Published 14th February
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is a race that rewards stamina and toughness. It regularly turns into a real slog and going into the race with plenty of experience and maturity has proven to be significant for many previous winners.
While it is a race that can throw up some unexpected runners that are rerouted from the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle late in the day, one contender that has already been committed to the Friday race and makes plenty of appeal is the Gordon Elliott-trained CRACKING SMART.
The six-year-old is a French import that ran over hurdles there in the first half of 2016 prior to making his Irish debut when second in a maiden hurdle at Naas in February 2017.
With his connections understandably keen to preserve his novice status over hurdles until 2017/18, he finished off last season by winning a bumper at Fairyhouse, doing so in some style.
He wasted no time in making an impression when returned to hurdling this campaign, winning a two-and-a-half-mile maiden hurdle at Punchestown and a three-mile Listed novice hurdle at Cork in classy fashion.
It was a run that promised there would be even better to come from him when he was returned to three miles
His connections dropped him back to two-and-a-half miles for his next start in the Grade 2 Navan Novice Hurdle and he faced a formidable foe in the shape of the Willie Mullins-trained Next Destination.
While Cracking Smart could only finish second to that rival on the day, he lost little in defeat, with the drop in trip seeming to be a bigger issue for him than any lack of ability. Having raced prominently throughout, he got quite badly outpaced between the third-last and second-last flights, finishing strongly up the run-in to regain second.
It was a run that promised there would be even better to come from him when he was returned to three miles, but perhaps with his long-term interests in mind, his connections opted to stick to the mid-range trip for his next start in the Lawlor’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas.
Again facing Next Destination, this time a steady early pace made it difficult for the selection to bring his stamina into play, and while it was Next Destination that again came out on top, this time by just a length, Cracking Smart again shaped as though a return to a longer trip would show him to even better effect.
Cracking Smart’s connections confirmed in the immediate aftermath of that race that he would not run again prior to the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle where he would finally get the opportunity to show what he can do when returned to a staying trip.
While he has primarily raced on a testing surface, his action suggests that faster ground will suit him well. It will take a big performance from one of his rivals to beat him.
Kevin's Recommended Bet (scale 1-5 points):
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Friday 16th March)
2pts win CRACKING SMART (6/1 Paddy Power, 5/1 bet365 – all Non-Runner No Bet)