The final preview in our Cheltenham Festival ante-post portfolio sees Declan Rix cover the Triumph Hurdle. A Grade 1 race for four-year-olds, otherwise known as juveniles, this contest will open up the final day of the Festival. Run over two miles one furlong on the New Course, slick jumping, stamina and class are the attributes needed to win here.
Triumph Hurdle ante-post preview
Twenty-four horses remain in in what is a wide-open contest. Two horses, possibly three, dominate the betting at this juncture, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Zubayr and Sceau Royal. Respectively, they are priced at 4/1, 5/1 and 7/1.
Aidan O’Brien trains Ivanovich Gorbatov, a former flat-runner who managed to obtain a rating of 103 on the level after just three runs. No doubt the son of Montjeu could’ve been rated higher, but a new career over jumps beckoned.
Having started his new discipline in brilliant style at Leopardstown over Christmas, JP McManus’s horse fluffed his lines on his second start, albeit in Grade 1 company. In the end, he was beaten just under ten lengths.
A combination of taking a big rise in class quickly and very soft ground as well as a bad jumping error all contributed to his loss. The big step-up in grade so soon may have been a shock to the system, but whatever the excuse, he’s hard to recommend at his current price.
It’s a similar case with Zubayr who is just a point bigger in the betting. He at least comes here in winning form having claimed the Grade 2 BetBright #RealFansOnly Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton.
What was really taking about this victory, it was done on his first start in Great Britain since joining the Paul Nicholls team from France. On his maiden run over obstacles and just the third of his career, it’s obvious he’s a good horse.
Whether he is experienced enough to win a Triumph on just his second hurdles start is another question, especially given how green he was at Kempton. The son of Authorized jumped fine although it was notable he slowed into some obstacles. He’s worth taking on at this stage.
Third-favourite in the race is Sceau Royal. Trained by Alan King, a man who has a good record with juvenile hurdlers, this French-bred son of Doctor Dino looks the pick, according to the betting, of King’s strong Triumph squad.
Having already run five times over hurdles this season, Sceau Royal certainly won’t lack for experience and in a race full of young, green horses, this is a huge positive for his chance. Another strongpoint is his jumping, for such a fledgling racer, his technique is admirable; he’s quick and efficient over his obstacles.
The Simon Munir and Isaac Souede-owned gelding’s form has been progressive this season and while he hasn’t actually won or even competed in a graded contest yet, he still deserves to be to the fore of the betting. Whether he should be this short however, that’s another question, especially as he may not be as effective on proper good terrain, should it arise.
Take the above front three out of the betting and we have an extremely competitive contest. Even with the aforementioned trio in, it’s still reasonable to assume this year’s Triumph is there for the taking by 10 or more other horses – we can’t stress enough how open a contest it is – hence why we are keen to take them on at their current prices.
Clan Des Obeaux (16/1) went off 11/8 favourite for the race on the back of an extremely impressive debut win at Newbury for the Paul Nicholls team. Having had just one run in a French bumper before this effort, the son of Kapgarde went on to win by 21 lengths.
Having travelled alertly and sweetly throughout, appearing to enjoy himself, when asked to quicken up he did so in the style of a classy horse and sprinted clear of his field. It was a taking first start for his top connections.
Last time out at Cheltenham however, he was turned over as favourite. Having sat just behind what was probably a pretty generous pace on the ground, he again travelled with ease, but his early hard running saw his gas tank empty up the run-in and with him conceding weight to the eventual winner, he was snuggly gunned down close home.
It was still a fine run for a big horse though, and looking at him physically, he shapes up like he’ll carry on improving as the season goes on. Given how easily he travels, faster ground may improve him too.
Who Dares Wins (12/1) is a completely different horse in shape to Clan Des Obeaux. He looks more compact and smaller, a real hurdling type. A former flat horse who had an official rating of 85 in that sphere, that is a useful mark to bring to the jumping game.
Trained by a man who does well with these types of horses, Alan King’s charge has form figures of 114 so far this campaign. A strong-staying display saw him just get up close home at Ludlow on debut before he went to Doncaster and scored by 20 lengths.
No doubt that Town Moor victory flatters him given he beat a first-time out hurdler who didn’t jump well and got very tired late. The son of Jeremy could do no more however, and while it’s a hard race to rate, he did what he had to do.
His next run came in what we feel is a good race at Cheltenham. Carrying a 7lb penalty, Who Dares Wins was fighting an uphill battle before the race even started and his chances of winning took an even bigger hit when he ran too keen, setting up the race for his rivals.
The final horse to get a mention in the main body is Nicky Henderson’s Protek Des Flos (20/1), a shock 25/1 of the aforementioned Triumph Hurdle Trial from Clan Des Obeaux and Who Dares Win. There is little doubt the race fell in his lap, he and Noel Fehily took no part in the early strong pace skirmishes.
While the case however, it was noticeable he won with plenty up his sleeve despite being keen, and him getting behind early was either due to a lack of pace, being green or racing lazily. Or maybe even a combination of all three. He’s an extremely hard horse to weigh-up.
A similar win followed at Sandown where he again took a while to warm up, but once hitting the front, he pricked his ears. The problem is we worry about him on what is shaping up to be spring ground. He doesn’t move great, but if going on it, is a very, very big price at 20/1.
Best of the Rest
We feel the British juvenile hurdlers are a better bunch this season. It’s always hard to be sure on such things meaning should Footpad or the filly Let’s Dance win, quite simply, it will be a race we’ve got wrong.
Not for one minute are we suggesting they can’t win as both are classy types with Grade 1 Irish form in the book. They are trained by Willie Mullins with the former being owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede while the latter is a Rich Ricci horse.
Footpad (12/1) won the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle on his last start and that race has proven to be a sound trial for the Triumph in recent seasons. He’s a progressive type and his victory before coming here showed he’d have no problem dealing with a strong pace. He jumps fine, stays strong and we feel he’ll actually be better on nicer terrain.
That said, there was an element of that Leopardstown race falling into his lap courtesy of Let’s Dance (12/1) setting a pretty generous early gallop. She loves to jump and attack her hurdles, which is great to see, and with her possibly getting a lead in the Triumph, there is every chance she can turn that form with her stablemate.
Frodon and Fixe Le Kap clashed last time out at Haydock where the former came out on top in what was a touch of a muddling affair. There appears to be very little between them so it’s surprising to see the runner-up a shorter price having been beaten fair and square.
Fixe Le Kap (10/1) is a real chasing type who stays well and has a nice attitude. For such a big horse he jumps nicely and when many have cried enough he’ll still be going.
Frodon, another horse trained by Paul Nicholls, is really interesting. He’s got a lovely pedigree on his dam’s side and appears to be improving all the time. If handling the ground, he holds solid each-way claims.
Paul Nicholls, just like many trainers in this race holds multiple entries, but down to the lower end of that scale looks to Connetable (12/1) and Tommy Silver. The former improved from a lovely debut run in Great Britain at Ascot to win the Listed Contenders Hurdle two weeks later.
For a juvenile hurdler, that is quite a decent race to win at such a tender age. The form is hard to weigh-up however, and with him possibly being vulnerable on proper spring ground, is passed over.
So too is Tommy Silver (16/1) who, off a mark of 138, should probably be running in the Fred Winter, but isn’t qualified. The son of Silver Cross made a lovely debut at Newbury, but on his second start, he didn’t progress as well as we’d have hoped.
He won easily though, and maybe we are being harsh. He did have to make his own running and it’s possible it didn’t show him at his best, but even so, others look more convincing.
Of those at big prices, the 33/1 about Leoncavallo is more than fair and certainly value in comparison to the third favourite Sceau Royal. This pair have taken each other on twice and the John Ferguson-trained runner came out on top in a muddling affair at Wetherby in October.
They clashed again in December at Cheltenham, this time the Alan King horse won, but he was helped by Leoncavallo’s last flight exit and with still everything to play for, you’d be hard pushed to say the eventual winner definitely would’ve won had the son of Cape Cross stood up.
He hasn’t run since that unseat however, and that’s a bit of a negative coming in. On the plus side however, he’s a bonny little horse that jumps well and is easily one of the most appealing horses looking at the current prices.
Another Nicky Henderson horse to get a mention is the JP McManus-owned Consul De Thaix. His price of 33/1 makes some appeal, especially considering he made a lovely UK debut in a good race at Cheltenham.
He’d finish behind his stablemate Protek Des Flos and Clan Des Obeaux in that Grade 2. He’s open to any amount of improvement so isn’t ruled out despite us having worries about him in the big hustle and bustle of a Triumph.
Gibralfaro is hard to recommend having been well-beaten in his prep run.
The BetBright Verdict
In a far more open Triumph Hurdle than the market suggests, Ivanovich Gorbatov, Zubayr and Sceau Royal all have to be taken on at this stage. Ivanovich Gorbatov is a real hype horse with little substance who needs to bounce back, but it will be interesting to see him on spring ground.
Of the trio, if we had to back one at the prices, it would be Zubayr, but his inexperience, and to a degree form, means he is another horse we’ll take on.
Real quick ground would be against Sceau Royal and his form is pretty similar to many below him in the market.
Fast ground also looks like it will play against the strengths of Protek Des Flos. We love this horse, he is so hard to weigh-up, but faster going than he has encountered looks like it may beat him.
No doubt the middle-named runner is the best value option in terms of raw numbers, he’s a crazy price in comparison to Sceau Royal, but coming here on the back of an unseat and not having run in three months means the remaining pair are the ones to concentrate on.
The form of the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham at the end of January may just be the most competitive and soundest juvenile form around and with that being the case CLAN DES OBEAUX and WHO DARES WINS get the nod at this stage.
The former will meet his rival on 3lb worse terms for a two lengths beating, but he is probably open to more improvement and should love the better ground, on which he can utilise his pace and strong-travelling ability.
Who Dares Wins just looks a proper Triumph Hurdle candidate. He has a touch of class, but stays strong and has a nice attitude. In a strong-run race where he can get a god lead, he could be the one to beat.
1pt win WHO DARES WIN @ 12/1
1pt win CLAN DES OBEAUX @ 16/1
Odds are provided at time of writing, please check your betslip to confirm they have not changed before betting.