Rescheduled Betfair Hurdle (Handicap) Grade3 Newbury

hurdle race newburyGood news for racing fans! Last week’s feature (below), The Betfair Hurdle, cancelled because of a particularly nasty strain of Equine Flu, has been rescheduled, and is to be included in a 9 race program at Ascot on Saturday. As the indications are that most, if not all, of the original field will be present.

Newbury hosts, one of the major betting heats of the Winter, when a maximum of 23 runners line up for The Betfair Hurdle at the Berkshire track at the weekend. First run in 1963 as The Schweppes Hurdle, the first five runnings were dominated by the legendary Captain Ryan Price who won four of them, including the first two with Rosyth, who remains the only animal to have won back to back renewals. Age has been a very significant factor, with younger horses dominating. There have only been 3 animals older than 7 collect in the entire history of the contest, the last being the 9yo Geos 15 years ago. Weight has also played it’s part, with only 2 animals, both subsequent Champion Hurdle laureates, Persian War, and Make A Stand, who have defied a burden of more than 11-6. There have been plenty of multiple winning trainers in the race, but with 5 wins, Nicky Henderson’s record is outstanding, which has to make the sole  entry from his Seven Barrows yard this year, Countister, of particular interest.

The ex French 7yo, a daughter of Smadoun, has had a rather unusual racing career. Campaigned mostly in minor NHF races in the French Provinces, (won twice) for her first 8 races, she changed stables in June 2016 and her form stepped up a gear. Again, campaigned exclusively in the same Genre, but this time in the top level metropolitan tracks, she won 3 of her 5 starts, two of them at Grade2 level, and was only beaten a neck in a St Cloud Grade1. Since her transfer to Seven Barrows in September 2017, she has raced 4 times over hurdles, winning twice, at Doncaster in December 2017 and at Sandown in February 2018. She was sent off a 16/1 shot for the Grade2 Dawn Run at The Festival, but could only finish a well beaten 5th, and hasn’t been seen since. She is all about potential, but on a point of handicapping, the horse she beat at Doncaster by 7L, De Rasher Counter, is now rated 139, which makes her mark of 133 on Saturday look lenient.

Nigel Twiston-Davies has won the race twice in the last 5 years, and runs both previous winners, Splash of Ginge and Ballyandy, but the stats are against them, so his third contender, Al Dancer, is preferred. Bred for the game, he is a half brother to the very successful French Hurdler/Chaser, T’zar’s Dancer, and has won all his 3 starts over hurdles. He impressed last time, easily winning a Cheltenham Class3, off a mark of 129. He won by 11L from the subsequent winner, Not That Fuisse, which  justifies the 12lbs rise to Saturday’s mark of 141, and it will be surprising if that is the limit of this exciting animals potential. A minor concern would be his lack of experience in such a large field, competitive handicap, but he jumps well, and wasnt discommoded in the 20 runner, Grade2 NHF race, at last year’s Aintree Festival, where he finished 4th.

The Devon yard of the Williams family, carried home the bacon 3 years ago when their 5yo Agrapart won, and they will be hoping for a repeat with another animal of the same Vintage, Monsieur Lecoq.

monsieur le coq

Punters’ palates could be distinctly agreeable on Saturday afternoon.

Having failed to make much impression in his first 4 starts, the penny seems to have dropped the last twice. He won a Flos Las Maiden by 7L in December, and 5 weeks later trotted up in a Sandown Handicap off a mark of 122. A rise of 10lbs looks fair, giving him a racing weight of 10-9 to be further reduced by Lizzie Kelly’s, very useful 3lbs claim.

Philip Hobbs has never won the Betfair, but will be hoping for a big run from his improving 5yo Zanzibar. He ran an excellent race 6 weeks ago winning by 1L from
Birds Of Prey, and had  Champagne Well (rec 6lbs and now rated 130) a further 1Lback in 3rd. A strict interpretation of the form makes Saturday’s mark of 135 look pretty fair and if this progressive type can overcome his inexperience, he could be involved at the business end.

Gary Moore has won 3 of the last 11 Betfair’s and has 3 contenders on Saturday, the best of whom may prove to be the 5yo Sussex Ranger. A winner of 3 of his 7 starts, he won a Fontwell Class3 by 4 1/2L off a mark of 130 conceding lumps of weight to Monday Club, 25 days ago, and looks well handicapped on 136, giving him a nice racing weight of 10-13. Mr Moore is a past master at placing horses in these big handicaps, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see any of his runners involved where it matters, at the weekend.

Paul Nicholls who won with Zarkandar 7 years ago, runs two, Getaway Trump, and
Mount Des Alvoirs and while both are clearly talented, the former looks the more progressive. The 6yo has won 2 of his 4 starts over hurdles, and while he was beaten last time, in the Grade1 Challow Hurdle, there was no disgrace in going down by 2 1/2L to the exciting, 150 rated, Champ, over 2 1/2miles. In his previous race, the son of Getaway, racing over 3f shorter, gave the now 131 rated Tedham, 6lbs and an impressive looking 5L beating, all of which makes the Ditcheat runner look well handicapped on Saturday’s mark of 142 and very interesting back over two miles.

Selection : Getaway Trump
EW.           : Monsieur Lecoq

John Gray

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