Jumps Season - At The Races

Betfair Hurdle

    Newbury, Saturday 8th February 2020.
  • Stats Guides

Last Year's Winner: Al Dancer

Al Dancer
Jockey:
Sam Twiston-Davies
Trainer:
N A Twiston-Davies
Age:
6
Weight:
11st 8lb
Starting Price:
5/2
Season Form Figures:
111
Previous Best:
1st – Class 3 Handicap Hurdle, Cheltenham (Dec 2018)

Al Dancer became the eighth winner in the last ten runnings to prove successful as a novice (three of which were trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies) after the race was transferred to Ascot so expect them dominate the front end of the market again. Of that octet, six had only run three times over timber beforehand. In fact, only two novices were declared three years ago and Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes fought out the finish some 6l clear of their rivals. Two of those successful novices and the 2016 and 2017 runners-up were owned by J P McManus and his two winners then went on to finish second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The last 13 winners have been aged five or six and 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. The overall performance of five-year-olds since the mid-nineties has been particularly eye-catching being responsible for almost half of all win-and-place positions (33-67) 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 being responsible for five of the first seven places in 2014.

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 22 winners with Make A Stand (another winning novice) and Spirit Leader completing the double.

Al Dancer became the eighth winner in the last ten runnings to prove successful as a novice - three of which were trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.

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 until Al Dancer last year. However, it was very much a weakened race last season switching to Ascot a week after Newbury was abandoned offering less prize money and just a 14-runner field as a consequence. The fact that Persian War, Rooster Booster and Punjabi were all Champion Hurdlers which tells us how hard it is to carry a big weight in this race in a normal renewal. The two previous 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 only one of his 17 runners has even placed. The Ladbrokes Hurdle has been a notable guide as five of the last 22 winners finished in the first half-dozen at Leopardstown the previous month. However, that race now takes place just a week before so is unlikely to be as important a guide and enhances the prospects of the winner staying at home rather than being exported to Ireland.

As for the quality of a contender’s previous run, only one of the last 18 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 12 of the last 18 winners could be found in the top five in the betting.

At a glance summary

Positives
Five-year-olds
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
Negatives
Aged 7+
Carrying over 11st 7lb
Unplaced last time out

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