This has been one hell of a race to narrow down! The Betfair Hurdle, in all fairness, is one of the most competitive races and thus one of the toughest betting heats of the whole season with so many variables to take into consideration.
Despite the prospect of the ground being on the softer side at Newbury, in a 24-runner race over two miles speed between the hurdles is of prime importance and so with that in mind, as well as basic form, these six have made up our shortlist:
Chris Gordon’s Annual Invictus is five races into his hurdling career now and is coming along nicely. His latest win, an easy novice hurdle success at Plumpton, is hard to read given that the opposition that day is nothing like this and it was achieved over two-and-a-half miles.
He has looked impressive though and his handicap mark of 135 looks like underestimating him, although naturally that could be said about the majority of this field. If he improves for the much quicker pace, he has an each-way chance.
Dan Skelton’s horse is on a hat-trick after landing wins at Warwick and Kempton, his latest success being a fine effort to turn over Christopher Wood.
So far in three hurdle runs, he has improved an average of around 10lbs at a time which shows we have got nowhere near the bottom of him yet, though he has gone up 11lbs in the weights for his last win.
If anything, this ground may not be soft enough for him but there is absolutely nothing wrong with what he’s done so far and he is among the leading contenders for sure.
The Goshen team have a fine chance here with their six-year-old Fifty Ball. Another sharp improver, this gelding won ever so easily at Sandown last time and again has the look of a very well handicapped horse.
That is something we can never ignore and, always thinking on the positive, it seems even more talent can be wrung from him now that he is in handicap company. The slight negative would always be him not having been tackled by a competitive field to this point which in some horses exposes a soft underbelly.
Assuming he handles the occasion, Fifty Ball has himself a handy weight and has a natural running style that should see him sit in midfield before showing his best in the final two or three furlongs.
Mack The Man
Based only on his latest win this race would look to be beyond Mack The Man. At Wincanton, he had just the three rivals to beat and while he got there, he wasn’t overly impressive.
Before that however he managed to chalk up a Listed handicap win, which was last season, while he was sitting fifth and was bang in with a chance in this race last year when being brought down at the last.
That was his standout run which bodes well, though it was also on good ground so we’d have to hope he can be better on a rain-softened surface.
Getting the negatives out of the way first; Milkwood has won 2 from 6 over hurdles in low-grade company and in being beaten the last twice in handicaps would not appear to be among the best handicapped in the race.
However, he was third in good company last time behind Floressa despite pulling hard and that was over this track and trip in Listed company. He’s been held back since November for this and should be a better horse now, so rates a fair each-way shout.
Whether the top trainers really are that talented, or whether they are simply sent the best horses is rather moot. The fact is that, for one reason or another, they get more than their share of wins and we can’t ignore that.
Nicky Henderson is one of those ‘top’ trainers and he has Mister Coffey here who looks a very likely type. A beaten favourite last time at Sandown, he didn’t like the very heavy ground that day, still managed third place in Listed class and was as short as 6/4 to get the job done.
The rest of his profile shows him to be a big improver, he’ll like these conditions and could benefit from not being raised in the weights having been turned over last time. He looks well in for Henderson and Nico de Boinville.
Plenty are in with chances, but Cadzand, Fifty Ball and especially MISTER COFFEY have plenty going for them with the latter being the shout.