The Betfair Hurdle, in all of its previous guises, has always been one of the most competitive races of the national hunt season and an excellent trial for the Cheltenham Festival. Make A Stand and Large Action both went on to win the Champion Hurdle after landing the race while last year’s winner, Zarkandar, finished a close-up fifth in the big one at Cheltenham the following month. It’s a handicap that has been dominated by five and six-year-olds in recent years and is very much a race for fancied horses (nine out of the last 10 winners have been among the first dozen in the betting). I make no apology about putting forward current ante-post favourite MY TENT OR YOURS this year.
He is one of six entries from the Nicky Henderson stable but looks a cut above the others and, most importantly, is still improving. The one worry would be that two of his three career defeats have come at Newbury but there is no getting away from the fact that his defeat of subsequent Challow Hurdle winner Taquin De Seuil at Ascot in November is top-class novice form and he hardly broke sweat when giving weight to couple of useful performers at Huntingdon last month. A classy sort in bumpers last spring (he was just over a length behind leading Cheltenham fancy The New One at Aintree in April), the handicapper has taken no chances with McCoy‘s mount allocating him a mark of 149 but My Tent Or Yours may be up the task and may yet prove value at the general 4/1.
Paul Nicholls, for whom Zarkandar was a first success in the race 12 months ago, saddles the in-form Dark Lover (a general 16/1) and the lightly-raced Pearl Swan (10/1 with Coral, Ladbrokes and William Hill) but both look a shade close in the weights to the selection. Henderson’s next best behind My Tent Or Yours may well prove to be Lyvius, who won the Gerry Fielden Hurdle over course and distance in November. He can be backed at a general 33/1 but was behind Cause Of Causes (14/1 with Coral and Paddy Power) in The Ladbroke at Ascot before Christmas along with Petit Robin, Princeton Plains, Into Wain and First In The Queue. Cash And Go failed to finish. Swing Bowler has been the subject of a gamble but owner David Johnson doesn’t sound overly optimistic. The mare is 14/1 with Coral to extend her winning run but needs to improve again to confirm Musselburgh running with Ingleby Spirit (50/1 with Stan James).
A couple of dark horses do catch the eye, however, with Court Minstrel (14/1 general) particularly interesting despite racing from a couple of pounds out of the handicap. Third in a Grade 2 novice events at Cheltenham in November, he was fourth in a Grade 1 at Sandown last month and may have been underestimated. Cotton Mill (9/1 with Paddy Power, Skybet and William Hill) has won three of his five starts over timber and was still in front when crashing through the wing of the second-last in a Grade 1 at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. But all of his form is over further – will he get outpaced over 2m on his return? I’ll stick with My Tent Or Yours.