When and where can I watch it?: 1.20pm on Wednesday 16 March, live in stunning HD on Racing TV.
What Grade? Grade One. What Course: Old Course. What Distance: 2m5f (10 hurdles)
What Prize Money: £90,000 Age restrictions: 4yo +
What Weights and Allowances: 5-yo-+ 11st 7lb; 4-y-o 10st 12lb. Allowances, mares 7lb.
Sponsor: Ballymore Group
KEY STATISTICS AND TRENDS:
Five of the past eight winners lined up unbeaten over hurdles. Eleven of the past 13 winners were top or second-top on official BHA ratings. Four of the past 10 winners were Grade One winners over hurdles - Bob Olinger (2021), Envoi Allen (2020), Samcro (2018) and Yorkhill (2016) - while Windsor Park (2015) was second in such a race over hurdles. The New One (2013) and Faugheen (2014) had won Graded races over hurdles beforehand.
The past 12 winners had all won at least one bumper.
Fancied horses fare well:
30 of the past 31 winners had run at least three times over hurdles, with 32 of the past 34 winners inside the top six of the betting. 35 of the last 36 winners finished either first or second in their last start.
Six-year-olds on a roll:
Bob Olinger became the eighth successive six-year-old to win last year. 18 of the past 25 winners and 9 of the last 10 were aged six. French Holly (1998) is the only winner aged older than six to have won since 1974.
Challow Hurdle winners have a dire win record in this race, with the last 16 winners going for Festival glory all beaten. Nine runners finished second or third, most recently Bravemansgame behind Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil.
Irish hold sway:
Ten of the past 14 winners were trained in Ireland. Three of the seven runners last year were trained in Ireland, with Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil landing a 1-2 for the visitors.
Davy Russell tells Lydia Hislop about Envoi Allen's triumph in 2020
Ballymore Group resumed its sponsorship in 2018 race after an eight-year hiatus. The race has been staged as the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle since 2010 and the race was founded in 1971.
The registered title of the race is the Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle - in honour of W A Baring Bingham, who purchased Prestbury Park in 1881 and helped organise the first Cheltenham Festival in 1902.
It is the first race on the Wednesday of the Festival and has an impressive roll of honour with some star hurdlers claiming the prize over the years.
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh have teamed up for four victories in the race – Fiveforthree (2008), Mikael D'Haguenet (2009), Faugheen (2014) and Yorkhill (2016). Mullins is the current leading trainer.
Recent renewals of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle:
2021 - Bob Olinger
Bob Olinger (6-4F) lived up to pre-race confidence with a sparkling display, and less than 24 hours after Champion Hurdle glory for trainer Henry de Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore. This was a first Festival winner for burgeoning owner Brian Acheson and his Robcour ownership vehicle.
Keen to get on with things, Bob Olinger travelled with menace down the hill and quickened clear and arguably looked his best at the finish, seven-and-a-half lengths in front of fellow Grade One winners Gaillard Du Mesnil (9-4) in second and Bravemansgame (4-1) a further four-and-a-half lengths back in third. Bear Ghylls (15-2) was fourth.
Blackmore said: “I’m so delighted for Brian Acheson and his family as they put a lot into this game. They have a very special horse on their hands.
"He has a massive future ahead of him. He stays and has got a hell of a lot of speed, so he is extremely versatile in that sense. It was a brilliant performance.”
Jockey Harry Cobden finished third on Bravemansgame and said: "I just couldn’t believe that Bob Olinger was swinging when we were turning in. We went a nice even gallop and he’s a freak. I thought my horse has run his race - he’s just something else.”
2020 – Envoi Allen
The unbeaten Envoi Allen lived up to all expectations with a supreme display.
Unbeaten in seven career starts heading into the opening race on day two of the Festival – including in the Champion Bumper last season – the Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old was sent off at 4-7 under Davy Russell.
At one point it looked as if long-time leader The Big Getaway had slipped the field under Paul Townend coming down the hill, with only Rachael Blackmore covering the move on Easywork, who had been keen enough.
But an ice-cool Russell has not gained the experience of over 20 years in the saddle for nothing and had everything covered.
Elliott said: "He was our best chance of the week. Everyone was here to see him and he did everything he needed to do."
2019 – City Island
“He’s the best young horse I’ve had in quite a while. He might get us somewhere bigger and better. Everyone thinks there is nowhere better than Galway but there is!”
Martin Brassil knew what he had after City Island’s first hurdles start and 30 weeks later celebrated a first Festival success, the six-year-old ridden by Mark Walsh and owned by race sponsors Sean and Bernadine Mulryan.
City Island took a keen hold under Mark Walsh but made eye-catching progress down the back straight to fight it out with Champ on the turn for home.
He showed tenacity as well as ability where it mattered, staying on strongly up the hill to outbattle the smoother-travelling favourite to score by two lengths.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Brassil. You need good horses to bring here and we found one.” “It’s a dream come true,” said Mulryan. “He won in Galway and we said we’d aim for this race. The heartbeat is very high. We’re absolutely ecstatic.”
2018 - Samcro
No horse arrived at tbe 2018 Cheltenham Festival than Samcro and the Irish "banker" duly delivered.
Gordon Elliott, his trainer, had suffered a challenging first day of the meeting and his nerves must have been jangling but Samcro, so impressive in winning his first three races over hurdles, was always moving strongly in the Gigginstown silks under Jack Kennedy.
The six-year-old's jumping was not completely without blemish but the 8-11 favourite was greeted by an almighty roar when hitting the front and repelled the persistent Black Op (8-1) by almost three lengths, with Next Destination (4-1) another five lengths back in third.
"There was a lot of pressure today - for Jack, for me and for the whole team - so I am delighted. He's a big idle devil and just does what he has to do," Elliott said.
"We had a rough day yesterday with Apple's Jade running below par and Mossback sadly losing his life, but in this game, you just have to pick your head up and go again."
2017 – Willoughby Court:
Willoughby Court battled bravely under David Bass to provide Ben Pauling with his first Cheltenham Festival success. The 14-1 chance made most of the running and fended off the late challenge of the short-priced favourite Neon Wolf who was many people’s banker of the meeting.
Afterwards, a delighted Pauling said: “I can’t believe it, honestly. It feels as good as I ever hoped it would and better. To do it for Paul (Rooney, owner), who has been a great supporter of mine since my second season when I literally had 12 horses, means a huge amount.”
It was compensation for Bass as Charbel fell two out in the Arkle the day before when the pair were still in contention.
Bass said: “Yesterday was a massive disappointment for me and Kim (Bailey, Charbel’s trainer), but today was brilliant. It all went to plan, he was tough on the run-in, he stays very well, and it worked out.”
Sadly, Neon Wolf died later that year after a freak accident at home. And Willoughby Court perished this year after complications following a foot infection.
2016 – Yorkhill:
Unbeaten hurdler Yanworth was sent off the hot favourite but was unable to match Yorkhill’s turn of foot up the home straight.
Yorkhill, who was having his first run at Cheltenham, provided Mullins with his 45th Festival winner and his fourth victory in the race.
The Irish trainer said: “Ruby gave him a super ride. He needed a bit of luck turning for home, but it opened up and he managed to get through and then it was just a matter of jumping the last.
“He did that well and accelerated up the hill. He got to the front earlier than we would have liked but showed enough speed to get away.
“We had thought about going for the Supreme Novices’ with him and I had that race in mind for him all along. Then, the more I looked at it, the more I thought that he would be hard to beat in this race.”
2015 – Windsor Park:
Despite needing to reverse form with his principal rivals on his previous starts, Windsor Park produced a great round of jumping to score by three and three-quarter lengths.
Dermot Weld had always held the son of Galileo in high regard. He said: “I thought that he would be hard to beat. He’s a good ground horse and the drying weather suited him well. He had run very well on his last two starts on very testing ground. This was lovely ground for him today and he did everything right.”
Windsor Park provided Weld with his first success in the race, along with owner Dr Ronan Lambe who was quick to praise Davy Russell’s ride afterwards.
The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning owner said: “Davy gave him an absolutely wonderful ride today. The last couple of times, we have ridden this horse from the back of the field and he didn’t jump particularly well so we decided to try different tactics this time. He carried it out to perfection, he was perfect, wonderful.”
2014 – Faugheen:
Faugheen justified favouritism and remained unbeaten when he scored by four and a half lengths under Ruby Walsh. The gelding raced prominently and, despite flattening the third-last, he had all his rivals in trouble as they turned for home.
“Gosh, that was magic wasn’t it?” said winning owner Rich Ricci afterwards. “He was just brilliant. His jumping was always going to be a bit of a concern and I thought his mistake three out could have cost him.
“I don’t always watch them jumping the last and I didn’t again here. Maybe I should start watching them though as he was amazing at the last. Willie is just magic, isn’t he?”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Faugheen on the build up to the Grade One contest, however, as the star hurdler suffered various setbacks. Ricci explained: “He’s been a very hard horse to keep right but Willie and Ruby have done a fantastic job with him. He’s not the biggest and he’s had a lot of niggles throughout the season. Most of his health issues have been with his back.”
Faugheen went on to win the Champion Hurdle 12 months later and again remained unbeaten that season.
2013 – The New One:
Nigel Twiston-Davies was forced to rule his stable star Imperial Commander out of the 2013 Gold Cup just days before the Festival due to a lung infection, but the Gloucestershire handler gained compensation when The New One sprinted clear of his rivals under Sam Twiston-Davies.
Twiston-Davies had always believed The New One was a future star and was proved right. The winning trainer said: “He has always showed magical speed and took to jumping like a natural. His attitude to everything is almost as if he had already done it all in another life. He was winning only four months after he was broken in. He was the full package right from the start.”
The New One’s success was made extra special as he provided Twiston-Davies’ son Sam with his first Festival winner as a professional.
The young jockey said: “He was very good today. He showed a very good turn of foot and I am absolutely delighted. He really picked up coming down the hill and when I asked him to go he just took off.”
2012 – Simonsig:
Nicky Henderson broke the Festival training record when Simonsig ran out an impressive winner under Barry Geraghty and provided Henderson with his 41st Festival success. The record had been held by Fulke Walwyn who trained 40 winners at the Festival.
Henderson said: “It’s lovely to set a new mark but in truth I’m rather overawed, as with Fulke you’re talking about a legend. I used to be assistant trainer and amateur rider at Fred Winter’s yard next door to Fulke’s and it did, in those days, seem very unlikely that I’d be here doing this.”
Geraghty was quick to praise Simonsig after the 2-1 favourite cruised to a seven-length victory.
He said: “I rode him work last Saturday week and he’s top class. He made a bit of a meal of one down the back but he’s just a bit of a baby. He’s very raw but is a lovely horse and travels so well.
“You can’t compare many to Sprinter Sacre because he’s so onward and this fella is more laidback. He has the engine though as soon as you want him.”
2011 – First Lieutenant:
It required the judge to split First Lieutenant and future champion hurdler Rock On Ruby but it was the Mouse Morris-trained gelding who got the verdict by a short head, with the short-priced favourite So Young back in third.
Morris, trainer of 2006 Cheltenham Gold Cup Winner War Of Attrition, said afterwards: “It was a very, very slow race and wasn’t a real stayers’ race but he still had to go and win, and he had the luck of the race. He stuck his head out in the right place and he is a nice sort with a lovely temperament.
“It turned into a bit of a sprint which would not suit him as he has a high cruising speed rather than a turn of foot. Davy gave him a great ride and I don’t think I have seen a rider give a winning horse a bad ride.”
2010 – Peddlers Cross:
The unbeaten Peddlers Cross maintained his winning sequence when he got the better of Reve De Sivola in a thrilling finish.
Peddlers Cross, who was purchased for £100,000 after he won his sole point-to-point start, confirmed the promise he had shown in his gallop before the Festival.
His trainer Donald McCain said: “He is a machine. When he did his final piece of work at Bangor, it was so good it scared me and when Jason (Maguire, jockey) told me he was the best horse he had ridden after the first hurdle win - I had to ring him back to make sure I had heard right!
“I would have to say he is the best horse I have trained. Whiteoak was quick, but this horse has speed to burn. I saw his point-to-point win in Ireland and liked it, and then when I actually saw him I liked him even more. I also like his sire (Oscar).”
Peddlers Cross remained unbeaten until he finished runner-up behind Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle 12 months later.
2009 – Mikael D’Haguenet:
Despite taking a keen hold early, the highly regarded Mikael D’Haguenet justified favouritism under Ruby Walsh to maintain his unbeaten record since he joined Willie Mullins from France.
Mullins had hoped the youngster could be a Cheltenham Gold Cup horse of the future and said: "He's 17 hands and a big, long angular horse - I would say a typical French-bred.
“It took him years to mature but when I started working him at home he just showed a gear and, from day one, he has shown me that he is better than I thought was possible. This is unbelievable.”
Walsh was as equally impressed and spoke highly of Mikael D’Haguenet afterwards. The leading Festival rider said: "He's a machine. He travelled far too well all the way and even at the top of the hill when I got a gap that I didn't want - he just charged into it.
“When the gap between China Rock and Diamond Harry came, he just shot through it - in two strides it was over. That’s the sign of an exceptional horse. He’s very special.”
2008 – Fiveforthree:
Fiveforthree led home a 1-2-3-4 for the Irish when he stayed on gamely to beat Venalmar by a neck. The race was run on the Friday of the Festival due to day two being cancelled because of high winds.
Fiveforthree also provided Mullins and Walsh with their first win in the race.
Mullins said: “He’s never run over more than two miles before but looking at his pedigree, when we were making the decision between this race and the Supreme Novices’, he’s all stamina and that showed in the last two furlongs. He just had to stay every inch of that which he did so we’re delighted.”
Walsh was quick to praise the grey’s attitude. He said: “He was a bit novicey. He missed the second last and I had to use a bit to get into the race but by god he battled back from the last.”
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