Cheltenham Tips: Kevin Blake's ante-post verdict on the Novice Hurdles

Horse racing expert Kevin Blake
Kevin likes Brighterdaysahead in the 2024 Mares Novices Hurdle

With three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2024 Kevin Blake delivers his ante-post verdicts on the Novice Hurdles and tells us which horse he's sweet on in the Mares race on Thursday 14 March...

  • Mullins holds the aces in Supreme and Baring Bingham

  • Brighterdaysahead will be tough to beat in the Mares

  • Non-runner money back on all Cheltenham 2024 races

  • With just three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival, most of the formbook evidence we'll have on the days is in the book, but that doesn't mean that we have anything like all the information at hand.

    Of course, the ground will be at the mercy of the weather, but even more significantly, the continued presence of three Grade 1 novice hurdles at the meeting will mean that uncertainty over the contenders and shape of each race will remain open to substantial change right up to the declaration deadline.

    Considering that, it is difficult to be too bullish around the novice hurdles, but I'll do my best to give you a feel for my leanings at this stage.

    Supreme Novices' Hurdle - 12 March

    The waters of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle looked to have cleared significantly at the Dublin Racing Festival with the Willie Mullins-trained Ballyburn putting away a high-quality field for the Tattersalls Ireland 50th Derby Sale Novice Hurdle in great style.

    That performance looked to confirm that the shorter trip was best for him and he was understandably cut into a short-priced favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

    However, a fair amount of uncertainty was injected back into the race following the impressive success of Tullyhill in a Listed novice hurdle at Punchestown last weekend.

    With Tullyhill only holding one entry at the Cheltenham Festival in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, speculation has been rife that he might well run in that race and Ballyburn could switch to the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle.

    What a game!

    My opinion on these two contenders is clear in my mind. Ballyburn looks to be the best novice hurdler in training and I suspect he could win either the Supreme Novices' Hurdle or the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle, but his full body of work, which has featured more than a couple of hard-pulling performances, suggests that the shorter trip is a far safer option for him.

    Tullyhill looked good at Punchestown and his jumping has improved massively since his hurdling debut, but his improved jumping has coincided with him getting uncontested leads and whether it would hold up in what tends to be a frenetically-run contest in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle would be a significant concern.

    For that reason, the longer trip and usually more tepid tempo of the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle would make sense for him to me and the option of supplementing him for it is one that connections might well consider.

    Willie Mullins 1280 x 853.png

    Of course, my opinion doesn't matter here. There is only one man who matters in this conundrum and that is Willie Mullins. He will do whatever he feels is best on declaration morning and agonising over what that might be doesn't appeal as being a good use of mental energy.

    Baring Bingham Novices Hurdle - 13 March

    One of the Mullins' battalion that seems to be a likely runner in the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle is Ile Atlantique. The six-year-old has already made up into a better hurdler than he was in bumpers, making an impressive winning hurdling debut at Gowran Park in November before being thrown into the deep waters of the Lawlor's Of Naas Novice Hurdle in January.

    Despite Willie Mullins having a strong hand for that race, Ile Atlantique was Paul Townend's pick and he was notably strong in the market. It didn't seem to be the plan for him to make the running, but the poor jumping of a stable mate left him in the lead soon after the start. He did everything right in the race, but was mugged late on by the more quietly ridden Readin Tommy Wrong.

    Ile Atlantique has already been put forward as a highly-likely runner in the Baring Bingham by his owner's racing manager. While he won't be in control of what Mullins does with Ballyburn or the rest of his contenders, Ile Atlantique looks to have solid prospects in the race.

    Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle - 15 March

    As regards the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle, there is still a great amount of uncertainty around the make-up of the field and with none of the potential contenders being particularly appealing to me, I'm going to hold fire on nailing my colours to a mast just yet.

    Mares Novices Hurdle - 14 March

    That isn't the case when it comes to the Mares' Novice Hurdle, as I'm sweet on the Gordon Elliott-trained Brighterdaysahead. The five-year-old has an exceptional pedigree being a half-sister to Caldwell Potter, French Dynamite and Mighty Potter and she realised a scarcely-believable price of €310,000 as an unbroken three-year-old at the Derby Sale in June 2022.

    Mind, she has been showing herself to be well bought so far, going unbeaten in two starts in bumpers and three starts over hurdles. She returned from a mid-season freshen up to win a Listed mares' novice hurdle at Navan in February, putting on her best display of jumping so far. Dropping back in trip is unlikely to hold any great fears for her and she looks set to be tough to beat in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

    Back Brighterdaysahead to win the Mares Novice Hurdle

    Bet here

    Now Read Cheltenham Festival Novice Chases: Kevin Blakes antepost verdicts


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