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Coral Hurdle preview

Another disappointingly small field for a feature race at Ascot, but at least there are two high-class hurdlers heading the market. Taking up the challenge is another blog debutant, aspiring young writer Daniel Knight. You can follow him via @DanielKnightt and read more of his work on his site, BritishJumpRacing.

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Coral Hurdle (Registered As The Ascot Hurdle Race) Grade 2
2 mile 3 1/2 furlongs Ascot, Good to Soft Ground but could be just Good come Saturday.

Usually one of the first stepping stones for either the World Hurdle or the Champion Hurdle, the Coral (Ascot) Hurdle is normally full of contenders for both races. This year’s is different. The 2014 Champion Hurdle has some serious depth and the World Hurdle isn’t short on quality either, so will many of the horses lining up on Saturday, be at the start for either race? Probably not. But one might, and she comes from Ireland.

Zarkandar:
This horse has a real shot at this year’s Coral Hurdle. After coming unstuck in the Champion Hurdle for the past two years, Zarkandar was upped in trip for the Aintree Hurdle, which he relished, beating The New One- and we all know how good he is, regardless of whether that was his trip or not. Just below that trip on Saturday, the 2m3f will suit and as he is officially rated 13 higher than Annie Power he is in with a real chance. The owners want to try him over three miles as well so this could well be the natural starting point to the World Hurdle, which is an interesting proposition.

Bygones Of Brid:
Officially rated 129, 38lb behind Zarkandar’s 167 and 26lb behind Annie Power, Bygones is punching quite a bit above his weight here. Although he ran a blinder at 22/1 last time out at Aintree (back over hurdles after an interesting four races chasing), he hasn’t won a graded race since March 2010 and the 10-year-old’s last win was a Class 4 hurdle at Hexham. Do not back.

Magnifique Etoile:
Before the field was decimated at declaration time, I quite fancied Magnifique Etoile for a place at odds. After bolting up last week, his first race back from a year and a half break, he could have a lot more to come. He was an impressive juvenile hurdler, only let down being beaten by Captain Conan at Sandown and by a poor performance in the Vincent O’Brien Handicap at Cheltenham. He probably won’t win this race, but his performance will be one to keep an eye on for future races.

Annie Power:
Five years old. Trained by Mullins, ridden by Ruby Walsh. Seven wins from seven races, including a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last season. Annie Power, is a potential star of National Hunt racing. Last season she went from winning her maiden hurdle to winning a Grade 1 in four races, on top of winning three bumpers. As well as this, she has only ever been odds-against twice, such as the style of her wins (24 ¾ in four races, 12 of them being in the Grade 1!) Although rated 154, 13 behind Zarkandar and confusingly enough one behind Zaidpour, the likelihood is that Annie is better than that and will show it on Saturday. Especially due to her only getting a half penalty for her Grade 1 win as it was a novices’ event and she will receive a mare's allowance, which means she runs off only 10st 11lb whereas Zarkandar runs of 11st 8lb. Her only negative is that she has never raced from more than 71 days rest, this time it will be over 200. She is the worthy favourite, even if her price is based slightly on her potential.

Conclusion:
This is an obvious two horse race between Zarkandar and Annie Power. At the moment, Annie Power is best price 4/5 in the markets and shortening all the time. Zarkandar is best priced 7/4 and to be honest that doesn’t represent any value, obviously the same with Annie Power. The outsiders in the race, in my opinion, are not able to challenge the top two in the market and their price reflects it. The lack of depth in the race rules out any each-way thievery.

For my main recommendation, I’d have to side with the Annie Power/Zarkandar forecast. You won’t get rich from it but Willie Mullins never sends his horses our way without knowing they have a huge chance of victory. Annie Power is already seeing strong support for the Champion Hurdle and she has only run four times over obstacles. Her potential is massive and she will have improved over the summer, she is proven at the distance and should have enough to beat Zarkandar on the day, as good a horse as he is.

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