The Betfair Hurdle is the richest handicap hurdle in Britain but the race has to take second place behind the Irish Gold Cup as the biggest contest of the weekend. Don Poli is the favourite for the three miles and half a furlong race at Leopardstown but the running of Carlingford Lough will be interesting as some judges have highlighted the horse as a potential winner of the Grand National.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is the trainer of Ballyandy who is prominent in the betting for the Betfair Hurdle. He believes the handicapper has done his horse a massive favour by allocating a weight which can be overcome. Ballyandy has decent form in good hurdles and is potentially the best horse in the race. He won the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival last season and the form has worked out well.
Movewiththetimes is competing with Consul De Thaix for favouritism and that brings together the old rivals of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson. The former thinks his of sparring partner should not be dismissed for the trainer’s championship but that depends massively on the outcome of the lucrative races at the Festival. Willie Mullins is still odds on to be the top trainer over the four days that matter most despite losing several of his superstar horses owned by Rich Ricci.
Ruby Walsh rides all the best horses for these connections so will be short of several leading chances. However, the Mullins yard is so powerful with the backing of wealthy owners like Ricci that some able deputies will be lurking around the stable. Walsh is the best current jockey around Cheltenham so he won’t be short of offers and spare rides. He should still have the fire power to be the leading jockey again. However, he won’t be riding Don Poli on Sunday as that is one of the horses Gigginstown removed from Mullins’s stable and are now housed elsewhere.
Don Poli was third behind Don Cossack in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham last March. Sadly the champion will not be defending the crown as he has been retired due to injury. Don Poli looks more a National horse than one with Gold Cup potential. He is a dour stayer who finds a bit so a fast paced Irish Gold Cup may not suit him. The race in Ireland could be a trial for the Gold Cup, Grand National or both. Don Poli needs a convincing win to have any chance of becoming just the second horse to win the Gold Cup and National in the same season.
He ran a stinker first time out when pulled up in November but looked back to his best at the Christmas meeting at Leopardstown. The horse ran off a mark of 161 compared to a career high of 167 so he is approaching the best form that can be expected. Improvement to nearer his top mark would make the horse hard to beat in the Irish Gold Cup though Carlingford Lough has winning form at the highest level and is twice the price but Don Poli can prevail.
Ballyandy’s credentials for the Betfair Hurdle have been highlighted by the trainer and the horse is carrying a decent weight. The last 10 winners of the Newbury feature have been aged 5 or 6 and Ballyandy is 6 so meets that trend criteria. The race looks a penalty kick on first glance but big runner handicap hurdles have a habit of throwing up surprises.
If that happens on Saturday Beltor could be the horse in question. The animal is the right age as a six-year-old and carries a manageable weight. However, despite what transpires at Newbury the bigger story will be the winner of the Irish Gold Cup in which Dom Poli can put down a marker for bigger targets in the spring.