A field of 16 is set to line up in Britain's richest handicap hurdle, the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle (3.35pm), at Newbury on Saturday, February 11th and it will be shown live on ITV Racing.
This long established and valuable hurdle first took place at in 1963 and has been known over the years as the Schweppes Gold Trophy, the Tote Gold Trophy and now in its current guise as the Betfair Hurdle.
This Grade Three hurdle is run over a distance of 2m 1/2f and is still regarded as a Champion Hurdle trial. Horses such as Persian War and Make A Stand have won this race before going onto Champion Hurdle glory at Prestbury Park a month later.
Here is a runner-by-runner guide to Saturday’s competitive renewal:
Officially rated 151 but has run very poorly on his last two starts. Trainer Nicky Henderson has been successful five times already in this race with Sharpical (1998), Geos (2000 and 2004), Landing Light (2001) and My Tent Or Yours (2013). Hargam finished third in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle but his best efforts since have come in smaller fields.
The progressive Clyne completed a four-timer in the fog at Haydock just before Christmas. His winning streak came to an end in the Champion Hurdle Trial last time out at the same venue but he did not go down without a fight, narrowly missing out to The New One in a ding-dong finish. Certainly justifies a place at the head of the market.
Boite has two wins from seven over hurdles thus far and he has shown plenty of ability in handicaps. He won on his penultimate start at Wetherby in December, running on very strongly and pulling clear of his pursuers on the run in. Thomas Greatrex takes off a valuable 7lbs and he could be considered a lively outsider.
He was well fancied for last year’s Triumph Hurdle after winning the Adonis Hurdle prior to that but finished well down the field. Ran a nice race behind Footpad back in May over in Auteuil and his run at Sandown last time out showed some renewed signs of promise.
5- DE NAME ESCAPES ME
Noel Meade’s runner has not been seen for 287 days since finishing down the field at Punchestown. Has bits and pieces of useful form in his five starts and no J.P McManus owned runner should be underestimated. He could be anything.
6- WAIT FOR ME
Fourth off a 1lb higher mark in the County Hurdle last March, and was well-backed when fifth to William H Bonney at Cheltenham two weeks ago. Wasn't beaten far there and is a course-and-distance winner but needs to step up to take a hand in proceedings here.
7- WILLIAM H BONNEY
Carries a 5lb penalty for that win at Cheltenham last time out but definitely looks the sort who can easily defy that burden. This track is less demanding and Alan King will have him primed for another big run.
8- KAYF BLANCO
Often runs a big race and grabs some placed prize money but has not been in the winner’s circle now since November 2015. A third placing behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown in December gives him another each-way squeak.
On paper the six-year-old appears to be Nigel Twiston-Davies’ second string in this feature but he is no forlorn hope. Will probably try and force the pace from the start. Whether he can stay there is another matter.
One of three J.P McManus horses in the race and the one that Barry Geraghty has opted to ride. The Paul Nicholls trained five-year-old boasts three victories from four races with the only defeat coming behind Moon Racer at Cheltenham in November. That was a hotly contested race in which another of Saturday’s opponents, Ballyandy, could only finish third.
Last season's Cheltenham Bumper winner has not quite hit the same heights over hurdles just yet. He was marginally touched off by subsequent Challow Hurdle winner Messire Des Obeaux (second at Huntingdon on Thursday) when last seen at Sandown Park. Dropping into a handicap off a mark of 135 looks highly favourable given his back class and his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies will be extremely disappointed if he fails to capitalise on this guilt edge chance.
He picked up an all-weather victory at Kempton at the start of December before switching back over timber at the end of the month. Ran a big race on that last run, looking all over the winner until a mistake at the last halted his momentum and he finished a close third. Unfashionable stable but should not be underestimated.
13- SONG LIGHT
He was held up in the rear in the Greatwood Hurdle last time out before sluicing through the field and just running out of time to catch the two in front of him (North Hill Harvey and Modus). The weight and jockey allowance are all in his favour here.
14- GASSIN GOLF
The trainer is much better known for her chasers than her hurdlers and a leap of faith will be required to fancy this one. Gassin Golf is however a course and distance winner which certainly counts for something.
The Gordon Elliott-trained Veinard is only a novice but has plenty of experience and wasn't beaten far in the Coral.ie Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Very interesting that Elliott has left in Veinard but not the strongly-fancied Sutton Place. That could be a tip in itself.
Beaten a not too distant fifth behind Bigmartre at Kempton last time out for which the handicapper raised him 1lb. A well raced horse for six-years-old and will probably find one or two too good in this race.
Given the fact that the favourite Ballyandy always seems to find one horse too good of late it may pay to side with Gordon Elliott’s VEINARD for some each-way value.
Elliott is having winners galore in his native Ireland and this could just be the start of a potentially lucrative Spring raiding party that carries through from here, to Cheltenham, and then onto Aintree.
Evan Williams’ CLYNE needs to given careful consideration too. The form line with The New One is probably one of the strongest in this field and the seven-year-old looks nailed on to be involved in the finish.
Selections: Veinard (nap), Clyne (nb).