Attempting to solve the puzzle that is working out the Festival targets of Willie Mullins’ novice hurdle string is a yearly one, and this season looks no different.
The Closutton handler, as always, has a strong looking hand ready to be played at Cheltenham in March, possessing a plethora of darts to throw at the big races.
Bellshill is one of those likely to carry the money of punters from both Ireland and this side of the water at Prestbury Park, but with odds of 8/1 available in all three novice events in
Gloucestershire, an antepost bet could be fraught with risk.
Put up by Patrick Mullins as a horse that “will win whichever novice hurdle he runs in” at the Festival in a season preview, the five-year-old has so far delivered.
The winner of the Grade 1 bumper at the Punchestown Festival began his career over obstacles in excellent fashion winning by nine lengths at Cork in a two mile contest.
He was then stepped up in trip for a Grade 2 event at Navan on Sunday and sent off 4/6 favourite.
While one of his three rivals unseated Paul Townend just past the half-way point, the manner in which he quickened to score by 12 lengths to Gordon Elliot’s Tycoon Prince was really taking.
The race is one that Willie Mullins has farmed in recent years, winning five of the last eight runnings and his winners have generally gone on to bigger and better things.
Mikael D’Haguenet scored in 2008 before going on to land the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the festival, while Pont Alexandre landed the race three years ago in excellent style before being sent off favourite for the Festival race.
The likes of Boston Bob and Briar Hill have targeted the longer Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle after the race, but Bellshill looks like one that will follow the former route.
You’ve generally needed a speedy type to land the race over the intermediate distance at Cheltenham, with the likes of Faugheen, The New One and Simonsig all dropping back in trip for later targets after landing the race.
Willie Mullins’ latest contender showed bags of that in both his most recent start (which also suggested a good helping of stamina) and on his hurdling debut.
Another factor that could mean the two-mile-five-furlong race is the target come March is the options on hand for Mullins in the other Festival races.
An excellent winning debut for the yard ensured that Min was far from a talking horse and remains 4/1 favourite for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
While the County Carlow handler hasn’t, in the past, been adverse to running more than one of his horses in the same race, it would make little sense to put two of his best against each other at this stage.
Bellshill and Yorkhill are the shortest two possibilities in the stable for the longer races at the Festival and are likely to be stable first string wherever they line up next year.
The fact that the latter started off his hurdling career at two-and-a-half miles, rather than the minimum hurdling trip suggests that staying will be his game.
He had little to beat at Punchestown, but with victory in a three mile point-to-point before making his first start under rules, and another at his mercy when unseating, stamina looks assured.
With both under the ownership of Andrea and Graham Wylie, it’s likely they will go separate routes, and one suspects Bellshill will be the one for the shorter trip.
At 8/1 he represents excellent value to land the spoils for the champion Irish trainer in the Neptune, with everything pointing this might not be a decision the master handler leaves to the last minute.
He’s likely to have other runners in the race, but on what he’s shown so far Bellshill is likely to be the one at the head of the betting for the Irish come the Festival.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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