Previous winners of Europe’s richest handicap hurdle race have included My Tent Or Yours, Zarkandar, and Get Me Out Of Here – two of which were owned by JP McManus. He enters no fewer than five runners including the 7/2 favourite, and Geraghty’s pick of the crop, Blazer.
Mullin’s French import certainly found his feet last Sunday at Leopardstown, he went on to quickly assert over a lesser field after the last, and is technically 7lbs well-in even with a 5lb penalty for what appeared a facile success. There is always a risk with a short turnaround, and this will be a much tougher test which makes it difficult to get stuck in at the price.
There are several other potentially improving, unexposed horses in the race, so there must be value elsewhere.
Matorico was highly tried last season and finished 10th in the Triumph Hurdle. He wasn’t quite up to Grd 1 level then, but this son of Mastercraftsman has looked a better prospect in recent weeks. He opened the season with a win and followed that with a decent second to Duke Des Champs, who has since franked the form winning by 14l off a mark of 135; Matorico is rated 136.
His last run was at Kempton on Boxing Day over 2m 5f, where having shaped well, he didn’t truly do enough towards the end of his race to challenge Baron Alco, finishing a one-paced fourth. The drop in trip will help, and Jonjo O’Neill puts blinkers on for the first time to sharpen him up. He must remain with potential, and his improvement could come at this trip – his season opener was a win over 2m. He looks a big price at 33/1 and is a decent each-way bet.
Another open to improvement is Agrapart. He blitzed his opposition in a novice hurdle at Aintree in December beating the second by 20l – who has since won – and made a decent job of turning the recent Grd 1 Tolworth Stakes in to a three-horse contest.
Yorkhill and O O Seven ultimately got the better of him that day, by 8 and 6 lengths respectively, but they are +150 rated horses, and he was not totally disgraced in defeat racing off level-weights. Agrapart is off a mark of 137 for his handicap debut, and with Lizzie Kelly’s 5lb claim, he’s got every chance at 20/1. He should improve on his Tolworth performance, and the fast run gallop should help him as he is normally raced prominently.
Lastly, with such a large field, we can’t help but have a bet on Richard Johnson’s mount, Sternrubin. It’s hard to pass over a vastly improving horse from a good yard. The way he got back on the line having nearly made-all to dead-heat with Jolly’s Cracked It in the Ladbrokes Hurdle was nothing but determined, and he will be all out to follow that up having had a decent break.
He’s a course and distance winner on similar ground conditions and will set a fierce gallop. Up 8lbs for his last run, Philip Hobb’s will need to have brought him on again, but he could well be good enough to lead from pillar-to-post. Johnson has made some very positive remarks about his chances and is worth a saver to get the tactics spot on.
1pt win Sternrubin @9/1, 15:35 Newbury
0.5pt ew Agrapart @20/1, 15:35 Newbury
0.5pt ew Matorico @33/1, 15:35 Newbury
(Most bookmakers are paying 1/4 odds first five places (with PP doing MBS if you finish 2nd to SP favourite), so make sure to look out for that when placing your bet)
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