The £155,000 Betfair Hurdle has attracted 59 entries (up from 54 last year) for the 2018 renewal. Run at Newbury Racecourse on Betfair Super Saturday, February 10, the Grade Three contest staged over two miles and 69 yards is the richest handicap hurdle in the British Jump calendar.
Local Lambourn trainer Nicky Henderson boasts a record number of wins in the race with five successes, most recently when saddling My Tent Or Yours to victory in 2013.
There are nine entries from his Seven Barrows yard in 2018, more than any other trainer, Kayf Grace. A bumper winner at Aintree in 2016, the eight-year-old mare won her only start last season but looked as good as ever when scoring at Kempton Park over Christmas.
Henderson’s entries also include recent Sandown scorer Call Me Lord, last season’s Triumph Hurdle sixth Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue, who was third in a valuable handicap hurdle at Ascot last month. Diese Des Bieffes looks a very useful novice, with easy victories at Taunton and Fontwell this season.
Other possible starters for the champion Jump trainer include William Henry, a talented novice last season, plus Charming Zen, Lough Derg Spirit and Jenkins.
Lalor (Richard Woollacott), won a bumper at Aintree in April and has been placed in some decent novices’ hurdles so far this season.
Somerset-based handler Philip Hobbs has made two entries, headed by last season’s Triumph Hurdle victor Defi Du Seuil. His other is the mare Poppy Kay who landed a Listed contest at Sandown Park on January 6.
A real Newbury specialist is High Bridge (Ben Pauling), who has won three times from as many starts at the Berkshire course.
The seven-year-old was last seen out when successful in the Listed Ladbrokes Intermediate Handicap Hurdle over the course and distance on December 2, having won two novices’ hurdles at Newbury last season.
High Bridge races in the colours of Margaret Ferguson, mother of the horse’s former trainer John Ferguson. For all his successes at Newbury, High Bridge has been partnered by John’s son, amateur rider Alex Ferguson.
Ben Pauling revealed: “The Betfair Hurdle is very much the aim for High Bridge.
“He has been very good since his win at Newbury last time out and the Betfair Hurdle has been the target since then. We purposely avoided Ascot (December 23) as we wanted to prepare him for Newbury.
“The horse seems in good order and hopefully will remain that way for the Betfair Hurdle. We will go straight to Newbury.
“He is unbeaten at Newbury and really seems to like it there. It wasn’t our intention to make the running last time and he will be much better with a lead. I’d be confident of him getting that in the Betfair Hurdle.
“He seems to handle most types of ground and we should hopefully get a nice weight.”
The Betfair Hurdle has gone to Ireland on three occasions, mostly recently via the Jessica Harrington-trained Spirit Leader in 2003.
There are 11 Irish-trained contenders this year, with seven entries from Willie Mullins and four from Gordon Elliott. Among the Mullins-trained septet is Bleu Et Rouge and Lagostovegas, who was third on the Flat in the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket in the autumn, while Elliott’s quartet includes Duca De Thaix, a winner at Limerick over Christmas.
Paul Nicholls, who landed the 2012 Betfair Hurdle with Zarkandar, has four entries this year including dual Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Irving, recent Tolworth Hurdle third Mont Des Avaloirs and Cliffs Of Dover, who won six of his seven starts last season.
Nigel Twiston-Davies has taken the honours in the Betfair Hurdle twice in the last four years, scoring with Splash Of Ginge (2014) and more recently with Ballyandy (2017). His one entry in 2018 is El Terremoto, a winner at Stratford in October.
Gary Moore also has a fine Betfair Hurdle record, having enjoyed success with Heatchcote (2007), Wingman (2008) and Violet Dancer (2015). His two possible starters in 2018 are recent Fontwell winner Knocknanuss and French import Maquisard.
Other interesting contenders include Elgin (Alan King), successful in valuable handicap hurdles at Ascot and Cheltenham already this season, smart novice Kalashnikov (Amy Murphy), recent Ascot runner-up Silver Streak (Evan Williams) and Moon Racer (David Pipe), who landed the 2015 Champion Bumper but has been lightly-raced since. Lostintranslation(Colin Tizzard) was a good winner of a maiden hurdle over the course and distance on December 1 and looks a potentially unexposed contender.
Olly Murphy, who has made a great start to his training career, has an intriguing entry in Wishfull Dreaming, who has joined the Warwickshire-based handler from Philip Hobbs.
Weights for the Betfair Hurdle will be revealed on Wednesday, January 17.
Betfair Super Saturday boasts a tremendous seven-race programme. Aside from the Betfair Hurdle, the day also features the £50,000 Betfair Denman Chase, a leading trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the £50,000 Betfair Exchange Chase over an extended two miles.
The Betfair Hurdle
Grade 3 handicap hurdle, £155,000 Total Prize Fund. 3.35pm, Saturday, February 10, 2018. For four-year-olds and upwards, two miles and half a furlong (2m 69yds). Penalties: after January 14, a winner of a hurdle 5lb, a winner of two hurdles 8lb, no penalty to increase a horse’s weight above 11st 12lb. Entries closed January 9, entries revealed January 10 (59 entries), weights revealed January 17. Scratchings deadline January 23, five-day confirmation stage February 5, final declaration stage 10.00am, February 8. Maximum field 24 runners plus 2 reserves.
|BEN DUNDEE (IRE)||6||Gordon Elliott IRE|
|BIDOUREY (FR)||7||David Pipe|
|BIRCH HILL (IRE)||8||Sophie Leech|
|BLEU ET ROUGE (FR)||7||Willie Mullins IRE|
|CALL ME LORD (FR)||5||Nicky Henderson|
|CAMPEADOR (FR)||6||Gordon Elliott IRE|
|CANYON CITY||5||Neil King|
|CHARLI PARCS (FR)||5||Nicky Henderson|
|CHARMING ZEN (FR)||6||Nicky Henderson|
|CHTI BALKO (FR)||6||Donald McCain|
|CLIFFS OF DOVER||5||Paul Nicholls|
|COEUR BLIMEY (IRE)||7||Susan Gardner|
|DAME ROSE (FR)||5||Richard Hobson|
|DEFI DU SEUIL (FR)||5||Philip Hobbs|
|DIESE DES BIEFFES (FR)||5||Nicky Henderson|
|DIVIN BERE (FR)||5||Paul Nicholls|
|DOLCIANO DICI (FR)||5||Willie Mullins IRE|
|DUCA DE THAIX (FR)||5||Gordon Elliott IRE|
|EL TERREMOTO (FR)||6||Nigel Twiston-Davies|
|GWAFA (IRE)||7||Paul Webber|
|HIGH BRIDGE||7||Ben Pauling|
|IRISH ROE (IRE)||7||Peter Atkinson|
|JENKINS (IRE)||6||Nicky Henderson|
|KALASHNIKOV (IRE)||5||Amy Murphy|
|KARALEE (FR)||7||Willie Mullins IRE|
|KAYF GRACE||8||Nicky Henderson|
|KNOCKNANUSS (IRE)||8||Gary Moore|
|LAGOSTOVEGAS (IRE)||6||Willie Mullins IRE|
|LALOR (GER)||6||Richard Woollacott|
|LOSTINTRANSLATION (IRE)||6||Colin Tizzard|
|LOUGH DERG SPIRIT (IRE)||6||Nicky Henderson|
|MAGIC DANCER||6||Kerry Lee|
|MAN OF PLENTY||9||Sophie Leech|
|MAQUISARD (FR)||6||Gary Moore|
|MASTER OF IRONY (IRE)||6||John Quinn|
|MERI DEVIE (FR)||5||Willie Mullins IRE|
|MISTER MIYAGI (IRE)||9||Dan Skelton|
|MONT DES AVALOIRS (FR)||5||Paul Nicholls|
|MOON RACER (IRE)||9||David Pipe|
|NIGHT OF SIN (FR)||5||Nick Williams|
|PINGSHOU (IRE)||8||Colin Tizzard|
|POPPY KAY||8||Philip Hobbs|
|PROJECT BLUEBOOK (FR)||5||John Quinn|
|REMILUC (FR)||9||Chris Gordon|
|SANDSEND (FR)||5||Willie Mullins IRE|
|SILVER STREAK (IRE)||5||Evan Williams|
|SPIRITOFTHEGAMES (IRE)||6||Dan Skelton|
|VEINARD (FR)||9||Gordon Elliott IRE|
|VERDANA BLUE (IRE)||6||Nicky Henderson|
|VOIX DU REVE (FR)||6||Willie Mullins IRE|
|WILLIAM H BONNEY||7||Alan King|
|WILLIAM HENRY (IRE)||8||Nicky Henderson|
|WISHFULL DREAMING||7||Olly Murphy|
|ZALVADOS (FR)||5||Oliver Greenall|