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Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle

A top class handicap race named after possibly the greatest ever trainer to set foot on a British racecourse. And typically, it looks damn hard to solve. Solving the puzzle is Richard Skeen, whose blog can be found here.

Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (Grade 3)

A right old cavalry charge of a race run over 2m 1f for five year olds and older. The race tends to feature runners who have met previously throughout the season notably at the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the Boylesports Hurdle in Ireland – where Final Approach who won this race last year had his run prior to winning. Paul Nicholls and Irish trainers have been responsible for the last five winners so these runners should be noted. 27 runners line up so to find the winner will be an element of luck.

Quickly on trends – no horse has carried more than 11st 8lb to win since 1960, while only one horse has carried more than that weight to place since 1979. Horses rated between 128 to 135 have won 7 of the last 10 renewals. Other key things to consider are that ten of the last ten winners had run in the past 60 days and run at least three times that season. Nine of the last ten winners were first or second season hurdlers so those old dour runners may be able to be discounted. Favourites are worth noting have won three of the past 10 runnings – while five year olds have won three of the past four so again should be kept on side.

Starluck – The top weight is a real class horse having run in a Champion Hurdle and beaten a nose in a Grade 1. The weight burden may just strike him out however. He is though a massive price at 40/1 based on past ability.

Clerks Choice – Is another runner who has run in a Champion Hurdle and another who seems to have had his better days behind him. He’s not won since October 2010 and is probably best left alone.

Moon Dice – also has to contend with the weight stat, however, he is a fair bit shorter in the betting than the previous two and ran a belter in the Greatwood off 144 in November. He looks reasonably well handicapped on the bare form of that run but the past 60 days stat also concerns me.

Via Galilei – Had a cracking season last year winning a valuable Newbury handicap and then running well in defeat since. He doesn’t look to have much in hand from the handicapper to me though.

Ubi Ace – Has moved from Tim Walford’s yard to Jonjo O’Neill having been snapped up by JP McManus. He keeps improving and beat the afore-mentioned Via Galilei back at Sandown. Again though like a few at the top of the handicap he doesn’t seem to have much in hand.

Sailors Warn – Is a horse I’ve followed for a long time and is one who is going to pop up in one of these big handicaps one day. His Triumph form is solid form and if you watch that run back he raced alone from the second last which wouldn’t have helped. He’s since run well behind Unaccompanied and in several competitive heats. He will pop up one day and comes into calculations.

Raya Star – Won the Ladbroke earlier the season and held his form well to finish third in the Betfair Hurdle behind Zarkandar, he’s a horse who looks to still be on the upgrade. The form of Alan King this week would concern me though.

Desert Cry – The form of Donald McCain’s yard is in form though and interesting to note McCain says of this fella he is handicapped to win a big pot. I’d suggest he’s best left watched but could well be a plot job. Maguire rides.

The Bull Hayes – Irish raider from the yard of Jessica Harrington, his form over good ground would worry me and his price reflects his chance.

Dirar – Won the 2010 Ebor Handicap at York and Gordon Elliott nominates him as his best handicap chance of the week. He was beaten 4l in the same race of 138 last year and now off 140 I’d speculate there are a number better handicapped. Though I could easily be wrong.

Dee Ee Williams – Has been mixing it in a number of decent races, was third in this race in 2010 off 135 before being pulled up last year. Form has tailed off and his mark hasn’t dropped much.

Local Hero – Has some decent form in the book, not least last time out behind Simonsig, who slaughtered the Neptune field. Based on that run he could be a fair bit better than 140 and his Cheltenham form stands up to scrutiny have finished 8th in the Triumph and beating Third Intention off levels in the Finesse. Worth watching.

Alderwood – AP McCoy rides which is eye-catching. The form though to me to looks pretty basic and I can’t see why he’s running off 139.

Lifestyle – Runs for the dream combination Henderson/Geraghty and that alone will see money come for the horse. She won a handicap off 135 so may not be handicapped out of it and then was sent off at 11/2 for a handicap of 141 behind Celestial Halo. 33s is a big price.

Alarazi – If this gelding recaptures some past form has a chance, won the Imperial Cup last year and form at Cheltenham is solid was sent off favourite for this race last when coming tenth. That was off 131 – may be a little high still off 138. Though again 40s is a large old price.

Plan A – Gordon Elliott doesn’t seem as bullish over this runner as he does Dirar and although he ran well in last year’s Fred Winter he’s flattered to deceive a bit since.

Edgardo Sol – From the Nicholls yard is another decent price for me, beaten 1l off a mark of 134 in December. He ran reasonably well behind Sire De Grugy at Taunton, the last day. Harry Derham takes off 7lb and 33/1 could look big after the race.

Hell’s Bay – Has been chasing. Doesn’t look in decent form and his old hurdles form doesn’t suggest he has anything out of the ordinary hiding in the locker.

Snap Tie – Falls down majorly on the last 60 days stats having not run for 882 days! He was targeted for this race last year but then didn’t turn up. No doubt he is well handicapped on form three years ago – but three years ago. 10/1 in places. No thanks.

Magnifique Etoile – Is an interesting runner of 136 having run well this season in winning three maiden and novice events by a country mile before performing with credit in the Tolworth. Five year olds do have a good record and he’s been saved for this.

Redera – Is another Irish raider who could well have a few pounds up his sleeve. Tony Martin is one trainer I really can’t get a grasp on.

Olofi – Is no doubt handicapped well and has been punted to win a couple of these types of races and with luck he would have won a few. He’s still on 136 and his form at Cheltenham is solid. I think he should be nearer favourite than the 16/1 he is with Corals. Worth noting.

Master Of Arts – We’re now into the 128-135 bracket of trend winners. This horse was backed substantially last week in the Imperial Cup before running a stinker. He may have needed the run, but to counter that this may come soon afterwards.

Ted Spread – Also ran in the Imperial Cup and also ran a little flat. He’s 5 though and does have the Walsh/Nicholls combo. Having been backed as if defeat was out of the question last week his mark may not be beyond him. 20s could be worth a few quid.

Ifyouletmefinish – Is a horse I’ve followed this season as he’s run in a number of races with Triumph form. So if Grumeti, Pearl Swan or Urbain de Sivola run big races there it’s worth noting. He’s from an unfashionable yard and may drift, has a really likeable attitude. 135 may underestimate.

Ingleby Spirit – Richard Fahey won’t have had many Cheltenham runners but he has one here and one in grand form his 5l defeat of this mark though suggest the handicapper may have his measure.

Citizenship – Won the same race that Final Approach took before winning this last year. He’s gone up 15lb for that win having won off 118. I think 7s is too short because although he could still well be handicapped well the rise is a fair bit to overcome and he may not have the class of some others.

Court In Session – The bottom weight, beaten miles in last four runs has very little to recommend.

Summary – Going to concentrate on those near the bottom of the weights and fling a few darts – because these events are minefields, by all means play them each-way but I tend to do win only. I do think Olofi is primed to win a big pot someday soon and he is worth backing with Corals at 16/1. I’d also recommend bets on Ted Spread – I tend to ignore one bad run so give him another chance. Local Hero is another worth considering and I’ve backed him also at 25/1.

Olofi 2pt win 16/1 Corals
Ted Spread 1pt win 20/1 William Hill
Local Hero 1pt win 25/1 Paddy Power

Follow Richard on Twitter @lonesomepundit


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