27 February 2023

Hermes Allen backed for Ballymore glory

27 February 2023

Paul Nicholls is confident he has picked the right Cheltenham Festival contest for his hugely-impressive Challow Hurdle winner Hermes Allen.

The six-year-old, who was an expensive £350,000 purchase following victory between the flags at Kirkistown, holds entries for both the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett over further at Prestbury Park.

But it is the shorter of the two Grade One contests that has always been identified as the preferred option and the son of Poliglote is the general 9-4 favourite for the two-mile-five-furlong event.

Nicholls has seen Gold Cup contender Bravemansgame and the admirable Stage Star both turned over in the day two opener on the back of success at Newbury in the past two years, while Denman is another famous Ditcheat name to suffer defeat in the contest.

However, the champion trainer is bullish his unbeaten charge heads to the Festival as one of his best chances of the week.

He said: “He surprised me first time out when he won at Stratford. He then went to Cheltenham and won very nicely and then went to Newbury and won very nicely on heavy ground.

“I didn’t think he’d want that ground, but he was the only one with the ability to go through it and plenty of those that finished behind him have won since – it’s turned out to be a very good race.

“He’s obviously got huge ability and I’m excited about him going to Cheltenham of course, but I’m as excited about the future with him as he’ll be a lovely horse to go chasing.

“He’s working nicely and is in good shape. He’s in the Albert Bartlett, but I’ve always thought the Ballymore over two-and-a-half (miles) would suit.

“It’s a very good race, the Irish have got some very good horses in there but he’s got a great chance.

“He jumps and can be ridden forward and, on paper, he’s our best chance of the week.”

Nicholls also hopes Tahmuras’ staying prowess means he will be a live candidate in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The race has an open feel following the defeat of Facile Vega at the Dublin Racing Festival and the champion trainer believes the Tolworth Hurdle winner – who is a best-priced 10-1 for success – gives him similar vibes to the previous Ditcheat winners of the Festival opener, Noland and Al Ferof.

“He looks fantastic and is three from three this year,” continued Nicholls.

“He’s surprised us a little bit to be honest. He won a bumper at Wincanton and we thought he was a nice horse who would win plenty of races, but I never dreamt he’d be going for a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

“He didn’t really enjoy the ground that much in the Tolworth, but he had enough ability to gallop round and win nicely.

“The ground will be much better for him at Cheltenham, which will suit. I’ve won the Supreme with Al Ferof and Noland who weren’t going to go on and be Champion Hurdlers, they were staying chasers and he is very much the same as them.

“Those horses that stay can actually run very well in the Supreme and he has a lot of ability.

“He’s right in the mix in a very open race.”

One Ditcheat inmate that could be swimming slightly under the radar is Stay Away Fay, who heads to the Albert Bartlett on the final day of the meeting.

In his Lingstown point-to-point, he drew six lengths clear of Henry de Bromhead’s Monty’s Star and the pair may lock horns again at Prestbury Park. However, whereas Monty’s Star is single-figure odds for the gruelling three-mile Grade One, Stay Away Fay’s price ranges from 16-1 to 25-1.

He has looked worthy of his £305,000 price-tag since transferring to Ditcheat, claiming a Newbury maiden in good style before just falling short in the Grade Two River Don at Doncaster last time.

“He’s a nice horse and is not that far behind Hermes Allen, he’s just had one run less,” added Nicholls.

“Lorcan (Williams) will say it probably wasn’t his best ever ride the last day at Doncaster. He got into trouble from the start and in the straight and still stayed on and finished second.

“He runs in the Albert Bartlett and I think there’s a lot to come from this horse. He stays and gallops. He lacks a bit of experience, but I think he’s one of the best big-priced outsiders we’ve got.”

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