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.