Ballymore Novice Hurdle Tips – Irish Hold Sway But Not With Gaillard Du Mesnil

Runners fly over the hurlde at last season's Cheltenham Festival

Runners fly over the hurlde at last season’s Cheltenham Festival

2021 Ballymore Hurdle Tips

The opening race on day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival   the Ballynore Novice Hurdle, is the lastes race to come under the microscope of Dan Overall, who is previewing every Cheltenham Festival race in the month of February.

Ballymore Novice Hurdle Overview

This race has a rich and exalted list of previous winners. Four of the last seven winners arrived here on the back of an undefeated season; it would have been five had City Island not been disqualified retrospectively after crossing the line in front on his first start over hurdles. Class often comes to the fore while all winners this century were aged either five or six, with the last seven all being the latter. 

Brave to Back Bravemansgame?

Beaten in two high-quality bumpers last term, Bravemansgame has always been in held in high regard with much better expected once sent jumping. That phrase is often overused but it’s perfectly applicable in this case, with Megan Nicholls naming the son of Brave Mansonnien as a horse to follow way back in 2019. Add to that the fact that he resides in box #1 at Ditcheat and it’s clear that hopes have always been high for him.

Beaten on debut over hurdles by the pacier Soaring Glory on quick ground, he has improved markedly with each start, culminating in an emphatic defeat of Star Gate in the Challow Hurdle. Having done all his winning on good ground, he handled the softer conditions at Newbury with aplomb although his trainer has alluded to him preferring a sounder surface, which he is likely to get here.

A chaser in the making, comparisons to Denman have been made by many, including his trainer, who was quoted as saying “He’s every bit as good at this stage of his career as Denman was at the same stage… he’s probably got a bit more boot than Denman”. 

The best novice hurdler this side of the Irish Sea, he deserves his spot towards the head of the market but he does have to defy a notable trend; Sixteen Challow winners have lined up in the Ballymore but none have won, including Denman who finished second. This century, Challow winners in the Ballymore have a record of: 4d2246232; Coolnagorna crossed the line in 2nd but was disqualified. As such, six of the nine have placed so the record isn’t as bad it may appear.

With Paul Nicholls yet to win the race, history seems to be against Bravemansgame. He remains an exciting horse but there is the suspicion that he might find one or two too quick for him in what is traditionally a test of speed at the trip.

Does Bob Have a Hope?

Like Bravemansgame, Bob Olinger suffered defeat on his debut over hurdles, going down fighting in a terrific battle with Champion Bumper winner, Ferny Hollow, with the pair pulling a distance clear of the remainder. 

An impressive winner on his next start, he took the step up to Grade 1 in his stride when running out an emphatic winner of the Lawlor’s of Naas. A testing affair on heavy ground, it didn’t look quick but it was only a second slower than the handicap hurdle that was run on the same card over a furlong shorter. His jumping was improved and he pulled away nicely after the last; the phrase “polished performance”, as coined by Jerry Hannon, was certainly accurate.

He’ll bid to replicate Envoi Allen in completing to Naas-Cheltenham double, with Henry De Bromhead opting to swerve the Dublin Racing Festival.

Five for Mullins?

Willie Mullins is the leading trainer in the race, with his four victories all coming within the last thirteen years.

Appreciate It (10/1) looked the type to relish a step up in trip at the start of the season, but his impressive performances over the minimum trip have booked his ticket to the Supreme. 

But there are three certainties in life: Death, taxes and Willie Mullins having a plethora of talented novice hurdlers, with Gaillard Du Mesnil (7/2) duly emerging as the Irish champion trainer’s chief challenger in the Ballymore.

Beaten by Holymacapony on his debut, he shaped as if he’d improve significantly for that run; and so it proved, as he ran out a ready winner on his next start, comfortably beating a subsequent winner by ten-lengths. 

Well backed for the 2m6f Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival, he travelled well on the inside before taking control of the race on the run to the final flight on route to a five-length victory. He had too much speed for those in behind, with Gentlemansgame (20/1), Stattler (25/1) and Fakiera (40/1), who finished second, third and fourth respectively, all looking bound for the Albert Bartlett. With the Ballymore traditionally being a test of speed at the trip, it remains to be seen if he’ll be able to exert his authority at Cheltenham against quicker rivals but he’s certainly entitled to plenty of respect. 

Not one to resort to headgear so soon, it was interesting that Willie Mullins applied a hood to Galliard Du Mesnil on his last run. He hadn’t looked overly keen on his previous starts but perhaps it was fitted due to the step up in trip. In the last seven renewals, only seven horses have sported a hood in the Ballymore. Of those, just two were sent off shorter that 25/1; Parlour Games (2015) and Easywork (2020) both finished second. With that in mind, the application of a hood isn’t a barrier to success but it will be interesting to see if it is retained at Cheltenham. 

Willie also has Blue Lord (20/1) who placed in both the Lawlor’s of Naas and the Chanelle Pharma. Keen behind Bob Olinger in the former, he settled much better when dropped back in trip over two miles although he was staying on well at the finish. Both the Supreme and the Ballymore are options for him; he’ll be the stable second-string regardless of which race he runs in but he would have place claims.

Others to Note

Dreal Deal’s unfathomable rise through the ranks has been remarkable, albeit a touch controversial. Well backed to win a maiden hurdle having achieved little in his previous eleven starts. Following a quick quartet of handicap victories split amongst both codes, he defied a significant market drift to win the Moscow Flyer Novices’ Hurdle over two miles. Ronan McNally said after the race that “he will probably go for the Supreme”, which he is a 20/1 chance for.

Ballyadam has finished behind Appreciate It twice this season although he finished much closer in the Chanelle Pharma despite making an error at the last. His jumping over the has lacked fluency over the minimum trip and given that he’d have to face Appreciate It again in the Supreme, connections may be tempted to head for this race instead. There’s plenty of stamina in his pedigree and with Gordon Elliott lacking any clear alternate contenders for the Supreme and the Ballymore, options remain open for Ballyadam.

A perfect four from four under rules, including three wins over hurdles, Bear Ghylls (22/1) is a horse with plenty of potential for Nicky Martin. The form of his two novice hurdle wins has been franked, with both runners-up winning subsequently, and he made a mockery of a mark of 130 on his handicap debut.

His trainer has said that “his jumping is foot-perfect at home but it’s appalling in a race”; it’s a testament to his ability that he’s been able to win over hurdles with such poor rounds of jumping but he will not get away with those errors in a race like this. He’s likely to find this too much at this stage of his career given those flaws although regardless of result, he will remain an exciting prospect moving forwards.

Nicky Henderson has a couple of interesting entries in Lecale’s Article (25/1) and Gallyhill (40/1). Both were expensive purchases after winning their point-to-points and both won on their rules debut at Newbury, displaying plenty of potential in the process. Both look to be long-term prospects with Nicky not keen to commit to big spring targets for either horse. With that in mind, their participation seems unlikely.

Ballymore Hurdle Big-Race Verdict

A fascinating contest; the front three in the market all hold solid claims and they could all be top class. Bravemansgame is bidding to end the curse of the Challow; he’s looked outstanding so far but perhaps he’s one for next season once sent chasing.

Gaillard Du Mesnil has progressed with each run and Willie knows what it takes to win this race, although he did admit that his horse had a hard race at Leopardstown. With that in mind, slight preference is for Bob Olinger who’s looking to replicate Envoi Allen by completing the Lawlor’s of Naas/Ballymore double. Rachael Blackmore exudes confidence whenever this horse is mentioned and he has the potential to be a superstar.