Monday, 9 March 2009

Cheltenham Preview - Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle

The Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle. Ten hurdles over two miles and five furlongs, for novices aged four and above. A real clash between speed and stamina, winners of the race take very different career paths. The 2009 renewal is a difficult one to sort out.

This used to be an easy puzzle to solve – back the favourite. In recent years however, the race has been a little more open, with SPs ranging from 6/1 to 20/1. That said, of the outsiders with odds of 25/1 since 1997, only six have placed and none have won, while the average SP from the last eleven renewals is just over 7/1, so we shouldn’t be looking too far away from the favourites.

Age is important, with 21 of the last 23 winners being five or six years old; of the two that weren’t, one was four and one was seven. Nothing younger than five has won since 1991. Six year olds have won two-thirds of the last fifteen races, so they edge it over the five year olds.

Last time out form is also important, with nine of the last ten winners having placed top two last time out. Furthermore, nine out of the last ten winners had won at least 50% of their career starts over hurdles.

The last ten renewals were taken down by horses boasting a Racing Post Rating of 145 or more, while nine of the last ten winners have won at a trip of at least two miles four furlongs.

These trends allow us to reduce the field to six, but from here it is very difficult to pick a winner.

I can’t take Wendel (right), as he just doesn’t look good enough. He only scrapes in on trends based on the fact that he won a race over two miles four, but he stole ten lengths at the start to do that and was later beaten 27 lengths by Knockara Beau, who is nothing special himself. At a best price 25/1 (William Hill), Knockara Beau seems to me to be at his best on sharper tracks and I just can’t see him winning, with some of the class in this field.

I really like the look of the unbeaten from six Diamond Harry (left) under one of my favourite jockeys, Timmy Murphy. The worry is though, he has a tendency to hang left and although he’s proven to stay this trip, you don’t want to see a horse hanging under pressure, especially not at Cheltenham. For that reason alone, given the other classy contenders in the race, I can’t have him. As he’s already held Bensalem (at Cheltenham too) then I have to rule him out as well. Another negative is his win in the Challow Hurdle – all eleven winners to run in this race have been beaten.

Karabak is favourite with a lot of the bookmakers and he does appear to have a great chance. Proven at Cheltenham, the only doubt for me is the second place behind Mad Max, who I’ve already ruled out, but Alan King horses often improve race by race and he definitely has come on since then. If he improves any further, he will be very hard to beat. It’s worth noting that although he was well held that day, “Choc” Thornton never actually applied the whip on the run in.

Mikael D’Haguenet, should he take his chance, looks very good indeed having won three of the Ballymore Properties trial races. Should we get the forecast softer ground, this will only improve his chances; his trainer has actually stated that he won’t run unless the ground is soft. He looks a real classy sort, proven on a variety of testing, undulating tracks and he goes well left handed – he is only five years old though.

I find it hard to separate these two, but given that Karabak (right) already has a Cheltenham run under his belt, he seems the safer option. I will definitely leave it until the day to bet, if I bet at all, to see how much rain we’ve had. Although Karabak is fine on Good to Soft, he’s never run on anything softer, so that could work doubly in the favour of Mikael D’Haguenet, who is a definite mudlark.

Ballymore Properties Novices’ Hurdle
Wednesday March 11th, 14:05
1 point win

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