by Dave Metcalf
Dave has over 30 years’ experience in the media industry having worked for regional and national newspapers. He is a huge horse racing and football fan and has done interviews on various radio and TV stations, including talkSPORT and Sky Sports, whilst working as a PR front man for a betting firm. David has also written for At The Races, Coral News, the Daily Mirror and Racing Plus newspaper. He produced a Cheltenham Festival guide with former eight-times champion national hunt jockey Peter Scudamore, MBE, after helping him to set up a syndicate for his trainer son Michael.
Champion trainer Nicky Henderson has revealed that stable favourite Top Notch, who is as short as 7/1 in the ante post betting for the Ryanair Chase at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, will instead be switched back to the smaller obstacles and have a crack at the Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle on Thursday, 14th March.
He is currently a top priced 16/1 for his new assignment with William Hill for the Grade 1 contest over 3m and that looks cracking each-way value in what looks a wide-open renewal.
The Seven Barrows handler broke the news at a Cheltenham Festival preview evening organised by Unibet, for whom he is an official ambassador. He said:
“Terrefort can come into the Ryanair and we’ll move Top Notch down another little road, the Stayers’ Hurdle. We had a difficult time with Top Notch in the autumn and – to me – he’s just not a Grade 1 chaser. He’s 7lb below, but everyone adores him.
We started this season in the Long Walk and he ran a seriously good race and then won over fences next time. We just thought he enjoyed the hurdles run. Can we see him winning a Ryanair? Not quite, but that run over hurdles was so good we think we can come back to the Stayers’ Hurdle. “
It looks a shrewd move by connections and there are reasons to believe that Top Motch is a live outsider in the Stayers’ judged on his aforementioned run in the Long Walk Hurdle and proven Cheltenham form of the highest order.
Solid Run at Ascot
In the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot back in December, Top Notch finished a 5 3/4 length third of 11 to Paisley Park. The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede owned eight-year-old travelled well and threw down a strong challenge to from home before being unable to find any extra after the last. It was a fine effort on seasonal reappearance following 238 days on the sidelines.
Given that the winner, who is a top priced 7/4 with Unibet for the Stayers’, went into the contest with a big edge fitness wise having won his two previous starts it was a terrific effort by Top Notch and he is entitled to get much closer now fully tuned having since won a Listed contest at Kempton in fine style by five lengths.
Henderson reports Top Notch to have thrived since and although on official rating he has 14lb to find with Paisley Park, who has won again since, there not such a huge gap between them judged on their Ascot clash.
Proven Course For a Massive Plus
When it comes to Cheltenham Festival betting, taking into consideration its previous form at the track is a key component. As regards to Top Notch, he has been there, done it and got the T-shirt having finished a neck second to stable companion Pace And Co in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle, a fine fifth of 12 to Annie Power in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and a cracking length runner-up to Yorkhill in the JLT Novices Chase in 2017 when he arguably should have won.
Although injury forced Top Notch to miss last year’s meeting he clearly retains stacks of ability and is an ultra-consistent and tough sort who has won 13 of his 25 starts under rules – making the frame on eight other occasions. He has also been rated as high as 158 over hurdles in the past and 163 over fences. Top Notch clearly has the class to make his presence felt in the Stayers’ Hurdle and he is a strong traveller who will be suited by how the race is run.
So taking everything into account, Top Notch has more going for him in the Stayers’ Hurdle than his current odds would suggest. Hence the 16/1 on offer with William Hill looks too big and makes him look a tasty each-way punt.