A maximum field of 24 is due to go to post for Britain’s richest handicap hurdle, the £155,000 Betfair Hurdle (3.35pm), at Newbury on Saturday and Jenkins is the 9/1 favourite with the sponsors who are paying six places on the contest.
He is one of five contenders for local Lambourn handler Nicky Henderson is the most successful trainer in the history of the Betfair Hurdle with five successes, most recently winning with My Tent Or Yours in 2013.
Jenkins, who is joint top-weight and will be partnered by James Bowen , has been successful on his last two starts at Kempton and Ascot.
The others are G2 Elite Hurdle runner-up Lough Derg Spirit (11st 2lb, Jeremiah McGrath, 12/1 with Betfair) and last season’s G1 Triumph Hurdle sixth Charli Parcs (11st 9lb, Ned Curtis (5), 16/1), plus mares Verdana Blue (11st 9lb, Davy Russell, 12/1) and Kayf Grace (11st 4lb, Nico de Boinville, 10/1), both winners this season.
Along with Kayf Grace, also on the 10/1 mark with Betfair is Lalor (11st 1lb, Kayley Woollacott/Daryl Jacob). A G2 bumper winner at Aintree last spring, the six-year-old has finished in the frame in a trio of decent novices’ hurdles so far this season and has a similar profile to last year’s winner Ballyandy.
The third 10/1 co-second favourite with Betfair is the mare Irish Roe (10st 12lb, Peter Atkinson/Henry Brooke). Trained on a pig farm in Yorkshire, Irish Roe has won four of her six starts over hurdles and finished runner-up in a G2 contest at Doncaster on January 27 behind the very useful Maria’s Benefit.
Sussex-based trainer Gary Moore has enjoyed three winners in the Betfair Hurdle. He is represented on Saturday by the unexposed Knocknanuss (10st 13lb, Jamie Moore, 12/1), who was an easy winner at Fontwell on Boxing Day.
Moore is also responsible for Maquisard (10st), who is one of two reserves along with Magic Dancer (10st 2lb, Kerry Lee/Richard Patrick). Reserves can come into the race if there are any withdrawals from the top 24 before 1.00pm tomorrow, Friday, February 9.
Joint top-weight in the Betfair Hurdle is Newbury specialist High Bridge (11st 12lb, Ben Pauling/Mr Alex Ferguson (7), 14/1). The seven-year-old is unbeaten in three starts at Newbury, taking a Listed handicap hurdle at the course last time out on December 2.
North Yorkshire handler Brian Ellison saddled Bothy to finish second in the 2011 Betfair Hurdle and is hoping to go one better with Nietzsche (10st 10lb, Danny Cook, 40/1), who races in the same colours.
Nietzsche finished a close third in the G3 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham in March, but has not been at that level in two starts over hurdles this season, latterly finishing 10th in a valuable G3 handicap hurdle at Ascot on December 23.
Ellison said today: “Nietzsche is in good form, but has been disappointing in his two runs so far this season.
“Henry Brooke rode him at Ascot last time and suggested afterwards that we leave the hood off. He felt it might have put him to sleep too much, so he goes without it on Saturday.
“On his Cheltenham run, I would give him a good chance and the more rain they get, the better.”
The Betfair Hurdle has gone to Ireland four times, most recently with Essex in 2005. The Irish-trained contender on Saturday is Bleu Et Rouge (11st 10lb, Willie Mullins/Barry Geraghty, 12/1). A G1 scorer in 2016, the J P McManus-owned seven-year-old was fourth last time out in a G3 contest at Ascot on December 23.
Two female trainers have won the Betfair Hurdle – Nan Kennedy (Ra Nova, 1984) and Jessica Harrington (Spirit Leader, 2003). Newmarket handler Amy Murphy runs the smart novice Kalashnikov (11st 5lb, Jack Quinlan, 12/1), second last time out in the G1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park, while the mother and daughter partnership of Sue and Lucy Gardner are represented by Coeur Blimey (10st 10lb, 25/1).
Other runners include the very useful Waterlord (10st 13lb, Donald McCain/Will Kennedy, 12/1) and Silver Streak (10st 11lb, Evan Williams/Mitchell Bastyan (5), 12/1), runner-up in a G3 handicap hurdle at Ascot on December 23.
Misterton (11st 6lb (Harry Fry/Nick Scholfield, 14/1) is making his first appearance since going down by a neck in a G3 handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in November, while a fascinating challenger is Moon Racer (11st 6lb, David Pipe/Tom Scudamore, 16/1), winner of the G1 Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in 2015 but not seen out so far this season.
Betfair spokesman, Barry Orr, commented today: “A maximum field of 24 is set to go to post and it looks an exceptional renewal of the Betfair Hurdle.
“Jenkins heads Nicky Henderson’s quintet of runners and is 9/1 favourite with Betfair. The 15/8 about a Seven Barrows-trained winner has proved popular.
“Since offering six places to each-way backers, the best-supported horses in the race have been Kalashnikov and Knocknanuss, both at 12/1.”
Betfair Hurdle – Betfair prices
9/1 Jenkins, 10/1 Lalor, Irish Roe, Kayf Grace, 12/1 Bleu Et Rouge, Lough Derg Spirit, Kalashnikov, Waterlord, Knocknanuss, Verdana Blue, Silver Streak, 14/1 High Bridge, Misterton, 16/1 Charli Parcs, Moon Racer, William H Bonney, 20/1 Poppy Kay, 25/1 Coeur Blimey, Divin Bere, Project Bluebook, Spiritofthegames, 40/1 Nietzsche; 50/1 Remiluc, Zalvados
**Each-Way ¼ odds, 1-2-3-4-5-6