THIS will be the 15th running of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.50pm) and the one thing I have learnt over the years is that it tends not to go to the lightly-raced flashy types.
Such a brutal test of stamina comes very early on in the career of some of these novices and the truth is plenty of them are just not tough enough for the job.
You only have to look at the long list of class horses well beaten in this race that have gone onto Cheltenham Festival glory later on in their careers.
The likes of Native River, Balko Des Flos and Blaklion are three recent horses tailed off in the three-mile contest who bounced backed to have their big days in the sun.
Occasionally a class act comes along and is able to cope with the test at a relatively young age like Bobs Worth back in 2011, but the truth is they are few and far between.
If there is to be a star in among these 20 runners it is more than likely to be Nicky Henderson’s Birchdale who is unbeaten in two starts for his trainer.
He looked good here on Trials Day and is highly-rated by his trainer, but there has to be a doubt about whether he will truly see this test out.
The trainer saddled Santini to finish third in this 12 months ago and Birchdale comes here with even less experience.
The rain that fell on the course yesterday will put even more emphasis on stamina and I couldn’t back him at just 6/1 with Star Sports.
This will be only the fourth start of his career and he still looked inexperienced here last time. He is battling it out for favouritism with Gordon Elliott’s Commander Of Fleet who has more experience and should see out the trip.
However, he is another at the top of the market based purely on connections and the stable saddled a similar type in Death Duty who was a wellbeaten favourite in this two years ago.
You always have to respect Willie Mullins who won that race with Penhill and he saddles an interesting one in Allaho.
He proved he stayed well last time, but is only five-years-old and with only three lifetime starts, he too could lack the experience.
Therefore, it could pay to look further down the list and the one that catches my eye is Irish raider DERRINROSS who somewhat sneaks in here under the radar for unheralded trainer Philip Dempsey.
This will be his only runner here this week and all the rain that has fallen over the last three days will have been music to his ears.
At the grand old age of eight-years old he is the most mature of the bunch and this will be his ninth career start. The key to him seems to be distance and the step up to this three-mile trip this season has revolutionised his form.
I love the fact he is an out-and-out stayer and the more rain that falls, the better his chances. He won a decent Grade Three Novice Hurdle over this trip on nearly heavy ground at Cork back in December where he outstayed Sam’s Profile.
That horse showed up really well for a long way in Wednesday’s Ballymore Novices Hurdle so the form seems that bit stronger now.
Last time, he ground it out again to fend off the useful Defi Bleu in a Grade Two and also managed to shoulder a penalty in the process.
That again was back in December and connections have deliberately kept him fresh for this and resisted the temptation to run him on unsuitably fast ground at the Dublin Racing Festival.
I’m hoping their patience can be rewarded and he looks too big at 10/1 in what looks sure to be a real slog.
Derrinross e/w 2.50pm Cheltenham