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County Hurdle preview

Amongst the set weight championship races, there are some cracking handicap races during the Festival and the County Hurdle is always near the top of that list. Get out the darts or just listen to the shrewd advice of Adam Webb, @adamwebb121, on the back of tipping the first three in the World Hurdle yesterday.

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Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle
2m1f Handicap, Grade 3, £80,000
1405 GMT


Thank you for all the congratulatory tweets after today’s result. Whilst it didn’t go the way planned, at least the top three I could make a case for finished in the placings. Congratulations to both Gavin Sheehan and Warren Greatrex for their debut wins at the Festival and what a way to do it!

This preview won’t be as long but the County Hurdle is always a minefield with so many potentially well handicapped horses who have been laid out for the race. Ireland head the market with several contenders including Quick Jack who has probably had this race in mind since he finished third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket back in October and he also has some fair handicap hurdle form. His trainer Tony Martin elected to miss the Festival last year due to a mark given to him of 136. He races here off the same mark however useful claimer Shane Shortall takes five valuable pounds off his back. The overnight rain shouldn’t be much of a concern and looks solid enough as favourite.

The Game Changer is another with top handicap form when third in the Galway Hurdle to Thomas Edison before winning a competitive handicap at Killarney in comfortable style. His most recent start in October was promising enough behind Rebel Fitz. Since then, he has moved to Gordon Elliott’s following the retirement of Charlie Swan. The forecast rain isn’t a complete negative to his chances but he seems to prefer good ground.

The JP McManus trio of Princely Conn, Sort It Out and Waxies Dargle all look interesting contenders. Princely Conn is the choice of Tony McCoy who showed some fair bumper form before going hurdling. The pick of his form would be the third behind Nichols Canyon in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December. He ran well last time on handicap debut at Leopardstown behind Sir Scorpion and whilst he goes on most ground, the less rain the better for him. Sort It Out has improved leaps and bounds when winning on his last two starts at Punchestown and Leopardstown, the latter where he dropped back in trip which really looked to suit him. He looks the best of the McManus trio with Waxies Dargle looking to recover from a fall in the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.

Of the leading English contenders, Ebony Express goes for the Imperial Cup/Cheltenham Festival bonus for Dr Richard Newland but he had a hard enough race on Saturday and may be best watched whilst Violet Dancer heads the Betfair Hurdle form with Cheltenian. The former was given an easy time on that occasion and will not be getting the same luxury this time whilst the latter has had a wind operation since last year’s race where he was pulled up.

He holds his claims but his owner Roger Brookhouse has another contender in BALTIMORE ROCK who disappointed on his only start this season in the Greatwood but won last year’s Imperial Cup before not being disgraced at Aintree behind Josses Hill. Ground shouldn’t be too much of a concern and a first time tongue tie is an interesting addition.

Willie Mullins has several entries including the inexperienced Max Dynamite who Ruby Walsh has chosen and the surprise second string that is SEMPRE MEDICI. He was one of the ante-post favourites when the weights came out but has now drifted out to as big as 28/1 which seems a bit extreme. When he was second to Jollyallan at Kempton, he went straight into my notebook especially for this race.The weather forecast shouldn’t really be of any bother as he has won on testing ground both on the flat and on hurdling debut at Cork. The hustle and bustle shouldn’t inconvenience him and he goes in with a big each way chance.

The other Mullins contenders look to have plenty to find. Wicklow Brave has become increasingly frustrating with the rain falling not helping him at all whilst Analifet has looked a different horse for the wrong reasons since her pelvis injury and Lucky Bridle looks badly handicapped.

Horses that I was originally keen on had it been run on good ground were Hawk High and Orgilgo Bay who fought out the Fred Winter last year. The former is such a likeable horse who is just a gutsy little street fighter and whilst he would run well on a softer surface, good ground would bring out the best in him. Orgilgo Bay is a strong travelling type but the doubt even without the rain would be the more stamina sapping idiosyncrasies of the New Course compared to the Old Course. Commissioned and Roman Flight are two others who look well treated but both need top of the ground to be at their most effective.

The final horse worthy to go in the shortlist is one that doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the 50/1 mark in ASO for Aidan Coleman and Venetia Williams. A Grade Two winner at Haydock two starts ago, he disappointed in the Betfair Hurdle but he is well worth another go here which makes the price look insulting, especially as he did beat useful horses at Haydock in Kiama Bay and Qewy. The track should be no issue having stayed on powerfully up Sandown’s hill and he could easily run into the frame.

Conclusion

Having noted SEMPRE MEDICI down for this race back at Christmas, it would be stupid of me not to back him around the 25/1 mark whilst BALTIMORE ROCK still may have more to come from his handicap mark and if the rain really gets into the ground, ASO comes into consideration at the prices. An honorable mention goes to Hawk High as well who carries top weight and should run his race regardless of conditions although he would prefer a sounder surface.

Baltimore Rock - E/W
Sempre Medici - E/W
Aso - E/W

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