hard to pick holes in what he’s done thus far, although the growing temptation with all of these Mullins hotpots is to try and do so. When you look back at his last win at Naas, there were certainly a couple of dodgy jumps thrown in as they came up the straight. He subsequently quickened clear to win and, visually, looked impressive. The question is whether he would stand up to scrutiny is throwing in those dodgy jumps against better horses. I do wonder. He’s plenty short enough in the betting that I am tempted to look elsewhere.

TOMBSTONE (Rating 147 – Best Price 9/4)

I really like his chances. I couldn’t help but listen closely to what connections have been saying this week regarding the horse’s ability (or lack of it) to settle in his previous runs. They clearly think he’s a superstar but are struggling to get his potential unlocked. And so they’ve had him working in a hood at home and apparently he’s burning up the gallops. If he can settle better here then I think he has to go very, very close and I would much rather be backing him at the prices.

YORKHILL (Rating 151 – Best Price 9/4)

Unbeaten over bumpers and scored an ultimately comfortable win in the Tolworth Hurdle last month. It must be great to be Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh with this kind of weaponry at their disposal. I could sit here and try to find reasons why he shouldn’t be backed, but we’re talking about an unbeaten horse who has really to be asked any questions as yet. All I can say is that carrying top weight on the back of a trek round desperate ground in the Tolworth isn’t exactly ideal, but would it surprise me if a horse of his ability strolled to success? Probably not.

THE REST

Not to be disrespectful to the others, but I feel they really fall into this bracket. The top three in the market are clearly class animals and should fight out the finish. All three are potential Cheltenham Festival winners in their own right. Of the others to compete here, I’m slightly surprised to see ANIBALE FLY as big as 33/1. She has shown a likeable attitude for Tony Martin thus far and could play a far bigger part than expected off a low mark of 134. I remember Barry Geraghty saying how highly he rates her and I’d say that price is a bit of an insult to her potential. THOMAS HOBSON is another who, at 25/1, must be wondering what he’s done to receive such a big quote. But it merely demonstrates the quality of the front three in the betting and we won’t be looking any further than them for the winner.

Verdict

Mullins, Mullins, Mullins. On the day it was revealed that hurdle entries for the Cheltenham Festival are substantially down on previous years, you look at a race like this and have your answer as to why. His sheer firepower frightens people. But I believe TOMBSTONE has the ability to spoil the party and if he can settle better here, he has the ability to strike a blow for punters at 9/4.

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