County Hurdle clues are more likely than Champion Hurdle ones where this year’s Betfair Hurdle is concerned, but it looks like being another viciously competitive race once again as we look to correctly back Al Dancer’s rightful successor.
Having taken all the variables into account, we’ve managed to whittle this big field down to a shortlist of six, all of whom hold chances although our selection is fair value.
Only outside of the first two on four occasions from nine starts over hurdles, Alan King’s gelding is a solid proposition and comes into this race as the Greatwood Hurdle winner last time, albeit that was some 83 days ago.
His form then is unquestionably good, but it still irks that having gone up 7lbs for his latest win and having arguably underperformed when sent to Newbury in the past, he may well be one to ultimately keep prices competitive on other horses while himself only being a fair place prospect.
Mack The Man
Challenging for favouritism all week after his fine win in a similar contest at Sandown back in December, it’s fair to think that Mack The Man has been laid out for this race by trainer Evan Williams and he’s sure to be on the plot at the business end of things.
He’s a rock solid contender and one who could still be improving after landing two wins in a row, but actual rate of improvement based on our private ratings wouldn’t necessarily sugguest that he can definitely handle the 8lb rise handed to him by the handicapper for his latest success and so caution is advised where he is concerned.
Whenever you see the names JP McManus and Nicky Henderson printed next to a horse, you have to at least have a second glance and when doing that ourselves we found a young mare in Never Adapt who could be really going places.
In just four runs she’s already won twice and is within the right yard to be able to have plenty more improvement coaxed out of her, however the bare truth is that her inexperience isn’t really a good thing in the context of this race and she’s only won a £6,000 prize at Kempton to date so once again it could be a watching brief for us.
Not So Sleepy
Despite our concerns over the extra weight given to Mack The Man after his latest win, we are actually less concerned about the whopping 17lb rise handed by the handicapper to this horse and it’s thought he may readily take it in his stride.
Clearly way, way ahead of the assessor at the start of this term, Hughie Morrison’s Not So Sleepy landed an Ascot handicap hurdle in November before patiently being left alone until late December in his attempt to follow-up.
He duly did that and in some style back at the royal venue, hosing up by nine lengths to land an £85,000 prize and in truth the final winning margin could have been anything.
His true rating is likely to be somewhere in the mid-150’s at this stage, so his mark of 144 makes him a well-handicapped horse and one that may well take yet another huge prize before going on to Cheltenham in March.
Philip Hobbs’ runner has enough experience to give us confidence that he is a player here, it’s really just a question of whether his form is good enough.
His runs behind the likes of Benny’s Bridge, Not So Sleepy and Repetitio certainly read very well and he is now ultra-consistent, however the bottom line is that those last three performances have indeed been defeats and so the fact that he has gone up 7lbs in the handicap during that time is not a particular positive.
Three wins, a third and fall when favourite from five hurdle starts means this horse has the sort of profile big players look for when trying to find the winner of races such as this.
The other important factor is that, while he is already improving race on race generally speaking, he has been doing so in novice company and when horses such as Jamie Snowden’s move into tough handicap company they can go one way or the other.
Should the quicker pace of this race and its more competitive nature get the best out of him then he stands a chance, however that is not guaranteed and so taking his form at face value versus his current handicap mark we see him as having a fair each-way chance only.
Although he’s now flying up the handicap after some easy successes, the one to be on at the prices remains NOT SO SLEEPY for us and so Hughie Morrison’s runner gets the nod.
Mack The Man and Oakley are next on the list for us.