Royal Bond Novices Hurdle 2012

A race named after the Arthur Moore trained Royal Bond, a successful national hunt horse in the early 1980’s; the race itself was established in 1994 and has held Grade 1 status throughout its history. It is usually staged on the same afternoon as the Drinmore Novices’ Chase and the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and is run over two miles.

A brief look back through the history of the race tells a story of some impressive champions have etched their name into the roll call of winners before moving onto bigger and better things.

Names like Istabraq, Moscow Flyer, Like A Butterfly, Hardy Eustace, Newmill and Hurricane Fly are amongst past winners and it is a race that both Noel Meade and more recently Willie Mullins have farmed over the last decade.

Once again we have a small but select field lining up for this prize, and this is one of the best renewals I’ve seen in recent years.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starALLY CASCADE – Looks to have ground to find on all known form but has to be respected hailing from the Noel Meade stable. A facile winner of a bumper before finishing second to Jezki on his hurdles debut. Jezki already had the benefit of a recent run on the flat and has since gone on to further success in fine style to suggest Ally Cascade is no back number in this contest and has to be respected. The only thing that would concern me is that all ten of the recent winners of this race had all won over hurdles prior to winning the Royal Bond.

pink, light green spots, pink sleeves & capCHAMPAGNE FEVER – Winner of both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Champion Bumpers (first horse since Dunguib (who won this race) to do the double). He is a winner of four of his five races and made a successful debut over hurdles two weeks ago. Let’s not get carried away though, that race he won was an egg-and-spoon race as far as hurdles go and his pedigree is absolutely laden with stamina. I actually thought he’d make into a fairly nice staying chaser in the future and thus could find this trip on the sharp side against a better quality of opposition and is far too short for me at the prices.

dark blue, dark blue & orange hooped sleeves, orange cap, dark blue starCLONBANAN LAD – A winner at the first time over hurdles after switching from a bumper campaign which yielded two victories from four attempts. He was well beaten by Champagne Fever in both the Cheltenham and Punchestown bumpers and quite whether he has the class necessary to take this prize remains open to question. If he were to win this though he’d be only the third horse aged over 5 to win this race, with Like A Butterfly (2001) and more recently Dunguib (2009) being the two before him.

orange, black star , black & orange hooped sleeves, orange cap, black starJEZKI – A very likeable honest sort from the Jessica Harrington outfit, and a winner of four of his six races. Held by Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March he made a workmanlike debut over hurdles to edge out Ally Cascade when the pair made their debut over timber at the end of October. Jezki has followed that up with a recent success when fairly un-extended to thrash a couple of fair 135+ rated individuals in Un Beau Matin and Pageboy, with the 143 rated Hisabaat a further 22L back in fourth (although he arguably run below form).

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starMIDNIGHT OIL – Another entrant from the Willie Mullins stable who looks to have very little chance of winning this race on hurdles form shown thus far. Beaten by Bat Masterson (a fair 130’s rated performer) on hurdles debut before readily put away by Burrenbridge Lodge when last at Fairyhouse in April, his peak flat form would give him a chance in this but on what we’ve seen thus far he couldn’t enter considerations.

yellow, dark blue sash, dark blue cap, yellow starMINSK – A four-year-old with a huge reputation who came very close to make a winning debut over hurdles when getting edged out by Burrenbridge Lodge in a mad dash to the line. He made amends though on his next start over hurdles when thumping previously unbeaten bumper performer Glens Melody from the powerful Willie Mullins stable. He is a tricky horse to assess as he is no doubt better than his debut over hurdles but his proximity to Burrenbridge Lodge (now rated 129) is a slight concern, but I think it’s fair to say he would have beaten him had he landed faster over the last flight.

royal blue, light blue star, white sleeves, royal blue stars, white cap, royal blue starZUZKA – The third runner and probably second string for the Willie Mullins stable. This daughter of Flemensfirth was a fair performer in the bumper sphere before taking a while to get the hang of hurdling. Bred for stamina it was no real surprise to see her step up when upped in distance last time, and a return to the minimum trip looks sure to work against her and looks out of her depth in this grade to me.

In what looks a typically tough renewal of a race which in recent years has gone the way of the favourite (last 4 renewals) I’m going to go against the grain and try and get Champagne Fever beaten. Adding to the mixture is the flat spice of Minsk who still holds his huge reputation, and got off the mark over hurdles last time but he will be over bet such is his reputation. I also think he takes a little too long in the air over his flights for my liking, and that could prove his undoing if it comes down to a battle over the last flight.

With Clonbanan Lad, Zuzka and Midnight Oil not appearing to have the class to win this grade of race it looks to be left between old adversaries Ally Cascade and JEZKI, with the latter coming out on top for me after a very authoritative success over decent horses last time. The gelded son of Milan will no doubt improve for going up in trip like a few of his rivals here but I like the way he gets things done in his races and he thrashed some fair 130 rated rivals with utmost disdain last time.

[notification_box]2pts win Jezki @ 9-2 with Boylesports and PaddyPower[/notification_box]

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below what you think will win, and why!