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!
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