Matt Tombs / Tuesday 3rd March 2015 / 13:07
The County Hurdle got the portfolio out of a hole two years ago when Ted Veale won at 25/1. Last year it was very nearly the icing on the cake when Arctic Fire was just run out of it close home at 16/1. Hopefully, this year there’ll be plenty of cake by the time the County is run, and if there is, I’ve found a bet that will hopefully be the icing and the cherry on the icing.
The reason I like the County compared to the other handicap hurdles, is that it’s a race that’s been dominated by inexperienced horses. I place a lot of emphasis on visuals, rather than the sort of pound for pound analysis that is crucial in working out what’ll win a 0-100 handicap hurdle at Ludlow on a Tuesday. The race suits my style.
Since the handicaps became so oversubscribed, they’ve become much easier to find the winner of. When horses could be plotted up all season, sure of a run, working out who’d plotted most successfully was very difficult. Now there are a lot of exposed horses running off high marks because everyone wants a Festival runner – its fairly easy to put a line through a big chunk of the field, (which is reduced again this year with only 26 allowed to line up.)
It’s obviously tricky at this stage to work out the shape of the field. The most likely top weight looks to be Garde La Victoire, (who runs off 154). 133 would have got a run in a 26 runner renewal last year, but I suspect it’ll be about 135 this year.
Last year’s juveniles must be one of the weakest crops in recent years and I think many of them are badly handicapped in consequence. Joint–favourite Calipto (12/1) was an unlucky 8¾l 4th in last year’s Triumph, (stirrup leather broke,) but he’s been beaten on all 3 starts since and was 13l 4th to Violet Dancer in the Betfair Hurdle last time. Activial (16/1) has been a bit of a hype horse so far. He has run two good races, in the Ladbroke (off 137) and Betfair (143) but looked to be beaten fair and square and is now up top 147. I’m keen to take both on.
Violet Dancer (20/1) is one of the only juveniles from last season that has won a good race this time, winning the Betfair Hurdle off 132. He was 10th off 130 in the Fred Winter and last of 4 behind Tiger Roll in a 4 year olds hurdle at the October meeting, so you’d be as worried by his course form as a 9lb rise.
I’m not much sweeter on the other joint-favourite Quick Jack (12/1). He was a good 3rd to Gilgamboa on his last hurdles run in the Boylesports at Leopardstown 14 months ago. However that was off 119 and he runs off 136 here. He improved on the flat last summer winning at Galway before a good 3rd in the Cesarewitch. Even if he is well enough handicapped, I’d have thought the Coral Cup would suit better.
Sempre Medici (14/1) has been disappointing, not jumping fluently when beaten by Jollyallan and then bombing in the Deloitte. He looks in need of more experience before he’s pitched into a handicap like this.
I’d thought Modem (16/1) might be the horse I’d back for this after his fine 2nd to Katie T in the Boylesports, (which is the best trial for the County.) However, that was off 122 and he then didn’t have enough toe to beat 134 rated stayer Lean Araig at Naas over 2m, yet has been bumped up to 141 for this, which looks a harsh mark.
Savello (16/1) won the Grand Annual off 147 last year but has somehow managed to get in here off 139, having prepped with a good run in the Boylesports as Ted Veale did. Perhaps the handicapper thinks Tony Martin doesn’t know how to win a big handicap and needs some help. He does look well in but I just can’t bring myself to back a 9 year old for this that’s had 21 runs over jumps. Ted Veale (16/1) did me a massive favour in this 2 years ago but is 15lb higher now and has a much more exposed look about him.
Tony Martin could also saddle a more unexposed sort in Velvet Maker (20/1). He’s had only 4 runs over hurdles and was beaten by Vautour, Rock The World and Rock On The Moor in the first 3 of them. He bolted up last time and a mark of 136 could well underestimate him, (entered in the Supreme.) He might just lack the experience for this though.
My shortlist starts with Wicklow Brave (33/1) who I backed for the Betfair Hurdle. He never got into the race there, not looking to handle the soft ground. He’s been dropped 2lb to 138 now and on his novice form when beating Lieutenant Colonel and then finishing 9½l 6th to Vautour in the Supreme, he looks well handicapped here. He looked to be feeling the effects of a long campaign at the end of last season and it might be that he’s only now coming back to himself.
Willie Mullins hasn’t got an obvious horse for this and it wouldn’t surprise me if Ruby ended up on Wicklow Brave. He’s entered for the Imperial Cup though – if he runs there, he’d be only likely to run at the Festival if he’d won and was chasing the bonus, in which case he’ll be a lot shorter. Its arguable that NRNB prices are attractive, but if he runs at Sandown I’ve clearly no idea what form he’ll be in for this.
Mr Diablo (33/1) doesn’t look a straightforward type, but he does look talented and is just the sort who might be better in a big field handicap where he can get some cover. He was a good 3¾l 3rd to my each-way Supreme fancy Bentelimar last time and he gets in off 136 here. If that form gets a boost earlier the week, I can see myself backing him on the day.
Waxies Dargle (25/1) was well fancied for the Boylesports off 131 last time, (went off 15/2 3rd favourite.) He was towards the back when falling at the 5th and it’s hard to know what would have happened. He’s off 136 here and comes into the race as a bit of an unknown quantity. He did have a nasty experience last time though and, whilst on breeding a sound surface ought not to be a problem, Noel Meade has said he needs soft ground, (he’s also in the Martin Pipe.)
Arzal (16/1) has won only 1 of his 4 hurdles races, (beating the much hyped West Wizard,) but ran a good race when 9½l behind Jollyallan at Christmas and looked unlucky in the Betfair Hurdle, (off 139). He’d front run in his first 3 hurdles but was held up in the Betfair and was badly hampered by a faller at the 5th, before staying on for a decent 6th (beaten 15l.) It’d be no surprise to see him go close from the same mark with a clear run, but he’s likely to take in the Imperial Cup first.
The vote goes to Rich Coast (20/1). He was rated 110 on the flat, having given Quick Jack 23lb and beaten him over 9f at Listowel and then won a listed event at Cork (8.5f), both in the autumn of 2013. He’s a keen going sort and he pulled much too hard on his early hurdles runs last season. He’s started to get the hang of things now and was an impressive winner of a Grade 3 novice at Tipperary in October, beating 3 subsequent winners.
Rich Coast has been given a mark of 141 for that, (3lb higher than his Irish mark,) but looks the type to be ideally suited by a fast run handicap. Noel Meade was hoping to run him in the Grade 1 Royal Bond, which suggests he sees him as better than a handicapper. Meade is going really well at the moment and if Rich Coast settles and jumps well enough to bring his flat speed into play, he could have too much class for these.
The concern is that he has no experience in handicap hurdles and its unusual for a horse to win this on his handicap debut, (1993 was the last time). He has handicap experience from the flat though and I’m gambling that after 6 hurdles starts, (and 23 in all,) he’s battle-hardened enough for this.
The key is that he’s 20/1 NRNB. If Meade decides to keep him at home for the big novice hurdles in the spring, we’ll have lost nothing. But if lines up here on decent ground I can see him running a huge race.
1pt Rich Coast to win the County Hurdle @ 20/1 NRNB