Angels Breath puts his Cheltenham Festival credentials on the line in today’s MansionBet Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon.
The five-year-old is ante-post favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the back of an impressive debut under Rules at Ascot in December.
However, with several of the obstacles omitted, connections of the Nicky Henderson-trained grey did not learn as much as they could have done. Angels Breath missed an intended engagement at Haydock last month, but is ready to get some valuable experience under his belt before Cheltenham, where he also holds an entry in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle.
Running over a longer distance should also help Henderson and owner Dai Walters as they look to next month. The latter has another leading contender for the Supreme in the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Al Dancer, who heads the betting for Saturday’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
“Let’s hope he runs well. We’ll know what it’s all about after he runs,” said Walters.
“He only jumped four hurdles in Ascot. That wasn’t a true picture.
He only jumped four hurdles in Ascot. That wasn’t a true picture. If he runs well, he won’t run again until Cheltenham.Nicky Henderson
“If he runs well, he won’t run again until Cheltenham.
“We’ve got two horses. We don’t want to run them against each other.
“It’s two (miles) three and a half (furlongs). I think after Saturday, we should know where the horses are going.”
Henderson reports Angels Breath to be fighting fit for his second start over hurdles.
“We’ve got through the bad weather so it’s time to get going. He needs the experience,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
“He’s been working great and he’s in good form.
“He’s going up to near two and a half miles. That’s fine, I’m not worried about it.
“The plan is to come back to two, I would think. We’ll see what happens. I thought it was a good place to go. It’s a good track and it’s a nice race for him, and it will be a good test I’m sure.”
Top Ville Ben may well be short odds but should collect in a match for the Larkshill Engineering Novices’ Chase at Doncaster.
Phil Kirby had earmarked last weekend’s Towton Novices’ Chase at Wetherby for his Cheltenham Festival contender, only for that fixture to be lost to the cold snap. He has therefore had to reroute Top Ville Ben – but ground, trip and course should be right up the much-improved seven-year-old’s street.
At Ffos Las, enthusiastic owner and amateur jockey David Maxwell relies on Ballotin in the Smerdon Tree Services And Bedlinog Cubs Open Hunters’ Chase.
The ex-French eight-year-old scored first time out, on debut for Philip Hobbs, in better company at Wetherby last season - and as long as he handles cut in the ground here, he should have this field covered.
The City Of York Stakes is among several races to be upgraded following the 2019 meeting of the European Pattern Committee.
Run at the Ebor Festival, the seven-furlong contest will be a Group Two from this season onwards – having been upgraded to Group Three status only in 2016.
“It was won by subsequent Breeders’ Cup hero Expert Eye last year.
While accepting the proximity of the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury run over the same distance, the hope is in the future the York race may become a candidate for Group One honours.
Newmarket’s Pride and Zetland Stakes have been upgraded from Listed to Group Three level - while Chelmsford has been awarded a new six-furlong Listed event for three-year-old fillies.
However, despite concerted efforts, the British Champions Long Distance Cup failed to secure an upgrade to Group One level for British Champions Day on 2019.