by Gary Nutting
14:40 Cheltenham Fri 16 March
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Registered As The Spa Novices' Hurdle) (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4YO plus)
Winner £56,950 - 20 ran
THE Albert Bartlett looks a really good race to get involved in at this stage because there's a fair possibility that neither of the market leaders will take their chance.
Indeed, Philip Hobbs has already effectively ruled out Fingal Bay, arguing it would be "foolish" to experiment with a step up to three miles when the gelding can stick to what he's very good at and go for the Neptune over 2m5f.
Hobbs' logic isn't entirely faultless because Bobs Worth won last year's renewal after being campaigned over shorter distances, but you can see where he's coming from and he doesn't give the impression he's about to change his mind over a horse who is unbeaten in five starts.
A similar situation applies to the Willie Mullins-trained Boston Bob, although as a former point-to-point winner with a stout pedigree his participation would appear to be more justified.
Despite his breeding however the Graham Wylie-owned gelding is a shorter price for the Neptune than the Bartlett with Ladbrokes, which suggests they think he is heading for the former.
But even if Boston Bob does take up this option instead of the Neptune, in which case he would most likely be a pretty short-priced favourite, there's got to be some great each-way value to be had elsewhere and no horse appeals more than SEA OF THUNDER.
Trained by Charles Byrnes, who won the race three years ago with Weapon's Amnesty, the gelding showcased his talents with an impressive display over course and distance at the December meeting - until, that is, he fell at the last.
Often with fallers you worry that they were getting tired but this wasn't the case with Sea Of Thunder, who simply paid the penalty for an over-exuberant leap, having travelled supremely well and opened up an increasing six-length lead at the point of departure.
That particular trial has proved an extremely good guide to the Bartlett in the latter's seven-year history, with Black Jack Ketchum and Nenuphar Collonges winning both races and Mossley going close to repeating the feat last year (he finished second to Bobs Worth, his stablemate).
We have seen with Weapon's Amnesty how he's a much better horse on goodish ground and all the signs are that Sea Of Thunder is cut from similar cloth.
The form has stacked up pretty well too, with Deireadh Re and Rev It Up, the promoted first and second, winning next time out. Admittedly it would have been better had Deireadh Re not been well beaten off 139 at Newbury last time but he was probably not at his best that day, given the health concerns at Paul Nicholls' yard, and the selection had looked in a different league to him anyway at Cheltenham.
Sea Of Thunder's subsequent fifth to Boston Bob in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown is easily forgiven. The heavy ground was dead against him, the drop back to 2m4f wasn't ideal either and the way he was ridden suggested that getting his confidence back after that tumble was the main aim of the exercise.
We have seen with Weapon's Amnesty how he's a much better horse on goodish ground and all the signs are that Sea Of Thunder, half brother to high-class two-miler Macs Joy, is cut from similar cloth.
Nicholls, whose Pride Of Dulcote pushed Weapon's Amnesty so close in 2009, appears to have a live contender again in Rocky Creek, whose decisive defeat of Gullinbursti in a Grade 2 at Doncaster last time received a decent form boost when the latter went close in the Newbury handicap contested by Deireadh Re.
There is also apparent confidence behind the Gordon Elliott-trained Mount Benbulben, who started odds-on when second to Boston Bob in a Grade 1 at Navan in December, even though he hasn't run since. He has a stayer's pedigree so could well improve again for the step up in trip.
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Friday 16 March)
2.5pts each-way SEA OF THUNDER
(12-1 bet365, Betfred, Coral, Ladbrokes, Totesport)