The four year old hurdle championship has been kind in recent years to one trainer, Nicky Henderson. He has saddled three recent winners in Zaynar, Soldatino and Peace and Co, and this year holds a couple of aces in the pack in the form of We Have A Dream and ante post favourite Apples Shakira.
The French bred mare Apples Shakira, full sister to multiple Grade One winner Apples Jade, made her UK debut at the Cheltenham Open meeting with a decisive 17 length victory over previous winner Gumball. Another victory followed in December and again on Trials Day in January. I was at Cheltenham for the race on trials day and thought the mare may have been in trouble turning for home as Look My Way seemed to be unrelenting in his front running effort, but the way Apples Shakira picked up and won going away by 8 lengths, was very impressive in my opinion.
Last year’s winner Defi Du Seuil, also owned by JP McManus followed almost the same route on his way to festival glory and it would not be a surprise to see this talented mare win this year. The slight concern would be the ground in March. All of her wins have come on soft and it is hard to predict how she will act on what is sure to be better ground. It may well play to her strengths and bring out improvement. A big plus will be the larger sized field, fast run race and the option to find cover to allow her to settle and travel well through her race.
Owners Isaac Suede and Simon Munir who sent out Soldatino in 2010, and Peace and Co in 2015 to festival glory in the triumph hurdle will be confident of another bold showing in this year’s race in the shape of the impressive We Have A Dream. The French import snapped up by the Suede and Munir racing manager and bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley, also made his UK debut in November at Warwick, beating Etamine Du Cochet by 10 lengths. Next up was a fine display in a Grade two win at Doncaster, which was then followed up by a gusty display to see off the very useful Sussex Ranger in the Grade One Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.
A characteristic I like of any potential Cheltenham Festival horse is the ability to battle and be brave when winning a race earlier in the season. These types of animal make great festival tips. This happened in the last preparation race at Musselburgh in February. Beating Act of Valour by 4 and a half lengths would be satisfying, but that does not describe how at one point in the race We Have A Dream had to fight and dig in to get to the front, which he did and stayed on strongly to win going away. I am impressed by this horse and we have the evidence to believe he goes well on any ground.
The Irish juveniles this year look to be very smart. The key trial races include the Grade Three Bar One Racing Juvenile Hurdle and the Grade Two Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle. Both of these races were won by the Gavin Cromwell trained Espoir D’Allen. His form was there to be seen and was enough to send him off odds-on favourite for the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Leopardstown Dublin Racing Festival. He could only manage a distant fourth place behind eventual winner Mr Adjudicator, who beat Farclas, a horse he had beat earlier in the season.
This was not the true running for me of Espoir D’Allen. He was very head strong and pulled his way to the front and did not settle in to the race, and by the time he came in to the home turn he had run his race. I would not give up hope on him yet. In 2016 we saw a similar thing happen to Ivanovich Gorbatov, who had the early season form before disappointing in his prep run for Cheltenham, before returning to winning ways in the Triumph Hurdle. Farclas is a horse improving with every run and could be another to keep on side.
The horse that interests me the most is the UK Based Redicean, trained by Alan King. The ex-flat horse has put in two awesome displays this season in his perfect records over hurdles. The first was at the Christmas festival at Kempton where he beat Haulani by 10 lengths. The second win was again at Kempton and again a 10 length victory was stamped with a classy performance. I love the way Redicean travels through his races and seems to have a very big engine. The only thing that works against him is his tendency to throw in the odd bad jump. This is something that can be worked upon in schooling and with more racing experience. I will take a chance that this lads jumping will stand the test in March, as I have no doubt that he has the potential to be a Triumph Hurdle Winner.
The value has been sucked out of Apples Shakira’s price 3/1, and she is worth taking on now at this stage. Those who are on at bigger prices ante post will be happy enough. We Have A Dream 8/1, is the one to serve it up to the mare and will be in the frame.
The each way value of the race is Espoir D’Allen at 16/1. He will be the second string horse for JP McManus and Mark Walsh looks set to ride, which will be a big plus. I feel with a good run race he will settle better than last time and could travel in to the race well and be in the shakeup.
My win bet is Redicean. I am taking a chance with his jumping and that it will stand the test at Cheltenham. I think this horse has untapped potential and lots of ability. At 10/1 he is a very big price and a smart bet in my opinion.
Redicean – 2.5 Pts win @ 10/1
Espoir D’Allen – 1 Pt e/w @ 16/1