Antepost Angle: Belting wager
Matt Brocklebank looks ahead to the Betfair Hurdle in his latest Antepost Angle column and provides a 33/1 selection for the big race on February 11.
Beltor: Looks over-priced in the Betfair Hurdle betting
Ballyandy tops the betting for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone after the handicapper decided upon an opening mark of 135 in light of last season's Champion Bumper winner coming up short for the third time over hurdles when second at Sandown in early-December.
No matter how you approach that figure, it has the potential to look extremely lenient if Nigel Twiston-Davies' horse can bring his A-game to Newbury. Firstly, Ballyandy's first two defeats over obstacles came at the hands of Moon Racer, the 2015 Champion Bumper winner, who is being considered for the Stan James Champion Hurdle as well as the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, for which he is the market leader.
When last seen, the six-year-old was beaten half a length by Messire Des Obeaux in a Grade Two at Sandown and the winner has gone on to frank the form with an impressive top-level success in the Challow.
The last time Ballyandy raced at Newbury he won a Listed bumper by nine lengths, while his trainer broke his Betfair Hurdle duck three years ago when Ryan Hatch steered the 134-rated Splash Of Ginge to victory.
In short, Ballyandy has just about everything going for him, barring one or two very minor niggles. The first possible issue is the drop back in trip to two miles. He travelled really well at Sandown on his first outing over two and a half but didn't really produce a turn of foot when required and in the end could only box on at the one pace, so there's some evidence that he may have lost a bit of his natural speed.
Secondly, there's not an awful lot to suggest he's actually improving at all, running to a very similar level in just about every outing since his racecourse debut (give or take 4-5lb) so he could be vulnerable to some of the more obviously progressive novices that look set to line up.
One of which is Movewiththetimes, who finished behind Ballyandy at Cheltenham earlier in the season but is now rated 1lb higher by virtue of a subsequent Wincanton win. That wasn't a wildly impressive success but trainer Paul Nicholls was keen to mark him down as "a work in progress" post-race and there should certainly be more to come.
Movewiththetimes' owner JP McManus, successful with Get Me Out Of Here in 2010 and My Tent Or Yours in 2013, also has Consul De Thaix and Drumcliff near the sharp end of the betting and the latter is a fascinating prospect.
He's entered at Ascot this weekend in the big handicap over the extended two miles and three furlongs, as are Philip Hobbs' Wait For Me, Ben Pauling's Jaleo, Krugermac from the Gary Moore yard and David Pipe's French recruit Max Do Brazil. It looks the perfect time to get a final prep in just three weeks before Europe's richest handicap hurdle, while all these trainers are fully aware that any horse winning a race after January 15 will receive just a 5lb penalty for Newbury.
Drumcliff has been brought along steadily by Harry Fry but produced an eyecatching performance on his handicap debut at Kempton over Christmas and, looking right back to his racecourse debut, a five-length bumper victory over the now 145-rated Capitaine gives the impression he is capable of moving through the ranks now the penny has dropped.
He finished just a short head behind Drumcliff in the same Kempton event and reopposes on 1lb better terms (barring any subsequent penalties received) after the second and third were edged up 3lb and 2lb respectively in the ratings.
The winner, Bigmartre, also took a 3lb rise and is generally 25/1 for the Betfair, though his trainer Harry Whittington has suggested he may keep him fresh for the Martin Pipe Conditional Riders' race at Cheltenham.
Whether he runs or not, I'd just about prefer Beltor anyway as there's a chance Bigmartre will 'bounce' after such a good run following the best part of eight months off, whereas the selection looks to be coming to the boil for this event.
Beltor, formerly with Michael Dods and Sir Mark Prescott on the Flat, won the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle a couple of years ago in what was Robert Stephens' second season with a trainer's licence, but the horse lost his way after suffering a rough time of things when sixth in Peace And Co's Triumph Hurdle.
He had six months off following a no-show in last year's Fighting Fifth Hurdle and then struggled in handicaps from marks in the 140s in his next three outings.
However, Stephens – Prescott's pupil assistant for a couple of years – looked to have got the son of Authorized back on song when he beat Wolf Of Windlesham in an all-weather Flat contest over two miles at Kempton in early-December and his return to timber confirmed the horse is definitely back enjoying his racing again.
He tanked into the straight there and possibly even took up the running a fraction too soon, while his mistake at the last cost him valuable momentum just when he needed a decent leap.
The Betfair Hurdle is a big ask but the strong-travelling Beltor looked a very classy performer during his juvenile campaign and there have been enough positive signs of late to suggest the old flame may be rekindled in a 24-runner handicap from a reduced mark.
His two previous wins over hurdles have come on soft ground during January and February so there must be some real hope that the Newport-based Stephens can make the trip along the M4 worthwhile with his stable star on February 11.
Posted at 0900 GMT on 19/01/16.