JCB Triumph Hurdle
(Grade 1) 2m 179y
RECENT Triumph Hurdle winners have not challenged the levels of the likes of Our Conor (162 in 2013) and Peace And Co (158 in 2015), and field sizes have steadily reduced since the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle was introduced in 2005. Quilixios beat only seven rivals in 2021, the smallest field since 1965.
PIED PIPER and VAUBAN met in a maiden at Punchestown on the final day of 2021, with Pied Piper coming out on top, but only narrowly, and Vauban shaping at least as well, the pair well clear.
They have gone on to win, respectively, a substandard Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham with consummate ease and the prestigious Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown in ready style. They were both decidedly useful on the flat, but listed winner Vauban probably just edged it.
Vauban had FIL DOR three lengths back in second in the Spring, the latter a triple winner previously without having run an especially fast time or sectionals (LUNAR POWER gets his rating from finishing second to him at Fairyhouse). The third in the Spring, IL ETAIT TEMPS (139), ran a big race on his hurdling debut.
ICEO (137) looked smart when winning easily at Kempton but ran poorly behind Pied Piper at Cheltenham and may not run in this.
PORTICELLO improved for a greater test when winning the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow, where the impressive Sandown winner FOREVER BLESSED (135) was hampered mid-race. Porticello had previously split KNIGHT SALUTE (138) and IMPULSIVE ONE (132) in a messy Grade 2 at Doncaster.
GINTO may be just the tonic
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
(Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y
The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is both the longest and the weakest (in terms of average winners’ ratings) of the non-restricted novice hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival, though it still usually takes a smart performance to prevail in it. It has also acted as a springboard for some big names since its inception in 2005, including the winners Bobs Worth (in 2011), Penhill (2017) and Minella Indo (2019) in which Allaho failed to get home in third. That seems unlikely to be an issue with GINTO, for all that he has yet to race beyond two and a half miles: he was unflashy but effective in beating ERIC BLOODAXE (136) at Navan and in accounting for GRAND JURY (144) and HOLLOW GAMES at Naas.
MINELLA COCOONER won the 22-furlong Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival in similar style, going from the front and holding his near-namesake MINELLA CROONER (a staying type) and Hollow Games.
The maiden hurdle won by JOURNEY WITH ME at Leopardstown over Christmas was a long way above average, with Minella Crooner in second and a non-staying Kilcruit in third. Journey With Me lacks experience (he’s had one start, one win, in both bumpers and over hurdles) but looks a fine prospect.
HILLCREST (141) had been building up a good CV in calmer waters in Britain before his Cheltenham mishap at the January Trials meeting.
GOING FOR GOLD
Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup
(Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y
THE Blue Riband of jumps racing has gone through a slight lull in recent years, judged by its own high standards and compared with the eras of the likes of Best Mate, Denman and Kauto Star.
It comes second to the Champion Hurdle in terms of winners’ average ratings in the last five years.
Still, MINELLA INDO (173 at the time, now 162) beating A PLUS TARD and AL BOUM PHOTO 12 months ago was hardly shabby, for all that the trio have had contrasting fortunes since. Minella Indo has been beaten three times since, though there was more encouragement in his second to shock winner CONFLATED (168) in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.
A Plus Tard has done much better, winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock by a wide margin from ROYALE PAGAILLE (163) but caught close home by GALVIN (169) in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown. Sectional analysis shows the former was not quite as good as it looked but the latter was rather better, with A Plus Tard paying for a big move on the home turn, in what had been a steadily run race. Galvin is, nonetheless, going the right way.
Al Boum Photo, winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the previous two years, is consistent, if with his limitations at this level. His customary win in the New Year’s Day Chase at Tramore came in a slow time and told us little new.
TORNADO FLYER and ASTERION FORLONGE would have been first and second in the King George VI Chase at Kempton had the latter stood up, though that was a race more than a little influenced by a very strong early pace, and they both have alternatives.
PROTEKTORAT (164) steamrollered the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Native River in a Grade 2 at Aintree, but the latter was retired after his next appearance and conditions lent themselves to a freakish result. Protektorat had been a staying-on second in a valuable handicap at Cheltenham the time before.
Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase
(Grade 2) 2m 4f 127y
THE Mares’ Chase was a new race in 2021, won by Colreevy from ELIMAY, which set a reasonable standard, though the latter has been below that level in a win and defeats by ZAMBELLA (144) and MOUNT IDA (in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse on New Year’s Day) since.
Mount Ida has mostly continued to go the right way since a win in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap at the last Cheltenham Festival which looked highly improbable for a long way, so erratically was she jumping. She conceded 3lb to Elimay in that Fairyhouse race and scored by half a length.
PUT THE KETTLE ON would take plenty of beating in this if at her best, but she has been well beaten on all three starts since winning the Champion Chase at the last Cheltenham Festival (a race she may run in again rather than this).
Irish Arkle runner-up RIVIERE D’ETEL is highly proficient over fences but unproven beyond 17 furlongs. The form of CONCERTISTA’s chase wins this season do not strictly match what she ended up doing as a hurdler (in which sphere she was rated 153), but there was plenty to like about her four-length defeat of DARRENS HOPE (136) at Limerick over Christmas.
VIENNA COURT (141) and THE GLANCING QUEEN (138) bring solid course-and-distance form to the table.