Friday 27 January 2023

Mersey Novices' Hurdle

The Mersey Novices' Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle race run over 2 miles and 4 furlongs on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. The race takes its name from the River Mersey, which empties in to Liverpool Bay a few miles west of Aintree Racecourse and, as the name implies, is restricted to horses, aged four years and upwards, who start the season without a win over hurdles.

The Mersey Novices' Hurdle was inaugurated in 1977, but was shortened from its original distance of 2 miles and 5½ furlongs in 1988. Similarly, the race was promoted to Grade 2 status in 1991 and again, to Grade 1 status, in 2014. The position of the Mersey Novices' Hurdle in the National Hunt calendar – the 2023 renewal is scheduled for 2.25pm on Saturday, April 15 – means that it often features horses that contested the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival the previous month. That said, of all the winners of the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle since 2014, only the 2016 winner,Yorkhill, ran in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle,  but completed the double with a minimum of fuss at long odds-on. 

The now-retired Martin Pipe saddled four winners of the Mersey Novices' Hurdle, namely Lemon's Mill (1993), Cyborgo (1994). Silver Shred (1996) and Classified (2002). More recently, his record has been equalled by Paul Nicholls, who saddled Garde Champetre (2004), Natal (2006), Elusive Dream (2008) and Lac Fontana (2014); jointly, the two multiple champions are the leading trainers in the history of the race. 

Obviously, at this still early stage of the season, it must be fairly long odds-against naming a runner in the Mersey Novices' Hurdle, never mind the winner. However, the first half a dozen or so in the ante-post betting for the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, which include leading 'bumper' performers from last season, such as Facile Vega, American Mike and James's Gate would merit close examination if lining up at Aintree.