Naas hosts the Grade 2 Slaney Novice Hurdle on Sunday and despite only attracting 4 runners it promises to be a great race. This is a perfect opportunity for some of the top Irish Novice Hurdlers to showcase their skills prior to the big festivals at Cheltenham and Punchestown.
10 out of the last 10 winners were sent off at 7/1 or lower
9 out of the last 10 winners had won last time out
7 out of the last 10 winners had won at least 2 races previously
6 out of the last 10 winners were aged 6
6 out of the last 10 winners had previously won over 2m4f or further
5 out of the last 10 winners were trained by either Willie Mullins or Noel Meade
Noel Meade has won this race twice in the past ten years and sends Very Wood (6/1 BetVictor) to represent his stable after some good performances this season. The horse finished 5th behind the highly rated The Tullow Tank in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse at the start of December. Despite that result, one suspects that this horse will need to find greater improvement to have any chance here somthing which may well prove too difficult to achieve. Other negatives for Very Wood include the fact that only two 5 year-olds have won the race in the last 10 years, he failed to win last time out and he is yet to win at 2m4f or further.
Apache Jack (14/1 Ladbrokes) comes off the back of a good 12 length win at Punchestown which has given Dessie Hughes an outside chance of picking up the victory here. As well as winning last time out, Apache Jack has won over 2m4f and is also aged 6. However, despite meeting a good number of trends, the form of his last victory doesn’t look to be particularly strong and his double figure price seems a true reflection of his chances.
The champion Irish trainer, Willie Mullins has a strong hand and looks for all the world destined to win this race for the 4th time as he sends out two of his top novices. Upazo (9/2 Ladbrokes) didn’t look that promising at the start of his career but has made steady improvement with 2 wins at Fairyhouse this season. Despite the fact that he’s aged 6 and won well last time out, he is yet to win over 2m4f or further and has been soundly beaten over that distance before.
That leaves the Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner BRIAR HILL (4/9 Stan James) and in all honesty it looks like a penalty kick for the Willie Mullins' charge. Stable jockey Ruby Walsh is on board which tells us that he is the pick of the stable and his recent form suggests that he will be extremely difficult to beat on Sunday. Although he has to carry a penalty he meets pretty much all of the keys trends and was most impressive when comfortably winning over 2m4f last time out in a Grade 1 Novice event at Navan.
BRIAR HILL could still be an unknown quantity in terms of his ultimate potential but he looks to have his rivals in this race comfortably held. His form in comparison to his challengers looks far superior and despite the poor recent record long odds-on shorts have in the race, it really does look like an open goal for the favourite. Barring disaster Briar Hill should make a nice bet for odds-on backers, and for those interested in a bit of value I like Very Wood for the straight forecast.
BRIAR HILL (WIN) (4/9 Stan James)
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