Willie Mullins dominated the novice hurdle landscape last season. In terms of ratings the Irish handler had five of the top 10 in the division, including the favourites for the three big showpieces at the Cheltenham Festival.
Faugheen did his bit by winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and Vautour ran away with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. But the clean sweep went down the drain when Briar Hill fell in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.
It is the Albert Bartlett that is becoming the fly in the ointment for Mullins as he is still waiting for a first winner, with the 2015 instalment set to be the 11th running of the 3m contest.
He has certainly had the challengers to end the wait in recent seasons. In 2012, Boston Bob was sent off at 6/5 before coming second to the late Brindisi Breeze, while Ballycasey was highly fancied in 2013 prior to being ruled out on race morning.
Then Briar Hill was 2/1 last year before his fall. So Mullins’ three star novices were priced at 6/4, 7/2 and 2/1 in 2014.
Douvan is already 2/1 for the Supreme Novices’ this time and could be joined by the equally exciting Alvisio Ville and Nichols Canyon.
Tell Us More, Outlander and Morning Run would be contenders for the Neptune, but the Albert Bartlett line-up is not looking so obvious as to how Mullins will shuffle his talented pack.
Black Hercules appears the first string, but how much can really be read into back-to-back odds-on victories in Ireland this season remains to be seen. The latter was fairly comfortable though over the 3m trip and 10/1 appears a solid each-way bet at present.
There is every possibility he will be about half of this price by race day.
The back-up option at this stage would appear to be Shaneshill, as he finished second last time in the same 2m4f Navan contest that had been won by Boston Bob and Briar Hill as part of their Cheltenham preparations.
Whether he truly stays 3m is a concern and the Neptune potentially looks a better option, which suggests taking the 14/1 at this stage on Shaneshill winning the Albert Bartlett comes with a huge dose of risk.