As the name suggests, the Top Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle, run over 2 miles and 103 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards who, at the start of the current season, have yet to win over hurdles, the race is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival.
The Top Novices’ Hurdle was inaugurated in 1976, awarded Grade 2 status following the revision of the National Hunt Pattern in 1989 and further elevated, to Grade 1 status, in 2016. In its history, two winners – Granville Again (1991) and Buveur D’Air (2016) – have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, while the 2012 winner, Darlan, was ante-post favourite for the two-mile hurdling championship when suffering a fatal fall at Doncaster a month before the 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
The position of the Top Novices’ Hurdle in the National Hunt calendar makes it an obvious late-season target for horses that previously contested the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival; the 2022 winner, Jonbon, for example, finished second at Cheltenham. However, the last horse to win both races was the ill-fated Browne’s Gazette, trained by Michael Dickinson, way back in 1984.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Darlan and Buveur D’Air, also saddled General Miller (2010), My Tent Or Yours (2013), Josses Hill (2014) and Jonbon (2022) to victory for a total of six wins and is the most successul handler in the history of the Top Novices’ Hurdle. Granted his previous record, punters might do well to keep an eye on the Master of Seven Barrows, who appears to have a strong team of novice hurdlers for the 2022/23 season.
The Manifesto Novices’ Chase is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 200 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to novice steeplechasers, aged five years and upwards, and is currently scheduled as the first race on the opening day of the three-day Grand National Festival.
The Manifesto Novices’ Chase commemorates Manifesto, who was one of the best, if not the best, Grand National performers of all time. Between 1895 and 1904, Manifesto contested the celebrated steeplechase a record eight times, winning twice, in 1897 and 1899, and finishing in the first four in 1900, 1902, 1903 and 1904; his victory, under 12st 7lb, in 1899 equalled the weight-carrying record for the Grand National.
The Manifesto Novices’ Chase was inaugurated, as a Grade 2 contest, in 2009, before being promoted to Grade 1 status three years later. In its relatively short history, Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs have won the race twice apiece and are, jointly, the most successful trainers in its history. The race often features horses that contested the Arkle Challenge Trophy or the Turners Novices’ Chase so, looking ahead to the 2023 renewal – due off at 1.45pm on Thursday, April 7 – those that feature prominently in the ante-post betting for either race merit close consideration.
At this still early stage, the likes of Jonbon (who is trained by Nicky Henderson), Sir Gerhard and El Fabiolo all have the potential to become top-class novice steeplechasers, but the pecking order in the division will, no doubt, become clearer as the National Hunt season unfolds. Reigning champion trainer Paul Nicholls has already gone on the record as being ‘really strong with our novice chasers’, so keep an eye on the likes of Gelino Bello, Monmiral and McFabulous, to name but three.
The Sefton Novices’ Hurdle is a Grade 1 novices’ hurdle race run over 3 miles and 149 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. Open to horses aged four years and upwards, the race was inaugurated, as the White Satin Novices’ Hurdle, in 1988, before being renamed – after the village of Sefton, approximately four miles northwest of Aintree Racecourse – five years later.
The White Satin Novices’ Hurdle was awarded Grade 2 status in 1991 and, under its present title, promoted to Grade 1 status. It is currently scheduled for the second day of the three-day Grand National Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day.
The Sefton Novices’ Hurdle is an obvious target for horses that previously contested the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – a similar Grade 1 race run over the slightly shorter distance of 2 miles, 7 furlongs and 213 yards – at the Cheltenham Festival, although the last horse to win both races was At Fishers Cross. Nicky Henderson, who saddled the inaugural winner of the White Satin Novices’ Hurdle, Rustle, way back in 1988, has since added three more – Beat That (2014), Santini (2018) and Champ (2019) – to his tally and is the leading trainer in the history of the race.
Predicting the result of any race, let alone a novices’ hurdle race, that is many months away is nigh on impossible. However, prospective ante-post punters could so well on some promising youngsters from Seven Barrows, including the unbeaten Firestep, who was prevented from running in 2022 by a series of ‘niggly problems’, but could yet take high order in the novice hurdling division. According to Nicky Henderson, ‘It might be a blessing Firestep didn’t run as he’s a massive, big horse now.’