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Triumph Hurdle preview

After tipping us into Taquin de Seuil yesterday at 9/1, it's only fair we bring back James Norris, @jpnorris. The first of these is the juvenile feature, the Triumph Hurdle, a tricky contest with so many unexposed hurdlers, a mix of flat and NH-bred horses, and a few recent purchases from France as well. This preview was originally published on CheltenhamZone on Feb 25, so note there might be a few extra runners mentioned, and prices have moved. Content courtesy of @CheltenhamZone.

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Triumph Hurdle

Since analysing the Triumph Hurdle picture shortly after Cheltenham’s ‘Trials Day’ all of the leading contenders have now completed their preparations on the track. The picture, as a result, has developed and shifted in a number of ways but one aspect has remained constant, LE ROCHER (N/R)still sets the standard (at least in form terms) having trounced his not insignificant opposition in Cheltenham’s Finesse Hurdle.

He first arrived on the Triumph Hurdle scene in December’s Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, where he showed tremendous resolve to recover from a serious error three out and see off the mud-loving Kentucky Hyden by two-and-a-half lengths. After four runs over hurdles in France it would have been fair to harbour concerns over his jumping given the experience he already had. He was not foot perfect once again at Cheltenham, though he had certainly improved and there was an overall and striking progression made as he increased his superiority over that same rival to ten lengths. On both occasions Le Rocher encountered heavy ground and it is rare to see a young horse attack the Cheltenham hill with that degree of relish in such trying conditions. He appears to excel when the going literally gets tough and if faced with a similar scenario in the Triumph Hurdle his chances would be increased considerably.

That is not to say he necessarily needs the rain to keep on falling, his trainer, Nick Williams would tell you that he has won at Dieppe on good-to-soft and his action is fluid enough to handle a quicker surface. Deep ground would undoubtedly benefit this Saints Des Saints gelding though and he has produced a level of form that, in my opinion, others have yet to match. While his inconsistent jumping may benefit from the extra spring and I would fully expect him to throw down a serious challenge, Le Rocher has been about powerful galloping so far; hence on anything faster than soft I suspect he will be outpointed by an opponent with a touch more speed.

The Triumph can be about guts and experience, in which case Le Rocher fits the bill. If this year it proves to be more about speed and class he should lose out to Paul Nicholls’ Califet gelding, CALIPTO. In rating terms Calipto is on the same mark (149) as Nick William’s charge following his latest Newbury success. I would suggest Le Rocher has achieved more and that Calipto’s rating is on the high side, however, it is easy understand why the handicapper would be keen to take such a positive view and I would be surprised and ultimately disappointed if his rating wasn’t even higher by the start of next season.

His first authoritative victory at Newbury looks an even stronger contest now following the runner-up’s success in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. There is every possibility that the race will produce winners of both juvenile contests at the Festival with the front pair heading with solid claims to the Triumph whilst the fourth and sixth head to the Fred Winter, having posted impressive wins subsequently, with likewise. Calipto despatched this high quality field, both in terms of appearance and future form, with relative ease. He travelled strongly in behind the fierce pacesetting leaders, displaying notable speed, before pulling away nicely and exhibiting the requisite stamina to comfortably hold off the rallying runner-up.

In the paddock prior to Calipto’s British debut I felt he was a nice type, if a little insubstantial. On his return to the Berkshire venue it was plain to see that in the intervening seventy one days the French-bred gelding had filled out and grown into an imposing four-year-old. Before, one could have questioned whether he would be up to the rigours of a Cheltenham Festival examination, now he looked ready. This was not irrelevant at Newbury either, as he was put in against older horses carrying a penalty and therefore effectively received no weight allowance. In fact he had to give the eventual second, Little John (a six-year-old whose jockey was already claiming seven), six pounds. Despite this being a moderate bunch, with his main danger, Seedling, failing to perform in the heavy ground, this was another exciting performance that cemented his place as one of the leading players in the Triumph Hurdle.

It was another display of smooth travelling combined with accomplished hurdling. He oozes class and the hectic pace of a Triumph would pose no problems. The question has been raised as to why he has failed to quicken further clear and in a more dominant fashion once he has coasted into the lead. The ground has played a major role in that as he faced testing conditions on his latest start and it was difficult to accelerate out of it, while on his British debut he was still a raw, inexperienced gelding who had met a very talented adversary. Calipto has won arguably the strongest juvenile hurdle run in Britain this season and has everything required to win a Triumph Hurdle, even if the lack of a flat career can be construed as a negative. No other four-year-old has left such an impression on me, barely another novice, and he is the selection at 7/1.

Kempton’s old Racing Post Chase (now BetBright) day is generally the last opportunity for Festival hopefuls to strut their stuff and the aforementioned “talented adversary”, ACTIVIAL (N/R) thrust himself into the Triumph limelight with a commanding success in the Adonis Hurdle. Having attempted to make all when conquered by Calipto on hurdling debut, the lengthy grey was settled in behind this time until quickening away from his challengers between the last two flights. This was a fine performance, including a faultless round of jumping, certainly worthy of Triumph consideration, but after the race concerns surrounding his suitability for the Cheltenham contest were raised by his trainer Harry Fry. Were he to turn up on that Friday in March he would need to be respected, though whether he can reverse form with Calipto is doubtful. He may well have been forced to travel faster than ideal at Newbury, and saving his effort at Kempton certainly brought about improvement, yet Calipto has moved forward in a variety of ways since then and shaped considerably better, even, than the bare result at Newbury. It is also important to note that Activial’s win may not have been as good as it first appeared given the second, Commissioned’s awkwardness and reluctance to go through with his effort after the last.

John Ferguson will have a handle on Activial thanks to Commissioned and it may have provided him with some extra confidence in his leading contender, BROUGHTON. With the desirable toughening up process of a flat career behind him the Teofilo gelding clearly showed a natural aptitude for hurdling as he was pitched straight into a Grade 2 for his first start over obstacles. Beaten only by inexperience there, behind the well-regarded Fox Norton, he went one better, and in some style, in Musselburgh’s Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial. Last year’s winner (Sametegal) went onto place at Cheltenham and there is enough hope to suggest Broughton can do at least as well. His jumping was more than proficient, as the pace quickened so did his hurdling; he cruised into the lead and quickened away well from an, admittedly tired, Irish raider who had previously finished second to Ireland’s principal Triumph hope. His form may not be up to the likes of Calipto and Le Rocher, he is rated some eleven pounds below that pair, but usually the trouble with the Bloomfields horses at Cheltenham is a lack of stamina, Broughton has no worries on that score and should excel himself.

John Quinn’s ability with juvenile hurdlers, especially off the flat, is worth reiterating and his Triumph Hurdle challenge appears to have sorted itself out. The leniency of the handicapper towards the talented, but quirky, Rutherglen has pointed connections in the direction of a tilt at the Fred Winter. Classy French recruit, Aurore D’Estruval may also head down that route or skip Cheltenham altogether. She was unlucky at Haydock and should be watched closely wherever she lines up next. Whereas, PEARL CASTLE has his sights firmly fixed on the Triumph, assuming the ground stays on the faster side of soft.

He is blessed with pace having come off the flat and that was in evidence on his second try over hurdles (Doncaster) where he tore the race apart with a late burst. There were a number of horses with questions to answer in behind therefore perhaps it was not worth taking the form at face value, yet he returned to Doncaster more recently and fought off a decent field of juveniles with a seven pound penalty on his back. It was not the most impressive performance and that instant turn-of-foot was absent, but plenty went wrong for him in the race and he still overcame that adversity in convincing style. He does just seem to lack the ability to win a normal Triumph and would be difficult to entertain on anything other than good ground. If the conditions were right, however, it is hard to forget that acceleration at Doncaster against his elders and a surprise isn’t impossible.

Nicky Henderson is set to rely on ROYAL IRISH HUSSAR, unless the ground was bottomless then Kentucky Hyden may come into the reckoning for place terms. He is far from an ideal Triumph type having seemingly peeked early in the season and he appears held by Broughton on Doncaster form. He does give us a line into the Irish juveniles though, namely their leading contender Guitar Pete who finished behind him at Cheltenham in November, and without Our Conor this time around they look set to struggle.

GUITAR PETE has undoubtedly progressed since that first foray to Cheltenham but I would be surprised if it was enough to take a hand in the finish on his return, admirable though he is. Ivan Grozny and Plinth were Ireland’s chief hopes for the Triumph prior to Leopardstown’s Grade 1 Spring Hurdle. Afterwards it was clear that Plinth’s jumping was insufficient for such a test and Ivan Grozny was rather overrated and would head to the Fred Winter instead. That pair were soundly beaten by the Dark Angel gelding, though he was best positioned and the feeling is that it was a weak renewal. TIGER ROLL has been talked up in the aftermath as a potential Triumph Hurdle player, he is hard to weigh up given he is likely to find continued improvement with Gordon Elliott, but he had only won a minor event at Market Rasen for his English trainer and is another who shouldn’t be good enough.

One of the few races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival where Willie Mullins appears not to have a strong hand is the Triumph Hurdle. He intends to rely on the filly GITANE DU BERLAIS (N/R) and possibly Abbyssial. She was comprehensively beaten by Guitar Pete on hurdling debut before a trip to Aintree saw her bolt up on softer ground which she appeared to appreciate. That was a poor race but there was plenty to admire about the performance. Her four-year-old allowance paid dividends next time as she took on older mares over two-miles-and-two furlongs. She appreciated the stamina test there as she saw off her stablemate Vicky De L’Oasis. Again that form would not be good enough for a Triumph Hurdle and she would probably need very testing ground to get involved.

ABBYSSIAL is one of the most interesting long term prospects around. He is a huge framed horse, the like of which is rarely seen in juvenile hurdles, and is very much a staying chaser in the making. The Beneficial gelding has made all on each of his three hurdle outings and his jumping has proven a real asset as his pursuers have been unable to match him late on in races. Last time in the Fairyhouse Grade 2 Fair Juvenile Hurdle he held off his better fancied stablemate in determined fashion. It had looked set to be an impressive win for the giant four-year-old until his tail started to swish after the last and he pulled himself up somewhat allowing the trailing filly, Adriana Des Mottes, back into contention. Willie Mullins has indicated that he will only run at Cheltenham if the ground was extremely heavy and his size, coupled with those signs of immaturity suggest that it would be the sensible decision to leave National Hunt racing’s centre stage for another twelve months, when it would be no shock to see him line up as a contender for the 2015 RSA Chase.

Advice: Calipto 1pt win 7/1 (Sportingbet) (originally posted Feb 25)

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