The decision to move this Grade 2 hurdle from the December meeting has been rewarded with a cracking renewal featuring an ex-Gold Cup hero, the reigning World Hurdle champ, a two-times Liverpool Hurdle winner and some progressive young pretenders.
Even better – from a punting perspective – is the likelihood Cole Harden will go off favourite on ground he’s sure to hate – it’s been raining all week and half the county is now underwater – so there’s sure to be value about.
The World Hurdle champ is also hard to get fully fit, and I’d be very surprised if he’s seen to his best on New Year’s Day with trainer Warren Greatrex’s eyes firmly on the defence of his title in March.
Bobs Worth was once a mighty force at Cheltenham with his five wins at the track including three at the Festival: the Albert Bartlett, RSA Chase and the Gold Cup in 2013.
Nowadays his best years are behind him and he’s been reverted to hurdles after two seasons of struggles over fences, and showed some of his old class when defeating stablemate Simonsig over the smaller obstacles at Aintree this season.
The heavy going will require all of his stamina over this 20-furlong trip, and that might be bad news for Nicky Henderson’s Top Notch, who will be popular in the betting despite stepping up from two miles.
He was a narrow second in the Triumph Hurdle at the festival and, despite not winning, has proven his class this season by finishing second to Irving on reappearance, then improving plenty to be touched off by Identity Thief in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth at Newcastle – the form of which was franked by him running Nichols Canyon close this week at Leopardstown.
Whilst soft ground is no issue, he looked to be outstayed by Identity Thief at Newcastle over the minimum trip, but can claim that run came just a week after his reappearance, so now freshened up after a month off the track he might have more in the tank.
His owners’ retained rider Daryl Jacob is out injured and Nico de Boinville, who appears to have the pick of Henderson’s horses at the moment, has opted for multiple-Grade 1-winner Whisper, which could be seen as a negative.
Whisper was dreadful at Newbury, jumping like a novice and looking nowhere near race fit, while his best form is on spring ground so he’s readily passed.
We tipped up Camping Ground at Huntingdon recently, where he unseated at the tenth fence when probably already beaten by eventual King George-third Al Ferof.
The pace set by Wishful Thinking was very strong that day which may have brought about the error, and the slow ground at Cheltenham won’t allow that this time, so, given he has form on soft, this looks like a more suitable target.
He gets in at the bottom of the weights by receiving 8lbs from Cole Harden and Whisper, but the same is true for Dan Skelton’s Virgilio, who has done nothing wrong by winning all three starts in Britain though will have to prove he can mix it amongst some proven Grade-1 performers.
He looked very well handicapped when brushing aside Un Ace at Aintree and has been hiked up 11lbs since, which doesn’t give him too much to find with the rest of these if he can continue progressing.
He really fits the perfect profile but might be a little tight in the betting at 6/1 so is reluctantly passed.
At a big price, the mare Aurore D’estruval is a fascinating contender for Rebecca Curtis having been off the track since winning on testing ground last Christmas after going close in Irving’s Fighting Fifth – with subsequent Champion Hurdle-second Arctic Fire back in third.
Ground looks to be no issue, but race fitness will surely be required in these conditions so she’s passed.
Lots of live chances in a race likely to go to a stayer, so a race-fit, course-specialist Bobs Worth makes a lot of each-way appeal at 12/1, though I’m keeping the faith with Camping Ground at 10/1 as he’s a touch of class and remains unexposed on these shores.
1pt win Camping Ground @10/1 or best morning price, Cheltenham 15:05Leave a comment