The Road to Cheltenham

Bill Esdaile
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PLENTY of races at this year's Cheltenham Festival have a far more open feel to them than usual.

The markets for the Gold Cup and World Hurdle currently resemble handicaps, while the Neptune Novices Hurdle is shaping up to be one of the races of the week.

One race that doesn't look quite so competitive is the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

At Fishers Cross currently heads the betting after his gutsy defeat of the highly-rated The New One on bottomless ground on Trials Day last month.

Although he seems to be progressing and will unquestionably be suited by the near half-mile step up in trip, there is a suspicion he may be reliant on soft ground – something that’s not guaranteed on the final day of the meeting.

Irish raider Pont Alexandre, who still holds a prominent position at the head of most lists, is being aimed at the Neptune two days earlier according to his trainer Willie Mullins but his powerful stable will be represented by BALLYCASEY.

The lightly raced six-year-old was having only his second start over hurdles at Thurles last month and relished the step up to two-and-three-quarter miles.

He won in the style of a smart prospect that day and Ruby Walsh needed only a twitch of the reins to settle things some way from home.

Walsh looks set to renew the partnership next month and I expect the 6/1 on offer with Star Sports to collapse as the meeting approaches. More importantly, I think Ballycasey will go very close.

■ Pointers…
BALLYCASEY 6/1 Albert Bartlett Hurdle
(Cheltenham Festival)