It’s Week 3/20 on this antepost journey to the 2024 Cheltenham Festival – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun?
The next name in the book is a classy novice hurdler who, amongst the array of talent at Closutton, I think is going under the radar.
It feels strange to say a horse who cost £90,000 and is unbeaten in four starts under rules for Willie Mullins is “going under the radar”, but here we are.
I suppose the reason is because High Class Hero’s first appearance was in a bumper at Listowel in June, when most attention was on the Flat – but even after a subsequent hat-trick over hurdles, I feel he’s being underestimated.
Let’s start with that Listowel bumper, shall we? Following 569 days on the sidelines, the son of Sulamani landed the 2m4f affair by over six lengths, beating John McConnell’s Kinbara who won his next two starts, over hurdles, by a combined 36L.
A couple of months later, he made his debut over flights in an above-average maiden over an extra furlong at the Galway Festival, beating the experienced Tag Man – now rated 135 and ran well at Cheltenham last weekend – with some subsequent winners even further behind.
Then, in September, he went back to Listowel and won another middle-distance heat extremely easily, beating a horse called Sequestered who was my winning NAP on Sunday.
That’s all strong form, but High Class Hero’s latest effort – an impressive seven-length victory in a Listed novice hurdle at Limerick just over a week ago – is the one I want to focus on, for I thought that’s when he established himself as a Cheltenham Festival contender.
He keeps on winning!
Three victories on the day at @LimerickRaces for Willie Mullins as High Class Hero retains his unbeaten record in comfortable fashion in the Rathsallagh Country House Hurdle under Paul Townend. pic.twitter.com/KRgdMkalnF
— Horse Racing Ireland (@HRIRacing) October 21, 2023
As you can see from the replay, the six-year-old made light-work of his three rivals. The nearest finisher? The 133-rated The Big Doyen, who was also on a hat-trick having just put up a career-best performance (144 RPR) at Galway.
I think he’s performed to a level there that would have seen him at least competitive in the last couple of Albert Bartletts – and I’m certain there’s plenty more improvement left in him.
Surely the aforementioned three-miler is his most likely destination. He’s not a plodder by any stretch of the imagination, but he clearly possesses plenty of stamina given how he saw out 2m5f on heavy ground at Limerick. That’s another big positive – his versatility in terms of conditions. There’s nothing worse than an antepost bet being scuppered by the weather.
That’s my case for the horse and race – but what about the price?
Well, you’re getting greater odds about a horse who’s not only already proven over obstacles but also looks likely to go down this route than the likes of Ballyburn (name-dropped for the Supreme and Ballymore), Fact To File (going novice chasing) and Tullyhill (surely more of a middle-distance horse).
Then you look further down the market and see the likes of Captain Teague (unlikely according to Paul Nicholls) and Barry The Butcher (injured, I believe) – and then it’s 20/1 bar.
There’s a lot of water yet to go under the bridge, especially in this division, but if the season plays out as I envisage then I can’t see High Class Hero ever being a bigger price than this.
Stay tuned to Betfred Insights for more Cheltenham Tips as we build-up to the 2024 Festival