The £100,000 Betfair Hurdle, as it is fondly known, is a tough enough race to solve at the best of times but this year the race looks particularly competitive.
16 horses have been declared at around 5/1 the field at the opening of the betting. Despite the better-quality types often coming to the fore in this race, three at the lower end of the weights have sprung to the top of the market which has made it harder to narrow this field down, but narrow it we have to these six runners:
As well as standing an obvious chance based on his profile, Bass Rock has some close form ties with Flight Deck on a line through the consistent Teescomponents Lad.
Both horses have beaten that one lately, but in the case of Bass Rock his comfortable five-length success at Carlisle left an impression and he doesn’t appear to have reached his ceiling yet.
Three times a runner-up up to March this year, Bass Rock finished racing in the spring by winning easily at Ayr. His second breathing operation then followed, before he began this campaign with that comfortable success in Cumbria and he is clearly capable of more.
He’s stayed up to around 2¾ miles on good ground, and was not stopping over 2½ on soft so this three-mile trek on decent racing ground holds no worries and he must be in with a very strong chance.
Flight Deck’s own success over Teescomponents Lad was not as simple, but it represents strong form all the same.
A seasonal debut and only his seventh career hurdle race, Jonjo O’Neill’s gelding for JP McManus got reminders from up top with a few to go at Wetherby over three miles and wasn’t the best over the last flight, but stayed on to score by a narrow neck margin.
He can still get better to some degree, but it’s hard to envisage mountains of improvement after what we saw last time although his form line for our money is among the strongest on show here.
At a quick glance, there is nothing not to like about Orbys Legend’s chance for Philip Hobbs. His numbers have improved with every single run bar none, so there is no reason they still won’t keep going north, while his latest success of three was in the Grade 3 Silver Trophy at Chepstow.
His form is both strong and on the up, which is terrific, but there is now the spectre of him moving up in trip. He has shown good speed to win over two miles and over barely 2½ last time, and while sometimes it does make a horse perform better, trainers really don’t know if it’s their bag until they try it.
He’s up another 8lbs in the handicap now too which will make things pretty tough in a competitive field.
Riggs has been backed all the way into favouritism this week, but at the risk of looking like complete dolts, we think it could have as much to do with his trainer Dan Skelton as it does his form.
That form is OK, but this horse is so often well-backed without coming up with the goods. He has run consistently to the same level for the last year, six runs in total, without winning much and without moving far in the handicap.
This horse is another which has been very strongly backed for Irish trainer Emmet Mullins, but again we don’t think the form stands up to scrutiny.
He’s been chasing and improving in that sphere, so we guess the thinking is that he’s simply a better horse now and will be well-in, but much improvement is needed from the last time he tackled hurdles.
Stoney Mountain won this back in 2019, is only eight years old and is in great form. Jamie Snowden thinks he’ll run very well having won again lately, and so do we, but he’s just a tad higher in the handicap now and a leap forward is needed for a horse already qualified for the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham in March.
Stoney Mountain could become the first double winner of this race, but the form line we like is the one that connects Flight Deck and BASS ROCK.
Having taken into account the ease of each success, potential rates of improvement, ratings, weight, jockey claim, winning distance and ground, it’s Sandy Thomson’s runner’s form against Teescomponents Lad we like best and, just for good measure, the horse that links them stayed on from a seemingly impossible position to score again on Thursday.