Ballyoptic’s unbeaten record over hurdles came to a dramatic end last month but the talented young hurdler will bid to get his World Hurdle aspirations back on track at Newbury on Friday night, live on Sky Racing 1.
Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies, Ballyoptic looked a leading hope for next year’s World Hurdle off the back of four impressive wins over obstacles. The six-year-old followed two novice victories with a gallant battling success in the Grade 1 Doom Bar Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, a race won the previous year by the current World Hurdle champion Thistlecrack. He then returned this season with a move into handicap company where he once again showed a natural jumping ability and a great will to win in taking Chepstow’s Silver Trophy and it was therefore a surprise when his winning run came to a crashing end at the final flight of a Grade 2 hurdle at Wetherby last month. Ballyoptic was three lengths down but battling strongly and surely would have been a danger to Silsol but for stumbling badly on landing.
Fortunately Ballyoptic has recovered well and looks set to take his chance in Friday night’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. In recent years this has been a particularly strong pointer to the Cheltenham Festival mainly thanks to the exploits of Big Buck’s and Inglis Drever, with Thistlecrack’s win last year meaning six of the last ten winners have gone on and taken the championship of the staying hurdle division, the World Hurdle, in the same season. With the brilliant Thistlecrack now plying his trade over fences and other leading hopes such as Faugheen and Annie Power not certain to line up there is the opportunity for a young hurdler to move towards the top of the staying division and Ballyoptic looks an obvious candidate.
Friday night will prove another good stepping stone with the gallant Reve De Sivola likely to be in opposition. Following a disappointment over fences the 11-year-old bounced back when conceding weight in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock and while he has always struggled when pitched into a World Hurdle, he was still an eight-length second to Thistlecrack in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle last season. His latest seventh place in a French Grade 1 came behind third placed Ptit Zig who was returning in good form on his seasonal reappearance. Trained by Paul Nicholls, who won this race five years in a row between 2009 and 2013, Ptit Zig is a talented seven-year-old who also finished a 12-length second to Thistlecrack in last season’s Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham. Soft ground is very much in his favour which the same can be said of last season’s Grade 1 Albert Bartlett’s Novices’ Hurdle winner Unowhatimeanharry who is set to have his first run this season.
Like Ballyoptic, Harry Fry’s Unowhatimeanharry possesses a tremendous attitude and improved 29 pounds on official ratings in five unbeaten runs last season culminating in the Cheltenham Festival success. He’s a credit to his trainer who’s done a brilliant job since taking over training the eight-year-old and it would be a fascinating clash between the pair and the more experienced campaigners.
The two youngsters look the ones to side with and while Ballyoptic would be a worthy favourite, Unowhatimeanharry could be tempting if sent off at much bigger odds.