Last Year's Winner: Agrapart
- Sam Twiston-Davies
- Nigel Twiston-Davies
- 11st 1lb
- Starting Price:
- Season Form Figures:
- Previous Best:
- 2nd - The Winter Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2), Sandown (December 2016)
Six of the last eight winners were novices (two trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies) and four of those had only run three times over timber beforehand. In fact, only two novices were declared last season and Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes fought out the finish some 6l clear of their rivals. Two of those successful novices and last season’s runner-up were owned by J P McManus and his two winners then went on to finish second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Although not officially a novice in 2012, Zarkandar was having just his fourth start over hurdles when successful at the age of five. The overall performance of five-year-olds since the mid-nineties has been particularly eye-catching being responsible for over just under half of all win-and-place positions (32-60) going back to and including 1995 which is some achievement given they are at a considerable numerical disadvantage. Five-year-olds filled five of the first six places in 2016 after filling five of the first seven places in 2014.
The last 11 winners have been aged five or six. Since Europe’s most valuable handicap hurdle was first established back in 1963 where it took place at Aintree, just three horses have won that were aged older than seven so very much concentrate your thoughts on the up-and-coming brigade. We have to go back to the second of Geos’ successes in this race in 2004 to find the last winner aged older than six, though the 2006 and 2009 editions were lost due to frost and snow respectively.
Six of the last eight winners were novices (two trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies) and four of those had only run three times over timber beforehand.
The best guide is the two-mile handicap hurdle run at Sandown on the Tingle Creek Chase card which has featured six of the last 20 winners with Make A Stand (another winning novice) and Spirit Leader completing the double. The Coral.ie Hurdle has also been a notable guide as five of the last 20 winners finished in the first half-dozen at Leopardstown the previous month. Another race to keep a close eye on is the two-mile handicap hurdle at Cheltenham two weeks prior to this contest as both Landing Light and Copeland won that contest in successive years just after the turn of the century before following up here and Heathcote was also unplaced in that same Class B 0-145 handicap before he won here 14 days later at 50/1. The Gerry Feilden over the same course and distance almost two months earlier has also been a decent guide of late.
Gary Moore is a dab hand at preparing horses for valuable two-mile handicap hurdles with the Betfred Hurdle likely to be at the top of his hit list. Heathcote (2007), Wingman (2008) and Violet Dancer (2014) have taken this prize in the last decade for the West Sussex-based trainer so his entries deserve the highest respect. Those three were winners were also the Betfair Hurdle’s only winners officially rated under 134 in more recent times.
Nicky Henderson remains the main man however, winning this event on five occasions since 1998 and his Punjabi was also runner-up in 2008 despite top weight. With regards to weight, in addition to Punjabi, Rooster Booster also carried top weight into second place but just Persian War has carried over 11st 7lb to victory in the race’s history. All three were Champion Hurdlers which tells us how hard it is to carry a big weight in this race. The two winners successful off 11st 7lb were both trained by Martin Pipe.
Essex in 2005 is the only Irish-trained winner since 1976. Willlie Mullins has been having a crack but he is 0-12 to even place in the last decade.
As for the quality of a contender’s previous run, only one of the last 17 winners failed to finish in the first five on their most recent outing and, although we have had two shock winners 50/1 and 33/1 in the not-so-distant past, it has generally paid to look to the fancied horses as ten of the last 16 winners could be found in the top five in the betting.
At a glance summary
- Novices (especially owned by J P McManus)
- Contested the two-mile handicap hurdle at Sandown on Tingle Creek Chase day
- Contested the two-mile handicap hurdle at Cheltenham two weeks earlier
- A top-six finish in the Coral Handicap Hurdle at Leopardstown
- Trained by Nicky Henderson, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Gary Moore
- Aged 7+
- Carrying over 11st 7lb
- Unplaced last time out