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The 2021 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: trends, statistics, history and replays

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 14 Jan 2021

When and where can I watch it?: 2.30pm, Friday March 19, live in HD on Racing TV, Sky Channel 426.

Key Statistics and Trends:

Brits hold edge:

There have been 15 renewals of the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle. Eight have been won by British-trained runners, seven by Irish and one French. Ireland have won seven of the past 12.

Look for younger legs:

Horses aged six or seven have won 13 of the runnings. Unowhatimeanharry (2016, below) is the only eight-year-old to have won it.

Our experts look back at the 2020 renewal

Jonjo clue:

Jonjo O'Neill and Willie Mullins have twice saddled the winner. O'Neill struck with Black Jack Ketchum (2006) and Wichita Lineman (2007), while Mullins scored with Penhull (2017) and Monkfish (2020).

Big-priced winners:

Monkfish edged home at 5-1 last year but the previous six renewals have all been won by horses going off at double-figure odds: 50-1, 33-1 (twice), 14-1, 11-1 and 16-1, so do not be worried if your fancy is overlooked in the market.

Winning preps:

Eight had won their previous race. None had finished worse than fourth.

At least six weeks off is handy:

Beware any runner who has had a race in the previous three weeks.

Freshness seems key with the past 13 winners having not run for between 27 days and 97 days. No fewer than 11 had been off for at least 47 days.

Track form:

Seven winners already boasted winning form at Cheltenham. Nine had run at the track at least once.

Staying power:

Eleven victors already boasted winning form over 3m. Monkfish had not, but did win a point plus over 2m 7f.

Grade Two will do:

Only one horse (Wichita Lineman) had won a Grade One beforehand, although nine had won a Grade Two.

Chasing glory:

Two had previously won over fences - Moulin Riche in 2005 and Berties Dream in 2010. And six of the past nine winners had won a point-to-point.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle walk down memory lane and replays:

2020 – Monkfish

Monkfish stuck to his task in tremendous style to win a thriller. The 5-1 chance was always prominent and even a mistake three out could not stop the progressive six-year-old.

Four of the fancied horses were in with a shout coming with the last, but it all got a bit tight and Thyme Hill was squeezed for room.

Monkfish looked third best at one stage, but he battled on gamely for Paul Townend and put his head down to beat Latest Exhibition by a neck, with Fury Road a nose away in third. Thyme Hill was a length and a quarter away in fourth after having to be switched.

Winning owner Rich Ricci said: "It was unbelievable, and I thought he was quite keen going round. Wow. He kept finding, I thought we were definitely beat in the last 100 yards. He has got a bit of class about him.

"He made a howler, but that was magic. He is definitely a chaser. We bought him as a Gold Cup horse. Hopefully fingers crossed he stays healthy and he can grow into one."

2019 – Minella Indo

Minella Indo sprang a huge surprise at 50-1 to become the biggest-priced winner in the history of this race and continue a week to remember for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore.

The six-year-old travelled powerfully throughout and burst clear before the final flight up the near-side rail, always holding the runner-up and beating Commander Of Fleet (4-1F) by two lengths with Allaho seven lengths further back in third (8-1).

“I can’t believe it,” said Blackmore – the jockey riding a Grade One winner over obstacles at the Festival, the feat only achieved for the first by a female rider the previous day thanks to Bryony Frost aboard Frodon in the Ryanair Chase.

“I always knew he was a really nice horse and thought he was coming with a right shout, but you just don’t think it’s going to work out. “It’s brilliant I don’t know what to say. It’s an amazing place and I’m so glad to be part of it.”

2018 - Kilbricken Storm

Kilbricken Storm caused a 33-1 upset as he showed stamina in abundance on the testing ground.

He was a first winner of the week for trainer Colin Tizzard and a first ever at the Festival for 19-year-old jockey Harry Cobden. Kilbricken Storm powered up the hill after heading long-time leader Fabulous Saga at the final flight.

Although the pack closed near the line, Kilbricken Storm was home and hosed as he scored by three lengths and a length from the Nicky Henderson-trained pair of Ok Corral and Santini, the latter sent off the 11-4 favourite.

Cobden said: "He's a proper tough cookie. This is something I have dreamed of."

Tizzard said: "I bought him at the Doncaster Sales for £22,000 and I had to push the boat out to go to £22,000!

"It goes to show that the beauty of National Hunt racing is you can pick up these horses for around £20,000 and win the biggest staying novice hurdle of the season."

2017 - Penhill:

Death Duty was sent off the 13-8 favourite to win for Ireland but he was pulled up and it was left to two other Irish raiders, Penhill and Monalee, to dominate. The former, ridden by Paul Townend, prevailed by three and a half lengths, with Wholestone faring best of the British contenders in third.

Willie Mullins was securing is 54th winner at The Festival but had never previously won this race. “It isn’t a race that has been lucky for us in the past,” he said. “Penhill has class. We were trying to win with him over two miles and he just couldn’t handle the pace of top-class racing over two miles, so we let him out to three miles and he impressed us so we said we’d go for this.”

Owner Tony Bloom was collecting his first Festival winner’s trophy and said: “There are quite a lot of friends here today and a lot of us were on at 16-1 and 20-1, so we are delighted.”

Townend admitted he had few anxious moments, having previously landed the County Hurdle on the same card. “It’s grand, there’s no feeling like it. It’s a brilliant day,” he said.

2016 - Unowhatimeanharry:

Something of a fairytale success with Unowhatimeanharry, purchased to give a club of 40 owners some fun, took the spoils - in the process giving trainer Harry Fry his first ‘official’ winner at the meeting.

Fry has been credited with plotting victory for Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby in 2010, while based at a satellite yard for trainer Paul Nicholls, but this one was in his name - 11-1 chance Unowhatimeanharry repelling Fagan (33-1) and Champers On Ice (20-1) by one and a quarter lengths and one and a half lengths.

“At the start of the season he was a 123-rated hurdler and the plan was simply to win a race for the [Harry Fry Racing] Club,” Fry said. “It didn’t matter where – just to win a race and give the members a day out. First time out he won a conditional jockeys’ handicap at The Open meeting, so to end up back here winning the Albert Bartlett is extraordinary.”

Winning jockey Noel Fehily said: “Harry had this horse absolutely primed for today. I schooled him the other week and you’d have thought it was his first run of the season, he was that fresh. He’s just a tough little horse and nothing fazes him.”

2015 - Martello Tower:

Martello Tower gave trainer Mags Mullins her first Festival winner when running out a game winner.

The 14-1 shot got into a protracted battle with the Gigginstown House Stud-owned pair Milsean (ridden by Mullins’ son Danny) and No More Heroes approaching the last, but dug deep to repel the challenge of the former to record a half length victory.

Mullins, who was married to trainer Willie Mullins’ brother Tony (also a trainer), was ecstatic after the race and revealed: “Danny actually rode him (Martello Tower) out this morning and he said he thought he had a big chance too.”

Adrian Heskin was enjoying the second Festival winner of his career and said: “He was never doing a whole pile under me – he’s an idle sort of horse and you’d want to be as hard as you can on him because he keeps finding, and that’s one of his great attributes.

2014 - Very Wood:

Very Wood belied odds of 33-1 for Noel Meade in the colours of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud, but only after he had almost been withdrawn the previous day when he was lame.

Meade said: “In the morning we pulled him out of his box and he could hardly put his hind leg on the ground. The course vet rang me and said: ‘He has no chance of being sound in time, you had better take him out’. Then he said, ‘We’ll poultice him and work on it, so declare him anyway’.

“We took the shoe off and got stuck into it straight away, and all the crew worked up and down. A bucket load of pus came out, which was the best thing, and when we put the shoe back on today he was fine.”

Trainer Oliver Sherwood, trainer of runner-up Deputy Dan, said: “It’s bloody frustrating to finish second. I thought we had won off the bend but he just looked at the arena and slightly ballooned the last.”

There had been drama before the race when Port Melon tried to jump the rails separating the racecourse from the Best Mate Enclosure. Daryl Jacob, his jockey, was sent crashing to the ground and suffered multiple injuries including a broken knee.

2013 - At Fishers Cross:

Favourite backers were on good term with themselves after the 11-8 market leader At Fishers Cross delivered a first Grade One success for Rebecca Curtis in the colours of JP McManus under Tony McCoy.

Celebration were muted, though, with McManus subdued after JT McNamara had suffered a severe neck in a fall at the meeting the previous day. “The day is marred with sadness with what JT and his family are going through. We feel guilty for being here today because we feel we should be doing something to help him and I just wish we could.

“This is one of the highs and one of the great things about the meeting but, let me tell you, it doesn’t compare with the sadness of yesterday.”

McCoy concurred. “It is very hard to be happy after what happened yesterday with J T McNamara,” he said.

2012 - Brindisi Breeze:

“A fantastic, inexpressible feeling” said 21-year-old Scottish rider Campbell Gillies after Brindisi Breeze had provided him with what was, tragically, to be his only Cheltenham Festival winner.

“It was tough for him to go out and do it from the hard end,” the gifted young jockey said. “We had been slightly worried about the faster ground, but he was taking lengths out of them at his hurdles. He’s so athletic and was electric through the air today.”

Little more than three months later the racing community was numb after Gillies drowned while on holiday with weighing-room colleagues in Corfu.

The previous month Brindisi Breeze had been instantly killed after he jumped out of his paddock and was hit by a tanker. He had been the first horse owned by Sandy Seymour.

2011 - Bobs Worth:

The first leg of a superb treble at The Festival for Bobs Worth, trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Barry Geraghty.

He returned to win the RSA Chase 12 months later and then, a year after it, won the biggest prize of them all when scooping the Gold Cup.

Geraghty has an unusual role in the career of Bobs Worth. He bought the horse with a view to ‘pinhooking’ him - selling him at a later date, hopefully for a profit - and three years later found a buyer.

That was Henderson, and as Geraghty is first jockey at that trainer’s Lambourn stables it meant he was likely to ride the horse once he reached the races.

Geraghty said: “I bought him as a yearling, and Nicky bought him off me as a four-year-old - or should I say robbed him off me as a four-year-old.”

2010 - Berties Dream:

A jubilant Paul Gilligan enjoyed Festival success with his first runner as Bertie’s Dream surged clear of Najaf in the closing stages.

To judge by the wild scenes in the winner’s enclosure afterwards it seems likely members of the Half A Keg Syndicate had not let their 33-1 chance go unbacked.

“I did fancy him because the horses are flying at home,” Gilligan said. “Things had kicked into gear and to have a winner here - money can’t buy it.”

Conor Broderick, of the The Half A Keg Syndicate, said: “I named him after my father, Bertie Broderick. He died three days after we bought the horse. When I told him I’d bought him, he said, ‘I always dreamed you’d own a racehorse’.”

2009 - Weapon’s Amnesty:

Charles Byrnes was overjoyed to register his first success at The Festival when Weapon’s Amnesty repelled the favourite, Pride Of Dulcote, by half a length.

The Davy Russell-ridden winner, returned at 8-1, looked to have the race in safe keeping after the last but idled in front as the runner-up rallied.

Byrnes had saddled the second in the race twice before (Powerstation in 2006 and Liskennett in 2008) and so was not winning it out of turn.

He said: “He is an out and out stayer and a real three mile horse. He will jump a fence and I would imagine that will be next season.” Russell added: “He is not the easiest horse to train - he's a big-framed horse and a chaser in the making.”

Both trainer and jockey were right. Weapon’s Amnesty returned to Cheltenham 12 months later to win the RSA Chase but would race only once more because of injury.

2008 - Nenuphar Collonges:

A never-say-die ride by Robert Thornton enabled Nenuphar Collonges, who had been running in chases the previous season, to snatch the spoils in the final strides.

"The horse was off the bridle for two and a half miles and it was a wonderful ride," said winning trainer Alan King. "I thought he had a huge each-way horse beforehand and he was one I was looking forward to running all week.

"I’ve said all along that when others cry enough, Nenuphar Collonges will keep going. He’s actually won quite cosily in the end and it’s not bad for an old chaser.”

Thornton added: "He’s always been hard work and wears blinkers but you wouldn’t call him ungenuine. He needs a lead and from the bottom of the hill I thought I would get there."

Nenuphar Collonges never won again over hurdles, but did win a handicap chase the following season.

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