Cracking Smart will be one of the horses to watch at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. The French horse has enjoyed an outstanding start to his career, winning three out of his four races. Two of those victories have come at the beginning of the 2017-18 National Hunt season and trainer Gordon Elliott will be keen for his charge to continue his fine form ahead of the competition in March next year.
The five-year-old is considered the early leading contender for the crown in the horse racing betting odds, but given the inexperience of the competitors, there could be a challenger to come forward and claim the title at the prestigious event. We’ll now break down the form of Cracking Smart and his potential rivals during their fledgeling careers thus far.
The French horse had a strong start at the Maiden Hurdle in Naas as he was considered an outsider for the meet, but finished second, only being beaten for pace by the overwhelming favourite Midnight Escape. Elliott’s charge used his debut outing as momentum to take forward into his next race at Fairyhouse where he delivered his first win. With Jamie Codd in the saddle, Cracking Smart romped home to a comfortable victory by a margin of 13 lengths ahead of his nearest rival.
At the start of the current National Hunt term, Jack Kennedy took over the reins at the Maiden Hurdle in Punchestown. He maintained the success of the five-year-old as the Bay Gelding made his way through the field before surging down the stretch to secure the victory by four lengths ahead of Shady Operator. He continued that level of brilliance again in Cork as he notched his third win in four races, with another strong finish to triumph at the Novice Hurdle by eight lengths.
Cracking Smart has been convincing in his recent outings, but his stable-mate Samcro could provide competition. The five-year-old has a flawless record thus far in his career, although he has competed over shorter distances than Cracking Smart. However, with Kennedy in the saddle, he put forward a dominating display in his first outing of the 2017-18 season. Samcro won the Maiden Hurdle by 15 lengths as he powered down the straight, highlighting his danger to his compatriot.
Next Destination could provide a credible threat, although his career has not been as successful as that of Cracking Smart. However, he does have experience at Cheltenham Festival having competed at the Champion Bumper last season, where he finished fourth, narrowly off the pace of the winner Fayonagh.
Since then Willie Mullins’ charge finished second behind Dead Right as he was unable to hold the lead under pressure during the middle of the race at Punchestown. In his first action of the current term, the Bay Gelding was on top form with Paul Townend in the saddle. The Irish horse came through the field to lead four fences from the finish and cantered down the stretch to deliver a dominant victory by 13 lengths. If his form holds over the course of the season, the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle should be a thrilling contest.