Adam Brookes previews the 2015 renewal of the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle at Sandown and picks out his best bet...
"O O Seven hammered Cyrius Moriviere by 13 lengths at Huntingdon on his jumping debut, and he looked a smart prospect when defying a penalty on soft ground over C&D this month..."
As a Grade 1 over two miles, the Tolworth provides a natural stepping stone to the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, though you have to go back to Noland in 2006/07 to find the last horse to win both races.
Last year's winner L'Ami Serge (fourth behind Douvan, Shaneshill and Sizing John in a strong Supreme) was the exception to the Tolworth rule from a Timeform ratings viewpoint, as the figure he brought into the race--152p--was very high, 16 lb higher than his nearest form rival.
The average rating bought into the Tolworth by the five winners before L'ami Serge was 131--they were rated 142 on average after the race--and five of this year's 11 entries are rated on that mark or higher by Timeform, which points to an up-to-scratch renewal as things stand.
Willie Mullins sent out just four runners at Sandown from 1995 to 2014, but in 2015 he saddled four jumpers at the track and won with three--the mares Gitane du Berlais, Uranna and Babylone des Motte--while the other runner was Wicklow Brave who was pulled up after a tardy start in the Imperial Cup and landed the Coral Cup next time.
The Mullins-trained Yorkhill was the second highest-rated bumper performer last season (narrowly behind the same connections' Bellshill) after winning both his starts, and he again looked a cracking prospect when making a winning hurdling debut in a maiden over 2½m on heavy going at Punchestown this month.
There's a good chance he'll prove up to winning Grade 1s over timber, though the fact he heads the ante-post betting for both the Neptune and the Albert Bartlett (will stay 3m) at Cheltenham, and holds an engagement in the Grade 1 novice hurdle over 2½m at Naas on Sunday, suggests he's by no means certain to drop back in trip here for all he's been left among the entries.
One who is almost certain to run is O O Seven given he's the sole representative from the Nicky Henderson yard that has won four of the last five renewals (L'Ami Serge, Royal Boy, Captain Conan and Minella Class). O O Seven hammered Cyrius Moriviere by 13 lengths at Huntingdon on his jumping debut, and he looked a smart prospect when defying a penalty on soft ground over C&D this month by a length and a quarter from Premier Bond. He's interesting.
The other form principal is Welsh Shadow who separated Yanworth and Barney Dwan when second at Exeter on his hurdling debut and progressed plenty to win the listed Newton novices' on heavy ground at Haydock last month by two and a quarter lengths from Viens Chercher. He's one of the Timeform Fifty To Follow this season (Yorkhill is part of the Irish list) and must be considered with further improvement to come.
Next best on ratings is the second Irish raider Cardinal Palace from the James Nash stable, but he's won just one of his eight hurdle starts (albeit went very close behind Roadie Joe in a 2½m Grade 2 novice at Chepstow last time) and is one of the two horses in the race (along with Bigmartre, who won on Wednesday) who does not have a positive symbol ('P', 'p' or '+') attached to his Timeform rating.
Point winner Charmix could only hint at ability on his bumper debut last May but he's proven a different horse since sent hurdling, making all in novices at Wetherby and Newbury either side of finishing a close second to Modus at the latter track. He's another who will be dropping back in trip and merits respect, as does the ex-French Le Prezien who has done well in two outings for the Paul Nicholls yard that won three straight Tolworths from 2006 (Nolan, Silverburn and Breedsbreeze), finishing second to the penalised Yanworth in a Warwick novice before winning a maiden at Ludlow.
The field is completed by Theo's Charm, Krugermac and Agrapart (bidding to give history-making jockey Lizzie Kelly her second Grade 1 win inside a week), all promising young horses but perhaps biting off a bit more than they can chew in this company at this stage (it's difficult to assess the form of Agrapart's wide-margin win last time and he's probably shorter than he should be at around 6/1 currently).
A difficult race to get stuck as things stand given the most likely winner Yorkhill is by no means a certain runner. There's still a bet in there though--O O Seven shares his rating with both Yorkhill (who has admittedly just had one hurdles ran and has a Large 'P' not a small one) and Welsh Shadow and is almost guaranteed to run given his yard's excellent record in this race, so he's worth backing at around 9/2, even if it's with one eye on laying off a shorter price after the declarations have been made (which should happen if Yorkhill doesn't run).
Back O O Seven in the Tolworth Novices' Hurdle