Tellherthename is all systems go for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle having missed out on a shot at Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle on account of the testing ground.

Trainer Ben Pauling has never hidden his admiration for highly of his talented novice, who has won two of his four starts to date in taking fashion at Huntingdon.

The Cheltenham Festival opener has always been on the radar for the Megson family-owned five-year-old, but Pauling was keen to stop off at Newbury en route and try to exploit a rating of 135.

However, with persistent rain in the days leading into the prestigious handicap turning conditions in Berkshire heavy, connections made the decision to skip the contest in favour of heading to Prestbury Park without the risk of a gruelling race prior to his main objective.

“It’s ironic because the Betfair Hurdle is such a valuable race and takes a lot of thinking about, but the Supreme is one of the sort of blue riband events of our sport,” said Pauling.

“To have a horse we think is good enough to feature in it doesn’t happen very often and the owners were keen to save him for that day rather than end up at Cheltenham having had a harder race than necessary in the Betfair.

“We had always said to ourselves we would love to go via a Betfair Hurdle if everything fell right. So he was trained for the race and couldn’t have been in better form, but unfortunately the rain that Newbury got meant the ground was always going to be too testing.

“Actually, the fact the rain stopped and it started to dry out a little bit meant it was going to be quite tacky and hard work, so that even further secured our thoughts not to go there which was a shame because we thought we had him going there in great form and off a very nice mark and a good position to do himself justice.

“He’s at home in his stable looking magnificent and we will now prepare him for the Supreme.”

The Naunton Downs handler has tasted success three times at the Cheltenham Festival and heads to the showpiece meeting in four weeks time with the best squad of novice talent he has ever assembled.

His Festival hopes were enhanced by Handstands’ impressive victory in Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle last week and he will now head attempt to repeat Willoughby Court’s 2017 victory in the Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle, while Fiercely Proud and Challow Hurdle third The Jukebox Man are other smart prospects Pauling could unleash in the Cotswolds.

“We do seem to have a lot of novices that are going the right way at the moment and they are a very talented and progressive bunch. It’s nice to have such nice younger horses.” continued Pauling.

On Handstands, he added: “He’s come out of Huntingdon well and I was really, really pleased with his performance in the Sidney Banks.

“He’s a horse that previous to that race had only beaten what he had beaten, but Ben Jones who had ridden him twice before felt we were only scratching the surface and had not got to the bottom of him.

“You are not quite sure until you run them in that better grade what you have, but we were thrilled by the way he went about it and he put the race to bed quite nicely – when he got to the front he didn’t do an awful lot and probably won a bit cosily, so it was a good performance.”

Iberico Lord came out on top for Nico de Boinville and Nicky Henderson in the Betfair Hurdle.

In a field of 21, the bay was an 11-2 chance to give Henderson a sixth victory in the race and land himself another big handicap after taking the Greatwood in November.

Under a neat ride from De Boinville, the six-year-old was always handy and was one of a handful in contention over the final flight.

He landed marginally behind 28-1 shot L’Eau Du Sud but battled all the way to the line to score by an eventual two and a quarter lengths.

In-form Harry Derham is targeting the Betfair Hurdle with former smart Flat performer Brentford Hope.

Third in the Gerry Feilden to Hansard last time out, Derham has kept his powder dry, resisting the temptation to run the seven-year-old at Christmas.

Brentford Hope is one of 33 left in contention for the valuable contest, for which the sponsors make Nicky Henderson’s Luccia their 7-1 favourite with Brentford Hope a 10-1 chance.

“The Betfair Hurdle is very much the plan for Brentford Hope, we’ve had it in the back of our minds all season,” said Derham.

“Obviously, he has run very well around Newbury previously, we were thinking about running him at Christmas, but we decided to keep him fresh.

“These big handicaps take a lot of winning, we wanted to have him as fresh and well and in as good a form as possible going into a race like this.

“He’s training well, he’s got a few strong pieces of work to go between now and then, but we are very much planning to go and very much looking forward to it.”

Kerry Lee’s Nemean Lion is at the head of the weights, while Willie Mullins has left in Ocastle des Mottes, Alvaniy and Onlyamatteroftime.

The Noel Fehily Racing Syndicate could be doubly represented in next month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, with both Hansard and Kamsinas in line for the lucrative handicap.

Gary Moore’s Hansard showed his liking for the Berkshire track when landing the Gerry Feilden in November, since when he has finished a creditable fifth under a big weight in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot.

Kamsinas looked a potential star novice for Fergal O’Brien after landing a Grade Two prize at Haydock on his penultimate start, but having since come up short in the inaugural running of the Grade One Formby Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree on Boxing Day, he is set for a switch to handicap company.

“The plan at the moment remains for them both to run at Newbury, as long as everything stays okay between now and then,” Fehily confirmed.

“Hansard won the Gerry Feilden on his second to last start and I think the track suits him, so the Betfair Hurdle is very much the aim for him.

“Kamsinas won a Grade Two at Haydock, he was beaten in a Grade One last time out, but I think this race could just suit the likes of him as well. He is a novice and is hopefully still improving.”

Neil King is also considering another crack at handicap riches with his stable star Lookaway.

The seven-year-old completed a hat-trick of novice wins when beating Kamsinas in Grade Two company at Cheltenham towards the end of October.

He then performed with credit against seasoned campaigners when second in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle back at Prestbury Park, only being headed on the run-in by Iberico Lord.

Lookaway filled the same position behind Captain Teague in the Grade One Challow at Newbury over the festive period and Britain’s most valuable handicap hurdle is now one of his upcoming options.

“We have the three options for him now following his huge run in the Challow Hurdle; we either go to Cheltenham Trials Day, back to Newbury for the Betfair Hurdle or the Sidney Banks Hurdle at Huntingdon,” said King.

“I thought Trials Day would come too soon after the Challow but he has come out of the race so well, I don’t think he had as hard a race as we anticipated, he is in great form.

“We will review entries and ground conditions and make a decision as to where we go next, but the Betfair Hurdle is very much an option.”

With a total prize fund of £155,000 up for grabs on February 10, the Betfair Hurdle has predictably attracted a strong book of entries.

Nicky Henderson has six of the 40 possible contenders, with the aforementioned Iberico Lord joined by Betfair Exchange Trophy one-two Luccia and Impose Toi, plus Under Control, First Street and Doddiethegreat.

Paul Nicholls has Elite Hurdle hero Rubaud and Long Walk Hurdle fifth Blueking d’Oroux, while Willie Mullins has three of the four potential Irish raiders in Alvaniy, French recruit Ocastle Des Mottes and Onlyamatteroftime.

Olly Murphy’s Go Dante is one of four early co-favourites with the sponsors and Betfair spokesman Barry Orr commented: “It’s a cracking list of entries and that’s reflected in the market at 8-1 the field.

“Last month’s Betfair Exchange Trophy, which was won by Luccia, could hold the key to this race, with eight of the nine runners entered here.

“The winner looked a different proposition at Ascot and she would be considerably shorter if taking up this engagement, while Onlyamatteroftime, Impose Toi and Altobelli will all be in the mix.

“Rubaud would also be an interesting contender having disappointed in this race last season as a novice but rated 19lb more in this renewal.”

Challow Hurdle runner-up Lookaway has a return to Newbury for the Betfair Hurdle or the M1 Agency Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon as possible options en route to the Cheltenham Festival.

Neil King’s seven-year-old has become a real unsung hero of the novice hurdling division this term and although his winning streak has come to an end of late, Lookaway has still turned in high-calibre performances.

Stepping up in trip for a first taste of Grade One action on the back of his Greatwood Hurdle second, the Grade Two scorer pushed Paul Nicholls’ Captain Teague all the way in a thrilling event to end 2023.

King was thrilled with the performance and having only been put up 1lb by the assessor, he admits the Betfair Hurdle will be tempting, despite the Listed Sidney Banks – over a similar trip to the Challow – seeming a more obvious route to Prestbury Park.

“I thought it was a massive run from him, just with the wrong result,” said King.

“I was thrilled with him and it was just the wrong result. He’s come back home in really good form, I’ve ridden him out this morning and he’s in lovely form.

“He’s only gone up 1lb which has to be a bonus, so we could think about an entry in the Betfair, but maybe the Sidney Banks would be a more obvious target on the way to Cheltenham.”

Once at the Cheltenham Festival, King will need to decide whether to run in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle over a course and distance Lookaway has already tasted success this term, or tackle the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over an intermediate trip.

“I’m sure for the Festival the Ballymore is probably going to be better than the Supreme,” said King.

“But as everyone is saying, if the ground comes up the state it is now, then maybe the Supreme is not such a daft idea.

“If it was typical Festival ground, then two-miles-five is going to be better for us.”

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