Challow Novices' Hurdle Preview: Thyme can keep rolling

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Thyme Hill has won both of his starts over hurdles so far, including a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham last time out.
Thyme Hill has won both of his starts over hurdles so far, including a Grade 2 contest at Cheltenham last time out.

Nick Seddon previews Saturday’s Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury, and picks out his best bet in the race…

Through absolutely no fault of its own, the Challow Novices’ Hurdle can sometimes be forgotten about in that void between Christmas and New Year simply due to how busy everything is, though it certainly deserves a second look considering it has a proven track record of producing top prospects; with each of Denman (2006), Diamond Harry (2008), Barters Hill (2015) and Champ (2018) winning the race this century to name just a few. 

The fact that just five are due to take their chance tomorrow isn’t of too much concern either, considering that we’ve seen just one double-figure field this century, when 11 ran in 2009. The field is a select one, though, and of the five the betting seems to suggest that it will concern three - Thyme Hill, Enrilo and The Cashel Man.

The one they all have to beat, though, is Thyme Hill, who is the 8/1 favourite for next year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at the time of writing. A smart bumper performer last year, he’s wasted no time in making up into an excellent hurdling prospect, winning back-to-back Grade 2 contests at Chepstow and Cheltenham respectively. The Chepstow form has been franked by both Fiddlerontheroof and Harambe winning since, and with both of Thyme Hill's successes having come in attritional conditions so far, he will take all the beating with a similar going forecast here. 

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The other Grade 2 winner in the field is Enrilo, who showed a good attitude to win the Winter Novices’ Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month. Like Thyme Hill, he had three starts in bumpers last term, and is two-from-three so far over timber, having also won on debut at Wincanton in October. Rather surprisingly, the Paul Nicholls team haven’t won this since striking with Denman in 2006, though they couldn’t be in better form at the moment, and Enrilo ought to give the favourite something to think about here. 

The biggest threat could well come from The Cashel Man, however, who also represents powerful connections in the form of Seven Barrows. The seven-year-old was a talented stayer on the Flat for David Simcock a couple of years ago, and he’ll arrive here with plenty of hurdling experience under his belt, making five starts over timber to date this year. The two most recent of those have been successes, including when winning a competitive-looking handicap at Newbury in fine style under an excellent attacking ride from Jeremiah McGrath last month. It’s interesting that he now steps up in grade and back into novice company, and he would be a danger to all under similar tactics once again. 

The field is completed by Eclair Surf and Stick With Bill. The first-named was a winner of a point over in Ireland, and he made a taking hurdling debut for Emma Lavelle when winning at Exeter last month. He’s clearly a good prospect, though the form of that race isn’t looking very strong so far, and this is a big ask now stepped straight into Grade 1 company. The same can be said for Stick With Bill, who got off the mark at the second time of asking at Ffos Las last time out, and although the testing conditions won’t be an issue, this is far tougher. 

In summary, it seems likely to concern the three market principals. The Cashel Man would be a big danger if able to repeat his front-running win at Newbury last time out, but it’s difficult not to have been taken by what Thyme Hill has shown so far, and he’s a strong fancy to cement his Albert Bartlett favouritism by picking up a third graded success on the trot - and a first win at the top level.

Selection

Challow Novices’ Hurdle - Saturday 28th December 2019 - back Thyme Hill at 5/6

Tip

Challow Novices' Hurdle
Thyme Hill silk

Thyme Hill

won

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