The latest instalment of Betfred’s Road To Cheltenham series focussed in on the novice hurdles at the festival on the back of some trials at Kempton this weekend.
As always, Joel Ross, who appears to have acquired George Michael’s leather jacket, was on hand with his unique views and we were joined this week by the Press Associations Horse Racing reporter Nick Robson.
Before we got stuck into the action, we had a look at some of the market movers from the past few days.
On the back of winning runs at the weekend, Triumph Hurdle hopefuls Knight Salute (10/1 from 14/1) and Icare Allen (12/1 from 20/1) both contracted for Friday’s opener, while the latter was also supported into 7/1 from 20/1 for the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle.
There was interesting support for Champion Hurdle second favourite Appreciate It, into 7/2 from 4/1, on the back of positive comments from trainer Willie Mullins over the weekend. He won last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle by 24 lengths but hasn’t been since and it would be some performance to win it on seasonal debut.
Bob And Co was clipped a couple of points for the Hunters’ Chase, into 8/1 from 10/1. Amateur jockey David Maxwell, who also owns the horse, has won on three of his last six rides.
Whilst reflecting on Knight Salute’s and Icare Allen’s victories at the weekend, we decided to preview the Triumph Hurdle.
Nick Robson was suitably impressed by the former, saying “He is a really likeable type who does everything right. He is very quick over his hurdles which will stand him in good stead. He may lack the class of some of the Irish challengers, but you can’t argue with what he has done, five from five, won at Cheltenham and a multiple graded winner.
“He reminds me of Katchit. I’m not saying he will win a Champion Hurdle, or even the Triumph, but he just doesn’t seem to get the credit or love and you can’t crab what he has done.”
Icare Allen bounced back from a poor showing at the Dublin Racing Festival to win easily on Saturday, but Joel is struggling to see where he will go.
“If you look at Leopardstown where he won and beat Brazil, he was then put in his place against Vauban and Fil D’or. He is one of them that looks impressive, but you question what he has beaten on that day.”
Joel is sticking with his charity bet Vauban to win the Triumph while Nick was massively taken with Pied Piper on his course and distance win in December and it should be some sight if those pair renew rivalries after their ding dong battle on hurdles debut on New Year’s Eve.
The Dovecote was another big trial at Kempton this weekend but the winner, Aucunrisque is Aintree bound according to trainer Chris Gordon while the runner-up, Shallwehaveonemore could be an interesting one for the County Hurdle. He jumped the final two flights like he’d had at least ‘one more’ and would not be expected to get competitive in a Supreme on this evidence.
The panel moved onto the Supreme Novices Hurdle and with Sir Gerhard now expected to go to the Ballymore route, the head of the market is beginning to take shape.
Nick was lucky enough to go to Nicky Henderson’s yard last week to see both Constitution Hill and Jonbon in the flesh, describing them as “chalk and cheese”. Constitution Hill is very laid back while Jonbon looks a picture and a great stamp of a horse.
“Constitution Hill looks a skinny price now and of the market leaders, Jonbon is the only one to really have had a race, and that may stand him in good stead.”
Some have questioned Jonbon handling the preliminaries with Nick saying the Henderson camp are hopeful that with it being the opening race of the day, they can do things to combat this, like settling him early in a stable and wearing a hood until the start to stop him boiling over.
He also added “The word is Jonbon worked with Epatante at the weekend and worked better than her, and she is a Champion Hurdle winner.”
Joel added his Haydock win looks all the better now but still gave him the Spanish archer and came down on Dysart Dynamo for Willie Mullins.
The Ballymore Novices Hurdle looks likely to be a small field looking at the current entries with Sir Gerhard looking likely to head here as previously mentioned.
Nick says “It looks like cutting up as with Sr Gerhard, Walking on Air, Stage Star and maybe Journey With Me, after that we’re struggling and I think it is Sir Gerhard’s race to lose. I know he didn’t jump all that well at Leopardstown but that hasn’t stopped some winning this. I remember Faugheen kicking them out of the way on his way to victory and coming back to win a Champion, and I won’t be surprised if Sir Gerhard follows that path.”
Joel agrees “I have written here Sir Gerhard turns up in the Ballymore and wins”.
He was also keen on Walking On Air who has only been seen once winning at Newbury earlier in the season, adding “I watched that Newbury race back and he was flawless and will run here.
Nick added that Henderson claimed at last weeks media day that he waned to get another run into him for experience, but jockey Nico De Boinville assured him he jumped so well that he should be ok for the step up.
As we were looking at the Novice Hurdle sphere, it was great to get the thoughts of Nick Scholfield who seems to have a live chance in the Albert Bartlett. First of all though, I got this thoughts on the Supreme and Ballymore Hurdles in which he was hoping for a success for the British courtesy of Constitution Hill, of whom Nico De Boinville had been very complimentary of in the weighing room and Stage Star, although he admits Sir Gerhard will be a tough nut to crack in the latter.
Before we discuss his claims on Stag Horn, it was the other leading British contender that both the studio guests liked in the shape of Hillcrest.
Nick Robson said “I was at Haydock last week and he wasn’t blowing. He was the only horse on the day who ran through the line, and he could have gone round again. I think this is a bit of a freak. I normally wouldn’t consider a horse than won on that ground to be quick enough to go and win an Albert Bartlett but he has got a massive engine and although his jumping may not be up to scratch, it doesn’t look a really deep race even with the Irish challenge.”
Joel added “I said this last week after his win and for me I think he is a standout bet for the Albert Bartlett.”
Stag Horn is the next British trained runner in the market behind Hilcrest and his jockey Nick Scholfield said of Archie Watson’s runner “He is not a typical type of runner for the Albert Bartlett as you normally think of an Irish pointer or a bumper horse whereas this one is off the flat. He was top class on the flat, rated over 100 and has won both his runs over hurdles. He hit the line hard the last day at Warwick and although it is a step up in trip, he is sure to be in top condition from Archie Watson who has just landed another £1/2 million race on the flat so there is nothing he can’t do. The Irish has a strong hand on the race, but nothing stands out. Hillcrest won well at Haydock but that was on heavy ground and had a very hard race and he will know about that while a horse of Dan Skelton’s also won on heavy ground at Lingfield, Bowtogreatness, but will have a bit to find.
“Stag Horn is a great ride who stays very well. He has taken to hurdling very slickly, I imagine he will be very forward. He is not one dimensional and as we get closer to the time, we will know what is running and we’ll have bit more of an idea. He has done nothing wrong and deserves to take his chance.”
Other news that broke on Sunday and needed discussing was the rerouting of Irish Gold Cup winner Conflated to the Ryanair Chase. He is owned by Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary so would be a fitting winner and both Nick and Joel agreed that this was the right race for him. O’Leary had stated that he wouldn’t want to be taking on stablemate Galvin, which may be seen as a vote of confidence for his chances.
However, his trainer Gordon Elliot said on Monday evening that he hasn’t given up hope of convincing O’Leary to go for Gold, so this is one that will rumble on for a couple of weeks yet.
About the Gold Cup, it was only right to ask Nick Scholfield about the chances of outsider Santini, who has previously been second in a Gold Cup and proved he was still capable when behind Chantry House in the Cotswold Chase.
“It was my first time riding him and it was a good run (in the Cotswold Chase). Polly (Gundry) is still getting to know him in her first season training him and we hope there is still some improvement there. He has Gold Cup form when second to Al Boum Photo and he is an 8/1 shot. He was beaten half a length, staying on. He went well on better ground the other day and would appreciate it a bit slower. I sat on him the other morning and he is in great order.
“We are under no illusions as to what he is up against, but he deserves another crack at it, and he seems in great form. We will go out there and give it a good go. He is an outsider but he’s in good form and should give his running.
Finally, charity bet time as Joel and I continue to build our portfolios.
This week, Joel has opted for £50 each way on last weeks impressive Ascot winner Good Risk at All at 7/1 in the Coral Cup.
I sided with Mount Ida at 5/2 in the Mares Chase on the final day, £100 win.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change