Which were the top three novice hurdlers in 2020/21?
Granted that Irish-trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, it should come as no surprise that two such horses, both Festival winners, topped the ratings in the novice hurdle division, according to Timeform. Those horses were Appreciate It (160p), trained by Willie Mullins, and Bob Olinger (159p), trained by Henry de Bromhead, although My Drogo (156p), trained in Warwickshire by Dan Skelton, was adjudged just 3lb inferior to the Irish pair by the venerable ratings organisation.
Beaten favourite in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, Appreciate It opened his account over hurdles, at odds of 1/12, in a modest maiden hurdle at Cork in November. Thereafter, he raced exclusively at Grade 1 level, winning the Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas and the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, over the same course and distance, in February en route to the Cheltenham Festival. In the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Appreciate It was sent off 8/11 favourite and, having travelled and jumped well, held an unassailable 6-length lead at the final flight. At that point, his nearest pursuer, stable companion Blue Lord, fell, leaving him to come home in splendid isolation, 24 lengths ahead of Ballyadam.
Interestingly, Bob Olinger was beaten by Ferny Hollow, erstwhile conqueror of Appreciate It in the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, on his hurdling debut at Gowran Park in November. However, he was impressive when making all to win, by 14 lengths, at Navan the following month and, like Appreciate It, spent the remainder of the season in Grade 1 company. He made short work of the aforementioned Blue Lord in the Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle at Naas in January, winning easily by 6½ lengths and, in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, cruised home by 7½ lengths and 4½ lengths from Gaillard du Mesnil and Bravemansgame.
According to trainer Dan Skelton, the 2021 Cheltenham Festival never was the ‘be-all and end-all’ for My Drogo, whom he considers ‘every inch a chaser’. A steeplechaser in the making he may well be, but that didn’t stop him from winning all four starts over the small obstacles in 2021, culminating with the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April. On that occasion, he beat Minella Drama by 9 lengths, eased down, with a below-par Ballyadam only a distant fourth, beaten 43 lengths.