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The Tolworth Hurdle preview

One of the first big races of the calendar year is traditionally the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown with quite a decent honour roll as you'll read below. Welcome back astute judge Mark Rowntree, @uptheirons007, with his analysis of the race. Read more of his work on his blog.

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The Tolworth Hurdle – Grade One (now known as the 32Red Novices' Hurdle)

Sandown Park race on the opening weekend of 2013, with their feature event the long established Tolworth Hurdle. The Grade 1 event run over 2m110yds has been won by some very good horses in the past 15 years, including French Holly (1998), Monsignor (2000), Thisthatandtother (2003), Marcel (2005), Noland (2006), Minella Class (2011) and Captain Conan (2012). In the five runnings since 2006, the race has been dominated by Messrs Nicholls and Henderson. The former landing the runnings between 2006 & 2008, with the latter landing the race the last two years in 2011 and 2012 after abandonments due to frost in both 2009 and 2010.

This year, run as the 32 Red Novices Hurdle, the race has attracted seven entries, and the contenders are likely to encounter a relatively deep surface with conditions currently described as Heavy, Soft in Places by Clerk of the Course Andrew Cooper. The powerful Seven Barrows yard of Nicky Henderson is doubly represented by Golden Hoof and Royal Boy, and both appear well battle hardened. The Andrew Chandler/Lee Westwood owned Golden Hoof supplemented a November success at Kempton Park by winning stylishly over course and distance when beating five rivals at Sandown Park in early December. This youngster (who made all to finish eight lengths clear of Lord Protector) is clearly going the right way and with course form in the book, can step up further in class again on Saturday. Royal Boy has only been seen once in action in the UK. However, he posted an excellent effort on this occasion, staying on to finish a never nearer second on a Heavy surface at Cheltenham to fellow Tolworth entry Melodic Rendezvous. The fact that this pair had the likes of Eduard and Imperial Leader behind them in third and fourth places testifies the strength of this form and both will be prominent in the market again tomorrow. Melodic Rendezvous is clearly the star of the Jeremy Scott stable. He’d shown his potential when chasing home Willie Mullins Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown last April. There is likely to be little between both Melodic Rendezvous and Royal Boy again in the Tolworth. The fact that stable jockey Barry Geraghty prefers Royal Boy over stablemate Golden Hoof, in some way ensures there is some value to be had with the Andrew Tinkler ridden ‘outsider’. My analysis indicates that there is in fact little to choose between the stablemates, so with further improvement anticipated, I’m inclined to side towards Golden Hoof.

The classy Flat performer Poet will be suited by the forecast Soft surface. The 8yo has been a late arrival to the hurdling scene for Clive Cox after a failed career at stud, but absolutely toyed with his rivals in winning at Newbury just before Christmas. Clearly the Tolworth Hurdle represents a major step up in grade (his Newbury form took a significant knock at Musselburgh today) but if handling this rise in grade and maintaining the sweet attitude shown at Newbury, there’ll only be one winner if Poet is swinging off the bit at the last hurdle. He’s clearly the classiest horse in the field, but it’s still premature to suggest he’s the potential to go to the very top over hurdles until we’ve seen him have further races over timber. At 3/1, he’s plenty short enough in a competitive race.

The yard of Charlie Longsdon has regularly been amongst the winners this Winter. He relies upon Pendra, who has shown winning form around the ‘gaff’ tracks such as Huntingdon and Plumpton (twice). In truth, on form Pendra is probably of his depth here, but deserves the chance to line up in this small field, based upon the fact he’s unbeaten over timber alone.

Court Minstrel (Evan Williams) appeared most recently in the Grade 2 Sharp Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham behind Paul Nicholls Dodging Bullets, Nicky Henderson’s River Maigue. The two times National Hunt Flat winner (both Ludlow) had made a winning start over hurdles at Cheltenham in October landing a maiden hurdle beating The Romford Pele and Tartan De Sarti prior to this excellent subsequent third in Grade 2 company. Court Minstrel is clearly improving with experience, but needs to show that he can handle such a deep surface effectively, so is also opposable. Lucy Wadham’s Le Reve makes up the field, and is impossible to fancy in this grade given what has been achieved on a racecourse to date.

Selection

5pts Win Golden Hoof 13/2

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