This is the sixth running of the Albert Bartlett Hurdle (2.40) and it is shaping up into a decent renewal with a good mix of unexposed types and those with top-class staying hurdle form already in the book.
The Tom George-trained Tell Massini definitely falls into the latter category having won three from three over hurdles, including two Grade 2 successes at Cheltenham. His form stands up to the closest scrutiny as the horse he beat by eight lengths here in December, Reve de Sivola (giving 7lb), finished second in Wednesday's Neptune Novices', while he had more in hand than the official margin of two and a half lengths over the unreliable but talented Kennel Hill when upped to 3m the following month. After that success, his stamina for this 3m trip cannot be questioned and he looks a worthy favourite at 4/1 (bet365), although he has never raced on anything other than soft ground.
Willie Mullins is leaving nothing to chance with as many as four runners, headed by Enterprise Park (6/1 William Hill), who has yet to be seriously tested in two starts, including a Grade 3 at Limerick last time, and hails from a good family (Risk Of Thunder, The Listener, Fork Lightning). All three of those made their name as chasers and the suspicion is that he will not come into his own until tackling bigger obstacles next season. His best form has come in the mud.
Mullins is also set to run Quel Esprit (8/1 Ladbrokes), providing he is none the worse for his fall in the Neptune, Fionnegas (12/1 Betfred), who chased home Dunguib on his latest start, and the outsider Arvika Ligeonniere.
Trainer Robin Dickin is not used to success at this level, but his Restless Harry (7/1 Paddy Power) has already lowered the colours of some well-touted in-form novices from top stables when landing a Grade 2 in good style over 2m41/2f here in January on his latest outing. His previous Challow second to Reve De Sivola leaves him with a bit to find with Tell Massini, though, and his two worst runs by far came when the ground was good.
Both Shinrock Paddy (8/1 Boylesports) and The Betchworth Kid (10/1 Paddy Power) give the impression they will relish the step up to 3m and are others in to consider in a race with plenty of strength in depth.
Cappa Bleu, an impressive winner of the Foxhunter, would not have had this race as his target at the start of the season but, after his confidence-restoring hurdles last month (second), he could go well at a big price (20/1 Coral).
Only five runnings to go on, but all five previous winners had finished first or second last time out.
All those currently at single figure prices would prefer some ease in the ground and conditions will play a big part. In the hope the ground doesn't deteriorate too much, I'm going to swerve the lot of them and take a chance on THE BETCHWORTH KID, who has done nothing wrong in three runs over hurdles, with a victory and two placed efforts to his name. Granted, he has to improve on his bare form but his trainer Alan King (one winner, one third in this race) is convinced he is crying out for this trip as he was a thorough stayer on the flat. Owned by a syndicate which includes professional gambler Henry Ponsonby, he could go off well-backed, so the 10/1 with Paddy Power is worth snapping up.