In the latest of GG’s Cheltenham Festival previews, Rory Delargy (@helynsar) gives us his strong views and his latest Cheltenham tips
Since the advent of the Fred Winter (Boodles) Handicap, the days of 30-runner cavalry charges are long gone, and the Triumph as a war of attrition for immature hurdlers is no longer a consideration, with the classier runners not forced either to go faster than ideal to hold a position, nor to trust to luck by being ridden off the pace and behind rivals who can easily fall in their laps.
So, in theory at least, the Triumph is easier to solve, but this year’s edition is complicated by two factors. Firstly, the horses who have advertised the strongest credentials all have similar running styles, and could compromise each other if trying to dominate, potentially getting back to the old scenario of an overly-fast pace setting things up for those more patiently ridden.
Secondly, and more worryingly from my point of view, there seems a singular lack of talent coming through to challenge those horses. Let’s look at the key contenders
Arguably the most exciting juvenile around is Goshen, and while I believe he is good enough in terms of ability to win a Triumph, that alone isn’t enough, especially as he is a horse who really wants to attack, regardless of the tactics his jockey and trainer might prefer.
His wins by 23 lengths at Fontwell, 34 lengths at Sandown, and 11 lengths at Ascot show that he has a big engine, but he’s been beating up second-class opposition while failing to improve his slipshod jumping, or learning to race more efficiently.
The big test for him will come this weekend, and if he impresses going back left-handed in the Victor Ludorum, then I’d expect him to shorten up considerably, but I’d still want to see him show he can settle and jump straight, because even if he wins at Haydock without fixing those issues, I can’t see him getting away with diving to the right at Cheltenham.
If I’m going to criticise Goshen for being a one-dimensional bully, that criticism also holds true for Allmankind, who is a headstrong sort who has little hope of settling if he’s not allowed to bowl along.
He’s a course winner at Cheltenham, though, and a Grade 1 winner in the Finale at Chepstow, so deserves to be considered one of the leading contenders, and the fact that he’s been tested against all comers gives him a tick in that box which Goshen is missing. Again, it’s easy to see the pair hooking up, and it won’t be easy for their riders to ensure the pair have enough left for the final climb.
It’s significant, that both Allmankind and Goshen have posted relatively slow final sectionals in all their races over hurdles, and while that is perfectly understandable when they are winning their races through relentless pace, such tactics have not been successful in this race in recent times.
That’s not to say that front runners cannot win, but that they must save some of their speed for the final hill, and that is something the leading contenders must prove they can do.
It’s significant that the third of the trio at the head of the market, Aspire Tower, was ridden a little more conservatively in front when a hot favourite for the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, and while he was still in front when clipping the top bar of the last hurdle and falling, he would have run below form.
Aspire Tower’s best effort came when beating Wolf Prince and A Wave of The Sea by wide margins at Leopardstown over Christmas, and with the Grade 1 Spring proving the best Triumph Trial in recent years, the fact that those two dominated the latter race after Aspire Tower’s fall shows the earlier race in a much better light, but the overall time of the Spring compares favourably with other races run by the main protagonists, and it would be unwise to write it off just because the favourite fell.
In my view, there have been few really smart juveniles to show their cards this season, but Aspire Tower would appear the best of them, but only just. A fall is not the ideal preparation for the Triumph, for all many Cheltenham winners over the years have blundered at that same hurdle, and even the outstanding Istabraq was twice a faller at Leopardstown’s final flight in his penultimate season, winning the Irish Champion Hurdle in between.
So all three of those with the best form and who sit at the head of the market are best when putting their rivals to the sword in the middle part of their races. If they help each other, they could dominate completely, but my feeling is that putting the trio together will militate against each of them, and while the resultant strong pace will get plenty in trouble, a hold-up performer with Grade 1 form could find the race run to suit ideally.
The easiest prediction is that the presence of Goshen, Allmankind and Aspire Tower will lead to a race run at an unsustainable pace – although if one of the trio consents to settle just behind the lead it will change things – and that will suit one who has a late closing style, assuming they have the class and experience to hold a position.
The horse who most fits that bill is the Spring Juvenile Hurdle winner A WAVE OF THE SEA, and while he’s not an outstanding candidate in terms of ratings, he doesn’t have much to find, and demonstrated that he could win from off the pace at Leopardstown
Rory Delargy’s selection
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