The County Hurdle is arguably the most competitive handicap of The Festival and was won by none other than the classy Arctic Fire last year.
Going conditions remain extremely testing, and with all of the last ten winners (other than Arctic Fire) winning from a mark lower than 140, it make sense to focus on unexposed horses towards the bottom of the handicap.
At the time of writing, Bleu Et Rouge, Duca De Thaix, and Flying Tiger are vying for favouritism. Bleu Et Rouge ran well in the Betfair Hurdle behind Kalashnikov, and I don’t expect him to be far away as he will love the ground. But he has been raised 8lbs and carries top weight which will be tough to overcome.
Flying Tiger won a poor Fred Winter last season, and I don’t fancy him off his current 6lb higher mark, whilst Duca De Thaix was disappointing in a Grade 3 behind Sandsend last time and only beat a horse called Us And Them before that who finished 62l behind Summerville Boy in the Supreme.
BRELADE was pretty impressive over hurdles last season for Gordon Elliott including a thirty-runner maiden hurdle success followed by a close third to Bacardys (who was running a massive race in the Stayers Hurdle) later in the season. He also raced well for a long way in the Neptune last season before tiring over the 2m 5f trip behind Willoughby Court.
Brelade was sent chasing this year and finished solid seconds to both Footpad and Petit Mouchoir. But it clearly hasn’t quite worked out over the larger obstacles, and his switch back to hurdles looks interesting. This will have been the plan for some time when they made the decision to cut his chasing career short and at a mark of 141 and a current price of 33/1, he could be a cracking each-way bet.
A lot of winners have been coming from off the pace this week, and one horse that likes to be held up is SPIRITOFTHEGAMES for the Skelton yard. They won this in 2016 with Superb Story, and he ran a cracker in the Betfair Hurdle behind Kalashnikov and is now better off at the weights with Bleu Et Rouge.
Spiritofthegames’s second in the Lanzarote is also strong form and has been franked by several horses this week. The stiff finish and testing conditions will be in his favour with plenty of good form over longer distances, and he has been ultra-consistent so is sure to go close.
Given there are 27 runners in the County Hurdle, three selections seems appropriate with decent each-way terms on offer.
WHISKEY SOUR is the apparent second-string for Willie Mullins, and he was a fortunate winner of a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over the Christmas period.
He proved that was not a complete fluke by finishing a staying-on fourth in the Grade 1 Deloitte Hurdle behind Samcro, Paloma Blue and Duc Des Genievres, who have all franked the form in this week.
Whiskey Sour lost touch with the main group in both those starts, showing signs of greenness. But he could show a lot more if he is kept closer to the pace, as he demonstrated when winning a couple of big handicaps – within four days of each other as well – on the flat at the Galway Festival last summer.
The yard obviously didn’t fancy him in the big novice hurdle events this week, but he still looks very promising and off a mark of 141 as well he could prove to be a potential handicap blop for Mullins as he seeks to become top trainer for the week.
0.75pts each-way Whiskey Sour @14/1, (5 Places at 1/5 Odds with WilliamHill)
0.75pts each-way Spiritofthegames @16/1, (6 Places at 1/5 Odds with Skybet)
0.5pts each-way Brelade @33/1, (6 Places at 1/5 Odds with PaddyPower)