Our horse racing expert gives his analysis and tip on Cheltenham's Triumph Hurdle.
Looking at the role of honour for this Grade 1 juvenile prize, and there isn’t a real atypical winner as such, or though there are one or two trends that are certainly worth noting. Last year’s winner, Pentland Hills, only made his debut three weeks before following up at Cheltenham, while the same campaign applied to Soldatino and Zarkandar, who both had their first runs in the UK in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on-route to Festival glory. On the flip side, Defi De Seuil and Countrywide Flame were quite industrious on the build-up to the big race with five and six runs apiece, so it’s clear that experience isn’t a great guide either way. One stat that is worth mentioning is the importance of a recent run, as other than Zaynar’s absence of 55 days before winning in 2009, only Duke Of Monmouth has defied a break of 78 days or more in recent times. The best two races as form guides are the Spring Juvenile Hurdle run at Leopardstown, which the likes of Tiger Roll, Our Conor, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Countrywide Flame and Farclas contested before triumphing a month later, and the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton which is responsible for five of the last 20 winners of the Triumph.
Casting an eye over the class of 2020, and we seem to have a fairly useful, if not quite top class, bunch of juveniles on the scene and the latest kid on the block to throw his cap in the ring is Solo, who landed the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton in easy fashion last weekend. Having his first run for new connections at the Surrey venue since leaving his French base, Paul Nicholls’ inmate was well-backed close to the off to make a successful UK hurdling debut, and from an early stage, the money in his direction looked well placed. Always jumping and travelling well at the head of affairs, the son of Kapgarde strode away in impressive fashion from the home turn to score with any amount in hand and it was a performance that prompted bookmakers to run for cover when punters came knocking at their doors for the updated ante-post prices. After the dust had settled and the top quote of 3-1 had been established, it’s probably worth analysing the performance in more detail to see whether that price is valid or just an overreaction. Quite clearly he could have run quicker (ease down half way up the run-in), but his overall time figure and final circuit sectionals indicated he ran to similar level to the one achieved by Highway One O Two (rated 135) in the Dovecote an hour later over the same C&D and that would suggest he performed to a rating around the 140 mark. Based on the pure numbers, that would point towards him having to find a bit more to reach the heights already reached by the likes of Allmankind and Goshen, so as it stands, he looks to be poor value to be crowned the champion juvenile.
On to the aforementioned pair and, as the former is only one of two Grade 1 winners in the field courtesy of his all-the-way success in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow back in December, there’s little argument that Dan Skelton’s inmate has the best singular piece of form going into the Triumph. Having worn his heart on his sleeve in his first two wins at Warwick and Cheltenham, the son of Sea The Moon was once again ridden in aggressive fashion at the Welsh track and even though he momentarily looked vulnerable two out as main challenger, Cerberus, loomed up as a live threat, he impressed with the way he picked up to pull away again in the closing stages. To put an extra layer of gloss on the form, the well-beaten third, Nordano, has gone on to land a competitive handicap and is now rated 140 and it’s also worth pointing out that he has all-important Cheltenham winning form – albeit on the tighter Old Course.
The latter has also impressed with the way he’s taken to the winter game and his three victories with an aggregate of 68 lengths strongly point towards a four-year-old with plenty of stamina. Although only winning by 11 lengths at Ascot last time out, Gary Moore’s inmate could have won by double that margin if not heavily eased late on and with the runner-up and fourth that day both going on to boost the form since, he clearly beat two relevant opponents in this division. If he does have a fault, his tendency to jump to his right has to be a cause for concern – even though his trainer insists it won’t be a problem – and in a race where fine margins are likely to be the different between winning and losing, he can ill afford to go to his comfort blanket more than once or twice in his toughest test to date.
Going into the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, Aspire Tower deservedly found himself on top of the juvenile pile courtesy of two smart and wide-margin victories, but a last flight fall when under severe pressure at the time has rather taken the shine of his profile. That said, he still remains one of only a handful in the field that has a bona fide Graded win next to his name and it would be dangerous to right him off completely.
The beneficiary at the Dublin track ended up being A Wave Of The Sea, who arrived at that Grade 1 contest rather the forgotten horse and he still appears to be relatively unconsidered now. Undone by the tactical nature of the race when beaten by stable mate Cerberus at Punchestown earlier in the campaign, Joseph O’Brien’s gelding failed to cut much ice on unsuitable testing ground at Leopardstown next time out and that was one of the reasons why he was allowed to go off at such a big price on his return visit. Regardless of what happened to the favourite that day, there appeared no fluke about his performance and, given that he looks tailor made to be suited by the likely strong pace and galloping nature of the New Course at Cheltenham, the Born To Sea gelding rates as one of the best each-way alternatives to the main players at his current odds.
Another who seems to have been slightly underestimated is SIR PSYCHO (best price 18-1), despite his overall form being comparable to several ahead of him in the betting, and for that reason, he rates the percentage each-way call at this stage.
Not appearing to be anything out of the ordinary early on in the season, hence his initial rating of 117, Paul Nicholls’ gelding first sprung to prominence by showing massive improvement once given proper testing conditions in a useful novice event at Exeter. Off the back of strong fractions set by the front-running Bullionaire (a rated 133 seven-year-old) at the West Country track, the son of Zoffany impressed with the way he powered clear of his rivals in the closing stages (won by 31 lengths) and it came as little surprise to find out that he’d posted a very smart speed figure in the final analysis. Bumped up to 133 as a result of that wide-margin success, the decision to go to the Triumph rather than tackle the Boodles Handicap was made a good deal easier after he trounced his field in the Victor Ludorum at Haydock last time out and that performance now sees him perched on 147, a rating that puts him only just in behind the very best. Versatile regards tactics and a strong stayer at the trip, the likely fast pace in the Triumph (first three in the betting all like to make the running) should allow whoever rides him on the day to sit in behind the gallop and play their cards rounding off the home turn and if his last two races are anything to go by, he should get up the hill no problem.