We're going for a big-priced runner for Friday's opener at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival
There’s a daunting list of around 70 entries for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, run on the Friday of the Cheltenham Festival, but bookmakers can’t see past Nicky Henderson’s Peace And Co with no bigger than 2/1 on offer.
The four-year-old has looked seriously impressive in winning both his British starts since coming over from France, including an easy three-length success over Karezak, who is a rock-solid benchmark, over the Triumph track and trip last time. A stronger run race in March promises to suit him well, as does better ground, and he showed at Prestbury Park he can win from behind, having made virtually all at Doncaster previously.
However, while he’s a worthy favourite, it’s hard to see him shortening up too much before the festival, if at all, and it’s probably best to wait if you’re not already on at bigger prices. Besides, 2/1 is poor value when you consider the apparent strength in depth to his potential opposition, and that includes his stablemate HARGAM, who may have been underestimated by the bookmakers at 10/1 given he too is a horse of serious potential.
He also joined Henderson from France, where he had some smart flat form, including in Listed company, and has that all-important winning form at Cheltenham; a one-and-a-quarter length defeat of the aforementioned Karezak. Prior to that, he’d looked all over the winner on his British debut (also at Cheltenham) after hitting the front close home, only to idle and get beat less than a length by Golden Doyen. But it was his latest dress rehearsal at Musselburgh that convinces he has what it takes to become a festival winner as he won with his head in his chest and that will have done his confidence the world of good. There should be better to come too.
The Triumph is always run at a frenetic pace and that is what this strong-travelling sort needs ideally, as he will be able to sit in behind before being delivered late, while he’s sure to appreciate better ground too given he’s by flat sire Sinndar. He couldn’t be in better hands either as his trainer knows exactly what it takes to bag a Triumph, having saddled five winners, and it’s worth noting his apparent second-string, Kentucky Hyden, finished runner-up to Tiger Roll in last year’s renewal.
Another trainer who has proved himself to be a dab hand with juveniles and has landed the race twice in the last decade is Alan King. He’s going to be well represented this time round as, in addition to Karezak, he has PAIN AU CHOCOLAT amongst the entries and this dual winner simply has to be backed too at the current 25/1 (as short as 16/1 in several places). The form of his victories at Plumpton and Sandown last time probably don’t amount to much but he won both contests despite conditions (heavy ground and slow pace) being totally against him. He should come into his own at Cheltenham in March, where he’s likely to settle for the first time, and King has all but said he will now head for the Triumph, rather than take the easier Fred Winter option.
Naturally, you can make a case for plenty of others and it’s entirely possible we haven’t yet seen the winner in public, with several unraced horses amongst the entries. The key trial for the race in recent times has been the Adonis Hurdle, run at Kempton at the end of February, with three of the last ten Triumph winners also successful in that Graded race. I will be keeping a close eye on proceedings there but, in the meantime, I’m very happy with the two selections, who look to have plenty going for them and represent real value against the ridiculously short Peace And Co.