Betfair Hurdle: Horse by Horse
Our man Will Hayler goes through every one of the 16 declared horses for the Betfair Hurdle and can't get past the claims of one runner.
Ballyandy (centre, red silks): Tipped to break his duck over hurdles in the big one at Newbury on Saturday.
Hargam heads a field of 16 declared runners for the £155,000 Grade Three Betfair Hurdle, the highlight of a fantastic seven-race card at Newbury on Saturday.
The extended two-mile contest, Britain's richest handicap hurdle, has been won by subsequent Grade One scorers My Tent Or Yours and Zarkandar in recent years, but has a rich heritage stretching back to its inception as the Schweppes Hurdle in 1963.
Two winners of the race – Persian War and Make a Stand – subsequently achieved victory in the following month's Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and although it's unlikely any of this year's field will be bidding to try and emulate them, the race still seems likely to have an effect upon the Festival ante-post picture.
Here's our guide to the field for Saturday's renewal of the popular contest.
Trainer: Nicky Henderson. Form: 31-3100
Seems to have been around forever, despite this being just his third season over jumps. Now Nicky Henderson's sole representative after departure of Consul De Thaix from the picture. Value of Kempton success earlier this season very much open to question and subsequently safely held in two big handicap prizes along these lines. Even allowing for drop in the weights since, it's hard to see him defying top-weight and his principal role is more likely to be tactical.
Trainer: Evan Williams. Form: 311-112
Form of his Haydock success in December has worked out notably well, even if exactly what went on in the fog in that day will forever remain only known to the jockeys who took part. Given a cracking ride by this jockey when returned to the track for Grade Two and only just found The New One too strong. Up in the weights for that run, forcing hand of connections to run here, and undoubtedly in the form of his life but questionable if this kind of big-field frenzy is really what he wants and probably wants to rain to arrive just as the covers come off in order to slow the others down.
Trainer: Warren Greatrex. Form: 12/24-15
Smart dual-purpose performer who was far from disgraced in good handicap at this track on latest start, but previous Wetherby victory has left him with plenty of weight, a view confirmed by trainer's decision to use 7lb-claimer here. Very likeable strong stayer, but he'd need this to be a brutal test and chance of an uncontested lead doesn't look obvious.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Form: 101-3F5
Shade disappointing behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix at Sandown last time, but plenty to like about previous effort at Wincanton when he might just have shaken up Sceau Royal but for an unfortunate fall. Freshened up by more than two months off and stable struck with a number of horses sharing this kind of profile at Musselburgh last weekend. Not to be dismissed lightly.
De Name Escapes Me
Trainer: Noel Meade. Form: 71/311-0
Wasn't especially strong in the betting when returning from similar absence to finish midfield in handicap hurdle at Punchestown last season and scattered appearances suggest he hasn't been easy to keep in one piece. Open to obvious respect with a fine jockey booked, but concern as to whether he really wants this kind of speed test – he beat a former Irish Grand National winner in soft ground over half a mile further than this when taking the second of his two novice hurdles.
Wait For Me
Trainer: Philip Hobbs. Form: 114-865
Solid fourth in the County Hurdle last season and long been talked up by connections as being potentially better than just a handicapper, but particularly disappointing at Cheltenham last time, where despite seeming to be perfectly-positioned coming to the last flight, he weakened out of the frame close home. Perhaps this sort of end-to-end gallop will suit better, as might the flatter track, but needs to start delivering more and ironing out ongoing jumping issues too.
William H Bonney
Trainer: Alan King. Form: 1210-81
Later developer than some of these rivals but thought highly enough of to be thrown into Sky Bet Supreme last season and impressed when grinding out victory at Cheltenham last time (in front of Wait For Me). This a slightly different test and trainer stressed recently that he'd have "preferred another week" to recover from those exertions, but entitled to respect given overall profile of consistency.
Trainer: Graeme McPherson. Form: 476-434
Big field and good ground seems to bring out the best in him and handicapper easing grip a finger at a time, but still well above his most recent winning mark and a repeat of the scenario from last year's County Hurdle seems likeliest – namely a very respectable run and a possible slice of the minor prize-money.
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies. Form: 114435
A good ride for his promising conditional in this exalted company, but despite solid efforts this season in novice company, he basically serves only to make it obvious how well-handicapped his stablemate Ballyandy could be. At least the return to two miles should suit after he struggled over further last time.
Trainer: Paul Nicholls. Form: 1-151
Reputation has preceded him for much of this season and only 4/11 when winning ordinary maiden hurdle at Wincanton last time out. Almost impossible to gauge whether he has the required tools for this contest given his lack of public miles on the clock, but looked speedy in victory this season and impossible to rule out, especially if the betting speaks in his favour on the day.
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies. Form: 114-232
Champion Bumper winner who might have been expected to do better as a novice hurdler this season but still finds himself searching for first success despite three solid efforts. Perhaps this different kind of test and a more taxing early gallop will suit him better and although it's a dangerous business to try and assess such things by using bumper form, gut instinct suggests he simply must be well-treated getting weight from most of these rivals. Longer distances probably likely to suit in time, but connections bullish and hard not to see him producing a very big run here.
Trainer: Rob Stephens. Form: 6/7-0563
Exciting prospect as a juvenile who lost his way after hard-fought sixth in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle, but scored on the Flat at Kempton in December and revival in form confimed when good third in big handicap at same track back over hurdles next time out. Form of that race hasn't really worked out since, but this strong traveller could have been better served by being covered up for longer there and not one to be ruled out.
Trainer: Seamus Mullins. Form: 85/375-3
Two very good efforts in similar big handicaps to this so far this season and trainer has kept him back for tilt at this prize. Handicapper has nudged him up in the weights for latest run, which isn't ideal, but otherwise hard to see why he won't run his race again under conditions that clearly suit.
Trainer: Kerry Lee. Form: 315/P-25
Good third in 2015 Imperial Cup in similar mark and went on to take competitive event over this track and trip a fortnight later. Two fair efforts in November after missing all of last season and may have been kept back for this race since, but holds no secrets from anybody and hard to envisage him winning, especially as he probably wants two and a half miles-plus at this stage of his career.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott. Form: 713227
Done well since joining this trainer and very fair seventh in red-hot event last time out at Leopardstown. British handicapper hasn't taken a punitive view on his chances, but overall it's hard to argue that he is well-handicapped given that he has repeatedly come up short off lesser marks in Ireland. An interesting contender nevertheless.
Trainer: John Flint. Form: 114105
Connections will be delighted to get a shot at a big pot like this and the chance is richly deserved given the way this gelding improved throughout the summer and has managed to maintain his form under much higher marks. Soft ground probably not quite as good for him and likely that the rise in grade will thoroughly find him out, but unlikely to finish last.
1st Ballyandy 2nd Zubayr 3rd Song Light 4th Beltor
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