Assessing the impressive novice hurdlers from Christmas
The Christmas period saw a bunch of Graded novice hurdles take place, and the picture is now quite a bit clearer in terms of pecking orders at the various trips. Indeed, those races produced a few winners that will have strong claims to be at the very top end of their divisions at the end of the season.
First up to the
plate was the Willie Mullins-trained Appreciate It in the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Appreciate It was
one the very best bumper horses in training last season. Despite doing his best
to create the image of an embryonic staying chaser by winning a point-to-point
and a bumper over two-and-a-half miles, he showed an altogether different side
to himself when winning the Grade 2 bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival in
electric style. That victory made him the one to beat in the Champion Bumper at
the Cheltenham Festival and while he found Ferny Hollow too good for him on the
day, he earned more credit than the bare result gave him as he fared best of
those that raced handily and were put into the race early in the straight.
While Willie Mullins expressed that Appreciate It was likely to want at least two-and-a-half miles over hurdles to show his best, he started him off in a maiden hurdle over two miles at Cork in November. He looked to have a straightforward task on paper and didn’t blow too many people away in landing odds of 1/12, though the subsequent exploits of the clear runner-up Master Mcshee (won a maiden hurdle and a handicap hurdle off 132 since) have painted the form in a better light than it appeared at the time. On that occasion his jumping had been quite good in the main, getting slicker as the race progressed, and it served to lay a solid foundation for his imminent step up in class.
Appreciate It star of the show
Sent straight up to Grade 1 company for the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown on 27 December, Appreciate It faced a formidable rival in the shape of the Royal Bond winner Ballyadam. However, with that rival failing to fire on the day, Appreciate It was very much the star of the show. His jumping was assured and solid rather than slick, but he powered through the race and quickly put it bed when the time came, proving very strong up the run-in on his way to a nine-length victory.
With Ferny Hollow
now on the side lines, Appreciate It looks to have taken over as Mullins’ main
hope in the two-mile novice hurdle division. In fairness, he may well have
ended up in that spot anyway even if Ferny Hollow was still on the scene. The
Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival (6-7 February) is
set to be his next port of call and if there is to be a threatening rival in
opposition to him there, they haven’t made themselves known just yet.
Metier remains best of British
Over at Sandown, the
Harry Fry-trained Metier put his unbeaten record over hurdles on the line in
the Tolworth Hurdle. Formerly trained on the Flat in Ireland by Andy Slattery,
he reached a career-high rating of 90 up to a mile-and-a-half prior to changing
hands for 150,000gns in October 2019 and joining Harry Fry.
It took time for
Metier to reach the track, and having had a breathing operation last summer, he
made a winning British debut in a novice hurdle at Newton Abbot almost a year
to the day after he had been bought. Three weeks later he followed up by winning
an introductory hurdle at Ascot in similarly clear-cut style. On the first of
those occasions, he ended up in front a long way out as nothing was able to
give him a lead for longer than they did, and on the second occasion Sean Bowen
decided to make the running on him as there was no other pace in the race. On
both occasions his jumping looked a work in progress, with it being a bit
deliberate and big in places. Thus, while he went into the Tolworth Hurdle as a
favourite unbeaten over hurdles, he still had questions to answer as to whether
he was up to such a stiff rise in class at this early stage of his hurdling
career. He answered those questions in no uncertain terms.
In a more
competitive environment and surrounded by a better class of horse, Sean Bowen
was able to anchor Metier and ride him with patience. Metier responded well to
the cover he was positioned in amongst, with his jumping being markedly slicker
and more professional. It was clear from a long way out that he was travelling
very strongly and once Bowen asked him for more after the penultimate flight,
Metier responded generously and powered up the run-in to score by 12 lengths.
The depth of what
finished behind him can be questioned, but the tangible progression Metier made
from Ascot to Sandown and the style of his victory warrants upgrading of his
bare performance. This was as impressive a performance as has been seen from a two-mile
novice hurdler in Britain this season and Metier rates as an exciting prospect.
Bravemansgame displays power at Newbury
The Grade 1 novice
hurdle action was rounded off at Newbury with the Paul Nicholls-trained
Bravemansgame winning the Challow Novices’ Hurdle in taking style. The
six-year-old had changed hands for £370,000 after winning a point-to-point at
Lingstown in March 2019, but had been made to look expensive when beaten in two
bumpers for Nicholls last season. However, having had a breathing operation, he
made up for lost time in delivering on his promise this season.
started his season with defeat in a novice hurdle at Chepstow, he hasn’t been
beaten since. Victories at odds-on in novice hurdles at Exeter and Newbury set
the scene for his first venture into Grade 1 company last Tuesday and he didn’t
disappoint his supporters. Showcasing a likeably uncomplicated manner,
Bravemansgame jumped out and made his own running. For a big, scopey, chasing
type in appearance, he exhibited a notably athletic and nimble jumping
technique, making it look effortless. Clearly travelling best from a long way
out, his supporters never had a moment of worry. The manner in which he powered
up the run-in after being given a couple of reminders from the saddle was very
Again, the depth of
what finished behind Bravemansgame at Newbury can be questioned, but he can be
marked up for style. Paul Nicholls made some very favourable and quotable
comparisons between him and the great Denman after the race. While he has some
way to go in reaching that sort of level, Bravemansgame looks to have all the
potential to be a proper one.