2020 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle tips – 3/1 shot to leave rivals feeling Blue at Warwick

Jon Vine takes a look through the runners set to contest this Grade Two novices’ hurdle and provides readers with his tips for Warwick on Saturday 11th January.

Classic Chase day at Warwick features two top Graded races, the first being the Ballymore Leamington Novices’ Hurdle. First staged back in 2002, greats like Inglis Drever, The New One and Thomas Hobson have scored in this Grade Two during their first season over hurdles and viewers look set for a fascinating edition on Saturday.

Topping the tight ante-post betting we find Shan Blue (3/1 Coral), who finally got off the mark over hurdles at the third time of asking last month. Dan Skelton’s six-year-old came out second-best to a future Grade Two winner in Redford Road on his hurdling debut, and looked to be going well enough to challenge in a hot novice race at Newbury’s Winter Carnival, before falling at the second-last. There seemed to be no ill-effects from that tumble at Southwell, as the 2/7 favourite cruised to a 20-length triumph and Shan Blue certainly deserves his chance in Graded company.

Décor Irlandais (4/1 Ladbrokes) has taken an unusual route to this year’s Leamington, but Noel Kelly’s charge travels to Warwick as the highest-rated runner of those battling for favouritism. A classy point-to-pointer, who ran in a Hunters’ Chase at Downpatrick back in May, Décor Irlandais has won all three of his appearance in novice hurdles this year. Kelly’s charge has twice been beaten in handicap company, but warmed up for Warwick with a tidy victory over Mercian Prince, when giving his rival nine-pounds at the weights.

Mossy Fen (6/1 Unibet) made a good impression on his novice hurdling debut at Worcester, staying on powerfully to beat Dolphin Square, who’s won a couple of times since, by five lengths. Having carried a penalty to another convincing win at Aintree, Sam Twiston-Davies chose to ride Mossy Fen over stablemate, Redford Road in the Albert Bartlett Trial at Cheltenham’s December Meeting. That proved to be the wrong decision, as Mossy Fen could only finish fourth in that Grade Two, but Twiston-Davies’ charge remains a horse with plenty of promise and could bounce back over this shorter trip.

Colin Tizzard will count himself fairly unlucky to see Harry Senior (9/2 Ladbrokes) run into a couple of classy types in Sporting John and Edwardstone on his second and third starts over hurdles. Robbie Power’s mount then claimed a deserved maiden victory at Chepstow, hacking up on heavy ground to secure a five-length triumph, and he certainly remains open to further improvement.

Kiltealy Briggs (left) and Mossy Fen finishing third behind Redford Road (right) at Cheltenham.

The Queen’s colours could make a rare appearance at Warwick on Saturday, as Keen On (7/1 Coral) has been handed the chance to complete a hat-trick on Saturday. Nicky Henderson’s youngster edged out Protektorat – first past the post in a Listed race at Cheltenham on New Years Day – on his first start over hurdles at Sandown, before building on that promising display with a smart victory over two-and-a-half miles at Southwell.

The final runner in this Grade Two is Whatsupwithyou (12/1 Ladbrokes), who was an unfancied 33/1 shot as he made his debut under rules at Ascot last month. Pauling’s charge went on to bolt up in impressive fashion, powering home from the rear to secure victory by over three lengths. The form of that race doesn’t look great though, and Whatsupwithyou will have to find another level again if he wants to get involved.

This looks a wide-open renewal of the Leamington, and connections of Décor Irlandaise, Harry Senior and even Keen On will fancy their chances. Mossy Fen could be the best long-term prospect, especially when he tackles fences, but his jumps was much more cumbersome than I was expecting at Cheltenham, and I’m not sure the sharp nature of the track at Warwick will suit.

The one who looks best suited to both the course and underfoot conditions is SHAN BLUE. Dan Skelton and his team were celebrating 12 months ago as Beakstown powered home, and I think this improving young horse has an excellent chance of helping his trainer retain the Leamington Novices’ Hurdle trophy.

Trainer Dan Skelton celebrates at Warwick.

There was no shame in losing out to Redford Road on his hurdling debut, especially as the pair drew a long clear of the field. Shan Blue was in the midst of running a cracking race in a very competitive novice contest at Newbury too, and looked to have winner, Severano covered before a novicey mistake brought his race to an end.

Although Skelton’s charge faced nothing in terms of opposition at Southwell, Shan Blue still managed to set a solid time on heavy ground – a fact made more impressive when you consider he made his own running through and was never really asked for an effort.

The hurdles come thick and fast at Warwick, especially on the home straight, where there are two rapid-fire obstacles on the short run to the line. Barring that late error at Newbury, Shan Blue’s jumping has been slick on all three of his starts and I fancy he’ll have enough quality to claim the bragging rights in this fascinating race.