Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle

My 2021 Cheltenham Festival articles have been much more sparse than usual this year, but I’m going to try and make up for it over the next couple weeks, and I have plenty of content in the pipeline. This week I’m going to be looking at the 3m Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, as a likely Non-Runner has pushed me to have a second bet in the race alongside my main Ante-Post fancy. Once again these prices were put up on my Telegram page on the 6th and and 22nd of February respectively, so make sure you go and join that group if you don’t want to miss the price on any of my future selections!

Gordon Elliott is yet to train a winner in the Albert Bartlett, but he’s hit the crossbar on three occasions in recent times – with Fagan (2016), Commander Of Fleet (2019) and Fury Road (2020) all beaten less than 2 lengths when placing. 2021 could finally be the year he breaks that Maiden tag however, as Fakiera looks to have a lovely profile for the race.

This six-year-old ran well in two Bumpers as a younger Horse, the first of which when finishing 4th behind Uhtred in a valuable Sales race at Fairyhouse. He then used another Bumper in December 2019 as a bit of a pipe-opener, before embarking on his Hurdles career in February last year. His first effort over obstacles came over 2m at Naas, where he finished a good 2nd behind Entoucas (135) – a Horse who has subsequently gone on to place in a Listed Novice Hurdle before developing into a 139 Chaser this season. Another 2nd would then follow over 2m2f at Leopardstown on his next start in March, where this time he was only beaten 1.25 lengths by Jon Snow (146) – a rival who went on to win twice in impressive style after stepping up in trip. Although at the time connections were probably a little disappointed with Fakiera, the form of that Leopardstown Maiden Hurdle is working out really nicely this season; with the 3rd placed Roseys Hollow (136) recently landing the Grade 3 Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, the 4th placed Joshua Webb (125) winning a Maiden Hurdle, the 5th placed Dinny Lacey developing into a 133 Chaser, and even the 6th placed Jack Hackett has developed into a 134 Chaser. A very common theme with that race then is that the Horses who ran in it have just needed that extra year to develop, and Fakiera is no different.

Having been sent off 5/6 favourite for a 2m Opportunity Maiden Hurdle at Thurles when lockdown began and Ireland tried to race on behind closed doors 20 days later, Fakiera was definitely being called some names when beaten by Politesse (124) – and in fairness he was in danger of becoming one of those Maiden Hurdlers who just continue to hit the frame without getting their head in-front. The extended Summer break through lockdown was probably exactly what he needed however, as he returned to action in November and finally got off the mark – staying on strongly under Jack Kennedy and getting up in the shadows of the post despite not entirely looking like he was putting in maximum effort. Nevertheless, Fakiera still put in a great performance that day to beat Gabynako (138) – a Horse who’s since won a Maiden of his own and placed in Grade 1 company.

Stepping up in trip would really see the start of a transformed Fakiera however, and his next start came in the 2m4f Grade 3 Monksfield Novice Hurdle at Navan in November. In a race which Gordon Elliott has farmed in recent seasons with the likes of Fury Road, Samcro, and Death Duty, Fakiera added his name to the honours list with a proper stayers effort – getting outpaced after the third-last flight, before then really motoring after the last to pick them all up down the outside of the field. That thrilling half-length victory over Fire Attack was really the first time that Fakiera showed a thorough will to win, and it was quite an impressive performance considering he had the likes of Champagne Gold (139) and subsequent Grade 2 winner Farouk D’alene (140) in behind.

Fakiera took his chance in the 2m4f Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Navan a month later on his next start, but this is a race where Gordon doesn’t have the best record historically. Once again getting outpaced coming towards the third-last however, Fakiera ran a pretty much identical race to stay on strongly down the outside of the field after the last – but the winner had already sailed on this occasion, with Ashdale Bob scoring in good style. Fakiera still came through for 2nd (only beaten 6 lengths) when once again beating Gabynako (138) mind – but this time by a much more comfortable 0.75 lengths over the longer trip.

Indeed, an increase in distance has clearly been key to unlocking the Fakiera enigma, and so the 2m6f Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival was a very logical next step for him. A nice 50-day break must be seen as a positive with him considering he skipped out all those races ran in brutal ground over the Christmas/January period, but connections interestingly decided to try first-time cheek-pieces for that Leopardstown race. Settling into the race lovely, Fakiera did his usual thing of being outpaced before staying on eye-catchingly; this time really eating up the ground down the home straight when coming through for 4th place, and eventually only being beaten 7 lengths. The 2021 renewal of the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors Novice Hurdle really does look like a strong one considering it was won by Willie Mullins’ Ballymore favourite Gaillard Du Mesnil (150), and whilst the 2nd Gentlemansgame (143) won’t be making the trip across the Irish sea this year, he is certainly a young Horse with huge potential. In terms of the Albert Bartlett then it is the 3rd and 4th place Horses which matter most, with Stattler (143) and Fakiera (141) both shaping as if the step up to 3m would be key to finding further improvement.

Whilst Fakiera was beaten 2 lengths by that aforementioned Willie Mullins Horse, it is clear to see that stepping up to 3m will suit him perfectly, as he wasn’t for stopping in the closing stages. An obvious concern in regard to his Cheltenham chances would be trying to stop him losing too much ground before the turbos kick in, but the New Course at Cheltenham should be perfect considering it gives him a much longer home straight to run up, and of course that infamous Hill will have others tiring as he starts to get going. If Fakiera doesn’t give himself too much to do at Cheltenham then there is every chance he can reverse that form with Stattler, albeit that Horse is another who is likely to find improvement over the longer trip. Whether or not Fakiera can mow down the whole field like he did in the Monksfield however, I’d very much expect him to be hitting the frame considering how strongly he will be staying on towards the finish.

Stattler (3rd) and Fakiera (4th) run eye-catching races in the 2m6f Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival…

Below you will find some of the key trends for the Kim Muir Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase, starting off with the traditional previous winners table:

YearWinnerAgeTrainerJockey
2020Monkfish (IRE)6Willie MullinsPaul Townend
2019Minella Indo (IRE)6Henry de BromheadRachael Blackmore
2018Kilbricken Storm (IRE)7Colin TizzardHarry Cobden
2017Penhill (GB)6Willie MullinsPaul Townend
2016Unowhatimeanharry (GB)8Harry FryNoel Fehily
2015Martello Tower (IRE)7Ms Margaret MullinsAdrian Heskin
2014Very Wood (FR)5Noel MeadePaul Carberry
2013At Fishers Cross (IRE)6Rebecca CurtisA P McCoy
2012Brindisi Breeze (IRE)6Lucinda RussellCampbell Gillies
2011Bobs Worth (IRE)6Nicky HendersonBarry Geraghty
  • The mean average age of an Albert Bartlett winner since 2011 is 6.3. The most common age is 6 (6 times).
  • Ireland have taken home 5 of the last 7 renewals, but over the wider 10-year period there is an even 50/50 split between the British and Irish trained winners.
  • Willie Mullins is the only dual winner of the race in recent times, which makes him the joint most successful trainer in the race overall – alongside Jonjo O’Neill.
  • Paul Townend is the most successful Jockey over the last 10 renewals of the Albert Bartlett, with 2 victories to his name.

Next I have a table looking at the careers of recent Albert Bartlett winners before they went on to record their first Festival success:

YearHorseHurdle startsCareer startsMaiden?Raced at Chelt?Graded winner?Graded placed?Raced 2m6f+?
2020Monkfish36NNNNY
2019Minella Indo24YNNYY
2018Kilbricken Storm47NYYYY
2017Penhill726NNYYY
2016Unowhatimeanharry1820NYYYY
2015Martello Tower59NNYYY
2014Very Wood47NNNYN
2013At Fishers Cross68NYYYY
2012Brindisi Breeze36NNYYY
2011Bobs Worth35NYYYN
 Averages5.59.8N (9)N (6)Y (7)Y (9)Y (8)
  • The average number of runs an Albert Bartlett winner has (since 2011) over Hurdles before winning the race is 5.5, but if you take out Unowhatimeanharry (who had 18!) then the average is brought down to 4 starts.
  • When you look at how many career starts (Includes Flat, P2P, Bumpers and Hurdles) a Horse has before winning however, then this jumps right up to 9.8 on average.
  • Minella Indo (2019) is the only Maiden to have won the Albert Bartlett since 2011.
  • Running at Cheltenham before the Festival isn’t necessary, with 6 winners never having ran at Prestbury Park before. This is to be expected though with 5 Irish trained winners.
  • 7 of the last 10 Albert Bartlett winners had won a race in Graded company before going to The Festival, and 9 of the last 10 had at least placed in a Graded event. Ironically the exception to that rule is potentially the best of the lot in Monkfish!
  • Having a career run over 2m6f+ is another key trend in the Albert Bartlett as you might expect, with 8 of the last 10 winners all having done so. The two exceptions were classy Horses in Bobs Worth and Very Wood.

Looking at the checklist whilst reading through the trends; Fakiera is a six-year-old trained by Gordon Elliott in Ireland, who ticks the more experienced Horse angle having had 9 career starts, 7 of which being over Hurdles. Fakiera is not a Maiden, has not yet raced at Cheltenham, is a Graded winner (and Graded placed), and ran over 2m6f+ on his most recent start.

The headline here is that Farouk D’alene has faced a setback recently and will likely struggle to make the Cheltenham Festival. Considering at one point he was the Ante-Post favourite for this race then, that’s clearly a big blow for the Gordon Elliott team. Whilst it is great news for my selections, it does mean that Gordon has a substitute ready to go – and that’s Gigginstown’s Torygraph. This 6yo takes an almost identical route to Cheltenham as last year’s winner Monkfish, having raced over 2m4f before winning the same 2m7f Maiden Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and then the same 2m7f Novice Hurdle at Thurles. Monkfish had to bust quite a big trend having not even placed in a Graded race prior to Cheltenham last season however, and I think it’s pretty safe to say that Torygraph wouldn’t have the class of a Horse like him, as much as he will stay the trip strongly.

Paul Nicholls is 0/11 in the Albert Bartlett (Including The Tother One 9/2JF in 2008 and Pride Of Dulcote 3/1F in 2009) so I couldn’t be having Barbados Buck’s for this at all, especially as he is another to have not been tested at Graded level. For all that this Horse rates as an exciting prospect for going Chasing with next season, in the context of this Grade 1 he has only won some pretty ordinary 3m Novice Hurdles – albeit under a double penalty on his most recent start. N’golo is a glorified Summer jumper who will be stepping up in trip from 2m to 3m if running here so I couldn’t be having him at all, but Adrimel is a much more interesting contender if he were to turn up considering he won the 2m5f Grade 2 Leamington Spa Novices’ Hurdle in gritty fashion. He shaped as if a step-up to 3m wouldn’t cause him any issues that day at Warwick, but he does have to prove that to be the case. Alaphilippe is another who has thrown his hat into the ring by winning the Grade 2 Prestige Novices’ Hurdle at Haydock, and he does well on the trends considering he has had 10 career starts to date. I would say he is the best British chance of winning the Albert Bartlett, but I think the level of form that he has achieved to date is some way off that of the Irish pair who head the market.

Willie Mullins looks set to have an unbelievable Cheltenham Festival; with the likes of Appreciate It, Concertista, Chacun Pour Soi and Monkfish just a few of his current short-priced favourites. One favourite he has at a much bigger price however is Stattler, and I couldn’t help but have a second bet in the Albert Bartlett on him considering his strong form – which obviously ties in closely with my main selection Fakiera.

Last season Stattler hacked up on his racecourse debut in a 2m Bumper at Fairyhouse, before he then finished 3rd behind two nice Gigginstown Horses in Farouk D’alene and Fire Attack in a similar event at Naas. On his final Bumper start at Limerick in March he was perhaps a little disappointing when beaten at 8/11f – but in fairness he was trying to give a stone at the weights to On Eagles Wings, who has proven himself to be a useful type by winning another Bumper and a Maiden Hurdle.

2m Bumpers were never going to be Stattler’s cup of tea considering he’s a big Stowaway gelding out of an Old Vic Mare mind, and he’s taken every step up in trip into his stride this season. Starting off in a 2m3f Maiden Hurdle at Naas in November, Stattler jumped well for the main but was just tapped for toe up the home straight – briefly dropping off the screen after the last before really powering on again inside the closing stages to only be beaten 2.5 lengths into 3rd. The Winner that day Vanillier (137) has since proven himself to be a nice animal by finishing runner-up in a Grade 2 on his next start, and considering a lot of Willie’s Horses were needing their first runs back in November, Stattler put in a very pleasing performance over a trip just a touch too sharp.

Stepped up to 2m4f for a Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas however, Stattler put in a much more polished performance on this occasion – winging the usual penultimate flight and then staying on strongly despite the extremely long run in. That long run in at Leopardstown with the last not being jumped was actually a good trial for the New Course at Cheltenham considering there are only 2 flights in the last 6 furlongs, and Stattler showed he can be game when he hears a Horse coming to him – as his quicker stablemate (in receipt of 7lbs) Glens Of Antrim got quite close before Stattler powered away again to score by 3 lengths going away at the line.

Stattler’s final assignment before Cheltenham saw him stepped up in trip once more, as this time he ran in the 2m6f Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Leading the field as usual, Stattler had them all at it heading down towards the last, but again he had a quicker stablemate coming at him – with Gaillard Du Mesnil taking over at the final flight and going away to score comfortably. There’s no shame in being beaten by the current Ballymore favourite mind, and Stattler did stick to his task well – just being mugged for 3rd place on the line by another talented Horse in Gentlemansgame. I think it is worth noting however that Stattler and Fakiera both had to try and give away 2lbs to the first two home that day, and clearly both Horses will be suited to finally stepping up in trip to 3m at Cheltenham come March. If there is no pace on then Stattler will happily take them along in the Albert Bartlett, but I’d equally have no concerns if a Horse such as Adrimel wanted to bounce out instead – as Paul Townend can just have him tracking in a prominent position before taking up the running when required. Owner Ronnie Bartlett is the current Chairman of race sponsors Albert Bartlett, but he is yet to win his own race – coming closest in 2016 when 2nd with Fagan. Stattler will give him the best chance of taking home his own first-prize yet however, and I’m sure this has been his target all season long.

Stattler also ticks a lot of boxes in terms of trends, but he’s the opposite of Fakiera when it comes to experience – with only 6 career starts to his name, and three runs over Hurdles. That is the exact number of runs Monkfish had last season however, and Minella Indo the year before had even less – so looking at very recent trends he’s bang on the money. Stattler is another six-year-old, but he is trained by the Albert Bartlett’s top trainer Willie Mullins, and he will also have the race’s top jockey Paul Townend aboard. Stattler is not a Maiden, is yet to race at Cheltenham, and he ran over 2m6f+ when placing that aforementioned Grade 1 at Leopardstown on his latest start.

NRNB – Put up on Telegram 22/02/21

In what doesn’t look the best renewal of the Albert Bartlett you’ll ever see, Fakiera certainly was the value play after Leopardstown and will have a strong chance if not finding himself too far back before staying on. Considering the juggernaut that is Willie Mullins this season however, the 7/1 that is still available for Stattler looks worth playing even if it is just a cover bet – as he surely won’t be far away at the finish, and he does of course technically have 2 lengths in hand over his Gordon Elliott market rival. Considering both Horses have passed the ‘eye-test’ on their latest encounter, they also tick a lot of the trends boxes as well as boasting some strong form – so they should have a great chance on their respective Cheltenham Festival debuts. I wouldn’t usually suggest playing the first and second favourites in a race, but I’m very happy with the prices taken, and I’d be disappointed if the winner didn’t come from the pair.

Put up on Telegram 06/02/21

Good luck! – Jake Price

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