Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle Betting

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When the annual Cheltenham Festival format was expanded from three days to four in 2005, several new races were added to the March program, including this gruelling challenge for staying novices aged four years old and upwards. Classed as a Grade 2 event and featuring a three-mile run on the left-handed turf of the New Course with twelve hurdles to be jumped, it was originally known by its formally registered name as the Spa Novices’ Hurdle Race.

The sponsor for the inaugural meeting was Brit Insurance, who backed the race until 2008. That’s when the United Kingdom’s leading grower of root potatoes, vegetable company Albert Bartlett, assumed the title role. The change in sponsorship coincided with an upgrade in status to a Class A Grade 1 National Hunt hurdle.

Today the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle occupies the third spot on the fourth and final day of the Festival, as one of three hurdles leading up to the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Four year olds carry a weight of 10 stone 12 pounds, while those aged five and above bear 11 stone 7. There is a 7 pound allowance for fillies and mares.

Many see a strong finish in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle as a portent of greatness to come. Especially with more and more flat-bred horses passing this race by for the shorter Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle on Day Two, long-term chase prospects are filling the field here and the winners are bright stars, indeed.

For example, the 2009 victor, Weapon’s Amnesty, returned to Cheltenham the following year to win the Festival’s RSA Chase. There is every reason to believe that the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle could eventually grow into an excellent indicator of the future’s World Hurdles champions.

Winning trainers and jockeys should also be watched closely. In 2005, Moulin Riche was trained by France’s Francois Doumen and ridden to victory by Robert Thornton. In 2008, Thornton claimed a second win here aboard Nenuphar Collonges, trained by Alan King. Meanwhile, trainer Jonjo O’Neill and rider Tony McCoy joined forces to score back-to-back wins with Black Jack Ketchum in 2006 and Wichita Lineman in 2007.

Interestingly enough, both of the O’Neill/McCoy wins came with the favourites, paying 11/8 and Evens, respectively. Although no other running has seen the price leader prevail, single-figure-odds winners were the norm until the 2010 edition, when Berties Dream turned in a lovely 33/1 result and claimed £57,010 for the Half A Keg Syndicate, trainer Paul John Gilligan, and jockey Andrew Lynch.

Those looking for trends might pay attention to form. Every one of the six winners since 2005 had run at least three times over hurdles. And looking at all of the top three finishers in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle—18 of them in total—sixteen finished either first or runner-up their last time out.

On the other hand, many handicappers believe the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is unique, coming as it does at the tail-end of New Course racing, when the turf has been well churned by a week full of competition. It seems to favour the strongest stayers and entries that come to the starting line with past Cheltenham experience.

Regarding age, no four-year-old has won here, and no five-year-old has succeeded since 2005. Since then, three winning horses were age seven and two were age six. It is also worth noting that Irish-trained mounts have won the last two runnings and that such horses filled three of the first six places in 2010.

In 2011, the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle has a total prize fund set at £100,000, identical to the level achieved in the previous year. Note that this race should not be confused with the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock, which is a Grade 2 race conducted in February and registered as the Prestige Novices’ Hurdle.

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