With the 2021 Cheltenham Festival getting ever closer, contenders are emerging for the novice hurdle races all the time. Many of the top prospects are trained in Ireland, so it could pay to keep your eyes on races in Emerald Isle.
Taking that into account, here are some of leading novice hurdle contenders for Grade 1 honours come Cheltenham.
Racehorse owners Cheveley Park Stud are doing more than just dabbling over jumps now, and Gordon Elliott has the exciting Ballyadam in training at his County Meath stables. Already a Grade 1 winner courtesy of his victory in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse , this gelding by Fame And Glory heads the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Ballyadam sees his position there strengthened by an untimely injury to another of the owners’ horses, 2020 Champion Bumper winner, Ferny Hollow. Elliot trained a shock winner of the Supreme back in 2017 with the quirky Labaik, but it would be no surprise if this horse land the spoils.
In the absence of Ferny Hollow, the Champion Bumper form is represented by Willie Mullins’ stable companion, Appreciate It, who was second. That Grade 2 Irish National Hunt Flat race winner has since become the pick of Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle tips after climbing to top spot in the market.
It is easy to see why Appreciate It is a fancy for this Grade 1, over two miles and five furlongs, on Ladies Day at the Cheltenham Festival. Earlier in his career, he was able to win a two-and-a-half-mile extended bumper around Leopardstown, so stepping back up in trip from a first hurdles victory at a shorter distance should be no problem.
Mullins has dominated mares’ races at the Cheltenham Festival. He looks to have a typically strong hand in the Grade 2 Dawn Run for novices, run on St Patrick’s Thursday. Gauloise ran out a good winner of a Listed race at Thurles just before Christmas; Shewearsitwell had enough ability to take a Grade 3 against geldings at Tipperary over the autumn.
We are delighted to have our first Grade 1 entry for @ClosuttonRacing #Shewearsitwell pictured @WillieMullinsNH gets her entry for the Grade 1 https://t.co/qwdFMrU6bJ Royal Bond Novice H'dle on the 29th of the month @Fairyhouse @rodstewart 🎤 🎶 pic.twitter.com/vU4ZYZ8BUu— Closutton Racing Club (@ClosuttonRacing) November 4, 2020
While winter ground may not be something Mullins is prepared to risk her on, a likely sounder surface in the spring, come Cheltenham, certainly suits. Shewearsitwell has plenty of upside, after three very easy victories in her career to date, and is only going to improve with racing.
Likewise Elliott has plenty of quality among jumps juveniles in this yard, and they are headed by Flat convert Zanahiyr. In the space of six months, he went from being an also ran, in a Curragh maiden behind subsequent St Leger hero Galileo Chrome, to a Grade 3 hurdle winner.
Zanahiyr destroyed the opposition at Fairyhouse, and propelled himself to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting in the process. Elliott can also call upon the likes of Quilixios and Grade 2 scorer Duffle Coat, but none of his juveniles has been as impressive as the former Mick Halford inmate.