What an open race this year’s renewal of the Triumph Hurdle looks! I can’t recall this race being as open as this since Zarkandar shot up the hill with a turn of foot that turned out to be his trademark throughout his successful career in racing. As with the Neptune Investments Novice Hurdle which I’ve also previewed, I have had reasonable success tipping up the winner in the Friday opener, most notably with the likes of Katchit, Zaynar, Zarkandar, Our Conor and Peace & Co from last year. Obviously it doesn’t give any guarantees we can find the winner this year but it’s a guide that the research does throw up the winner of this race more often than not. My key factor(s) in my search are very basic but helps guide me towards my selection: • Have they raced on the Flat previously? • Have they got form on ground Good to Soft or better? • Have they got form in a Grade 2 or better that entitles them to run here? The Triumph is only open to 4 year old novice hurdlers, which means that unlike some of the other novice hurdle races at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s more likely that horses targeted and entered in this race will end up here should they stay fit and healthy in the lead up to the race. From an ante-post point of view, of all the novice hurdle races to be run at the Cheltenham Festival this is the race that changes the least in the run up to the race, Possibly a reason as to why I quite like to have a play in the race. The Contenders! The 2016 renewal looks a very open one indeed with the market speaking quite favourably of the Aidan O’Brien trained/JP Mcmanus owned IVANOVICH GORBATOV. This horse made a huge impression with his debut win over hurdles at Leopardstown in a 3YO Maiden hurdle when he accounted for a highly regarded horse of Willie Mullins called LETS DANCE, who has gone on to have a very solid season and hopefully re-opposes here. IVANOVICH GORBATOV then contested the Grade 1 Spring hurdle at the same venue in early February where he really looked like the ground was too heavy for him and with hindsight possibly shouldn’t have run. Looking further back to his Flat form, it seems clear he will really benefit with the return to better ground. Aidan O’Brien is a superb trainer and it would be mad to dismiss one bad run especially with the strong vibes that Barry Geraghty is likely to stick with him. On Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park, we were treated to one of the races of the season so far. It was an occasion when all the big named trainers in the UK gave chucked their hats in the ring. On that day the 4 horses that took each other on up the Cheltenham hill were PROTEK DES FLOS, CLAN DES OBEAUX, CONSUL DE THAIX and WHO DARES WINS. It’s the last named horse that grabbed my attention that day, with the expectation of him to run well based on previous form and his price of 13/8 suggesting he was likely to go very close. He ended up finishing 4th which doesn’t sound fantastic, but he was beaten less than 3 lengths. When you add to the equation the fact that his trainer has since said he didn’t really like that ground and he will be seen in better light on better ground in the spring. WHO DARES WINS has to be taken into consideration. He is a stunning horse who has a lot of experience and his trainer knows what’s going to be required of him in a race of this nature. He has to enter calculations for Alan King and team who also look like running GILBRIFANO who has also done very little wrong in winning both his hurdle races so far. He has far less experience than most and for that reason I don’t really include him as a major danger, but you have to respect any runner Alan King has at the Festival especially in a race he has experience of winning. For me the main British hope is trained by Paul Nicholls and has looked like he could repeat what the earlier named Zarkandar achieved in this very same race in 2011. CONNETABLE is a horse owned by the same connections as Zarkandar and has a great blend of flat speed and Stamina in his pedigree, I understand he is very highly thought of at home and has a resolve and spirit that will stand him in good stead for a true test like this. Having said all of that, it’s the form he has shown which gets me feeling quite excited by his potential run in this race. The Contenders hurdle at Sandown is often contested by very highly regarded individuals but not normally one of such inexperience. He beat Rayvin Black who has improved beyond belief this season from good handicapper to winning the Kingwell hurdle recently. Behind him was last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Peace & Co who has possibly not been the same horse this season but ran his best race of the season so far that day. But it was the nature in Which he knuckled down and out battled more experience horses which gave me the feeling he could be the real deal. I remember the day Zarkandar sprinted up the hill in this race with Daryl Jacob on board; this time around it could be Noel Fehily celebrating the same result on the main selection CONNETABLE. He has to be high on the potential list for his attempt at the 2016 Triumph Hurdle. What of the rest? The Irish are not heavily represented but it’s not a race they tend to have a large number of runners but they do have a major chance in IVANOVICH GORBATOV. A good friend who owns horses in Ireland tells me the reason for this is because the general consensus is that you can damage a horse’s future at 4 in a race of this nature. How true that is I don’t know, but in terms of winning horses progressing into top class 2 mile hurdle division it carries value, that’s for certain. Dan Skelton has himself a superb string now and I wouldn’t rule out his first Cheltenham Festival win this year. I was very impressed with KASAKH NOIR and his battling qualities on his last run. He ran as green as grass more or less the whole journey at Market Rasen but he knuckled down to beat a previous winner. That entitles him to respect and with any amount of improvement likely if he can be switched off in his races. LEONCAVALLO could take up a handicap option but he is another who has done very little wrong so far and I know first hand that Aidan Coleman thought he was a serious horse earlier on in the season. He was in the process of running another big race behind SCEAU ROYAL before unseating his rider at the last fence. He is a proven good ground horse with a good winning habit and could also outrun his odds, And finally FOOTPAD who has had a very odd season. It’s anyone’s guess where he found the required improvement from to beat a quality field at Leopardstown but he showed a good turn of foot and put himself in the picture for Willie Mullins to secure his first Triumph victory. Advice and Tips On assessment the 2016 running of the Triumph Hurdle looks a very competitive race. It could be 5/1 ish the field unless something produces something extraordinary between now and the race. My selection for the race is undoubtedly CONNETABLE @ 10/1 Skybet – 5 Pt Win I also recommend a lively each way play on WHO DARES WINS @ 14/1 Paddy Power – 2.5 Pt Each way Whatever your play is I hope race 1 on Cheltenham Gold Cup day gets you off to a flyer!
I start my Preview for the Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle 2016 by explaining why this race has been one of, if not the most profitable punting race of the festival in recent years for myself. I don’t want to set us up for a big fall but I’ve backed 6 of the past 8 winners of this race and I think I can help unravel this year’s puzzle!
I have a certain profile of horse I look for in this race, which has 3 key factors and with that I eliminate through process ones that don’t really fit my profiling agenda.
- Have the put up a WOW performance during the current season. I.e winning hard held, By a distance or completely routed a field of quality horses.
- Do I think they will be able to run on Good, Good to Soft ground
- Are the horses bred to stay further than 2 Miles
So here we go….
It would be amiss of me to not start with the current favourite YANWORTH who has been a horse I’ve personally tracked from his debut race on these shores. Having myself represented a horse that is trained by Alan King over the past few seasons, and although he isn’t one for giving away too much I managed to have a couple of meaningful conversations with Alan and this lad cropped up a couple of times. I know he always thought he was a very good horse but felt he would possibly need plenty of time to fulfil his potential, My first real ‘moment grabbing’ memory of YANWORTH was when he won in quite poor conditions at Newbury with AP on board. He only won by 2 lengths but it was the manner in which he was able to free wheel alongside his opponent and simply win as easy as you like. He then went on to finish a gallant 4th in the Champion Bumper at the festival but it’s been his most recent run which has earmarked him as a current 2/1 general favourite for the Neptune. The race on trials day where he made a very good field look like they were standing still coming down the hill was a great sight to see. He went on to win hard held by 7 lengths. In my view it was very visually impressive and means he is a deserving favourite, BUT I honestly think this is a horse that is showing signs of being a better horse on soft ground. His best performances have been on soft ground, I can see it being Good/Soft and no worse in March and that is my angle for opposing him in the main.
It was the horse who finished 2nd that day that continues to grab my attention – SHANTOU VILLAGE. I thought he ran an absolute cracker to finish a strong finishing 2nd to YANWORTH. It was so obvious when they went down the back straight that SHANTOU VILLAGE hated the ground and wasn’t enjoying himself. In spite of all that he showed tons of class to prove he is a horse to be taken seriously. I take a view on horses that show class and guts in conditions that are not ideal for them. my view is it takes roughly 80% class to 20% guts ratio to run big races when its not their suitable ground. You can’t underestimate how each horse is unique but characteristics like the above are a real sign you’re following a nice horse. So why was it a big run? Looking back through the races SHANTOU VILLAGE had ran previously all on Good to Soft ground thus far, it was obvious that his running style was blunted by the soft going at Prestbury Park on trials day. So far in his Hurdling career He has been a horse racing close enough to the pace to offer a turn of foot and then look to run his rivals into submission. This never looked likely on trials day and although he had the best hold up performer (jockey) in racing on board he was never going to catch YANWORTH that day and Ruby looked after him up the run in. CHAMPERS ON ICE also ran with credit backing up the form of his 2nd to SHANTOU VILLAGE where he got beat by 15 Lengths to the selection. Add to the mix CHAMPERS ON ICE was capable of winning a Cheltenham handicap off top weight I think this leaves me with optimism we can oppose this short price favourite and get that form reversed on D-day in March.
So what of the Irish Challengers?
Judging the Irish challengers is a difficult task as always because as always they have multiple entries and the trainers in my view certainly play cat and mouse with each other about the direction they intend to take their individual horse. It’s quite possible that some of the horses discussed will take up alternative engagements but we have to discuss the most likely horses to look out for this race.
Starting with TOMBSTONE who is being quite highly touted around at present. Davy Russell seems to have formed a fan club and its gathering a bit of momentum. I do however back some of his views and they aren’t unfounded. He has ran 2 great races this winter over trips shorter than the Neptune distance of 2 miles 5 furlongs. He could be one to switch between Neptune or supreme but I think he looks a big staying chaser in the making and should that prove to be right. This will be the right race for him at this moment in time. Gordon Elliot trains and he ranks him very highly too. The step up in trip looks a positive thing for me and I expect him to in the thick of things should the better ground also bring about further improvement. Another A TOI PHIL is another Gigginstown horse who has a very progressive profile and trained by Willie Mullins. This lad won his bumber very impressively and backed that up with a very impressive novice hurdle win and could well be the main GG horse for the race. The selection of Brian Cooper will be an interesting one. The manner of his grade 2 win at leopardstown was very impressive and again the possible introduction of fresh spring ground should help him progress again. Of the others in Ireland I am willing to look at VIGIL again and conclude he could be a threat back at Cheltenham on Spring ground, He ran a very good race in last years Champion Bumper which looks a very solid bit of form indeed. He has ran ok this Winter and although he will have to leave behind all known form to this point to be involved he hasn’t been badly treated this winter and being trained by the winning connections of last year, he could be in significantly smaller odds than 33/1 general that he currently is should he line up.
Of the others……
Two others I have to mention, BARTERS HILL and PENGLAI PAVILLION firstly with BARTERS HILL – and before everyone screams he will go Albert Bartlett, I know that’s the plan. BUT I get the impression reading and listening to people close to the Pauling yard. If anything was to happen to YANWORTH they would have a preference to run BARTERS HILL in this race and that would shine a completely different complexion on the race as we have a true battler who has the perfect blend of guts and class and for me personally I have a feeling he actually might get out booted in the Albert Bartlett. Will take a good one to do it and who that will be is anyone’s guess. My point here is when its NRNB it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a few quid on BARTERS HILL just in case.
As for PENGLAI PAVILLION he hasn’t done too much wrong and he was another that my Selection SHANTOU VILLAGE beat at Cheltenham. He is a horse who has plenty of experience of racing and will certainly know his job come the day of the race. I have been told he was tucked away with a spring campaign in mind and connections feel he is better than what he produced last time at Cheltenham. He also has that important course and distance form which will give him an edge on the day. Finally if the ground was to end up Good or better he will be undoubtedly the classiest flat performer on show and could use that turn of foot to great effect.
Punt carefully! We have to ask ourselves this, do we want to take 10/11 about a horse in a race of this nature. Favourites don’t have a bad record in this race but value is to be had elsewhere including the ‘betting without’ market.
My bet is 5Pts Each Way SHANTOU VILLAGE 20/1
BARTERS HILL when its NRNB at 20/1