A Look Ahead To The Ballymore Novices Hurdle - Four Weeks To Go

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A LOOK AHEAD TO THE BALLYMORE NOVICES HURDLE - FOUR WEEKS TO GO

Four weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, and tensions are beginning to rise ahead of the most eagerly anticipated week of sport.

The next race we will be looking ahead to is the Grade One Ballymore Novice's Hurdle - the opening race on Day Two of the Festival.

Similar in a way to the Supreme Novices on the opening day - both greeted by the iconic roar of the crowd to get proceedings underway, except the Ballymore is more of a test of stamina rather than speed.

Whilst the Albert Bartlett on the Friday is the ultimate longevity test, speed is certainly of the essence in this and it is all about having the versatility to show the right balance.

Many horses may prefer to tackle this Grade One Novice contest with endurance certainties, with ambitions to perhaps step-up to chasing in twelve months time, keeping their options open in either division.

Of course, there is the option to continue to pursue hurdling, with the Stayers Hurdle the obvious goal at the end of the line. Recent winners have chosen various career choices, so let's look into this years contenders.

In past years, we have seen two horses particularly strong in the market all season long go onto fight out the finish - for example in 2016 with the battle of England vs Ireland, with Yanworth up against Yorkhill, and that could be the case once again.

The 7yo Champ - representing the best of Britain from Nicky Henderson's yard, looks set to stand toe-to-toe with Gordon Elliott's Battleoverdoyen - representing the best from Ireland; both of whom who are solid at the top of the betting.

Champ - named after the great Sir AP McCoy, just edges favouritism out of the two, after four wins from five in hurdle contests in the past year.

champ

He was rather late on the scene, but after a neck second to the now highly class novice chaser Vinndication at Ascot last January, he went on a four race winning run - completed most recently with a victory in the Grade One Challow Novices Hurdle.

Owned by JP McManus, he looks a leading light for success at the Festival for Champion Trainer Nicky Henderson besides Altior, but faces a tough battle against Battleoverdoyen - who carries the colours of Gigginstown House Stud who won this so elusively twelve months with Samcro.

Battleoverdoyen - named by a combination of his sire and dam's names, has been as equally impressive amongst novice company this term across the Irish Sea, most recently winning the Grade One Lawlor of Naas over just shy of the Ballymore distance.

Slightly lighter raced than his counterpart but not short of ability whatsoever, since winning his maiden in a big field at Navan back in December.

Ireland could also be strongly represented with the likes of City Island and Commander Of Fleet - although the latter looks set to tackle three miles in the Albert Bartlett on Day Four.

City Island could spoil the party for the front two for Martin Brassil, who watched on as his 6yo cleaned up in a auction novice hurdle at Naas on Saturday afternoon.

He - like Champ is four from his last four - three over hurdles, albeit one of those came out as a late disqualification, for which the reasons are unknown.

Blackbow and Carefully Selected - who both have not been sighted since last season's Champion Bumper, could end up going anywhere.

As for the rest of Britain, it could be a guessing game of who else shows up on the Day Two opener.

Angels Breath and Al Dancer, both prominent in the Supreme market, look set to remain over the minimum trip, whilst both Brewin'upastorm and Birchdale hold options over a further distance but could stay amongst company and stretch they know.

birchdale

Birchdale won the trial for this contest at Cheltenham not too long ago in good style, but made easier by the exit of Olly Murphy's 6yo at the final flight when travelling as well.

Both could settle for two-and-a-half miles and would hold leading chances here, along with Dan Skelton's Beakstown - also a winner in a key trial for this contest but at Warwick last month.

Despite showing plenty of novice signs, he was clearly the best horse in the race, and could be joined by Downtown Getaway, who has been the subject of some considerable market support following his win at Ascot nearly four weeks ago.

Champ and Battleoverdoyen lead the way at 3/1 and 4/1 respectively, with a short break back to the rest.

They are headed by both Angels Breath and Al Dancer at 8/1 - who as expected are on course for the Supreme instead, with City Island, Birchdale and Brewin'upastorm all next best around the 10/1 mark.

Honeysuckle - unbeaten 5yo for Henry De Bromhead and a strong favourite for the Mares Novice Final, is also priced at 10's should she make a late swerve.

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