Our expert analyses the ante-post betting for the County Hurdle and picks out an Irish raider who could make a big impact on his first appearance at the Cheltenham Festival.
The County Hurdle has taken pride of place on the final afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival for almost 90 years, providing punters with an exciting prelude to the Albert Bartlett and the main event of the entire week, the Gold Cup. This exhilarating, two mile handicap has tended to favour younger horses over the last few years, with a big emphasis placed on raw speed and hurdling ability.
Dan Skelton landed this title last year, when the heavily-backed Super Story sped away from the leading pack to land the Warwickshire-based trainer a maiden Cheltenham Festival title. He and his brother, Harry will team up again on North Hill Harvey
(14/1 William Hill
), who stayed on well to claim victory in the Greatwood here at Cheltenham on his last appearance. That remains the six-year-old’s one and only outing of the season, as his connection have debated when and where to step him up in trip. However, time is running out this season, so another outing over two miles at Cheltenham looks like his only real option.
The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury has long been seen as a key trial for the County Hurdle. That race is yet to be run this season, but two of the leading contenders for that title, Consul De Thaix
(16/1 William Hill
) and Movewiththetimes
) feature prominently in the ante-post Festival betting.
Consul De Thaix has finished a close second to his stablemate and Champion Hurdle contender, Brain Power on two separate occasions in high profile races this season. Since arriving at Nicky Henderson’s yard, he’s been raced solely in Listed and Graded contests, so his connection clearly think very highly of the youngster. A huge victory may just be around the corner.
Movewiththetimes beat a very handy flat racer in Cruisaweigh on his only bumper outing and has gone on to win two of his three appearances in hurdling contests. He was heavily hampered coming around the final bend in the Sharp Novices’ Supreme Trial here at Cheltenham, but still managed to pass the post less than four lengths behind Moon Racer in fifth.
Both look like potential Betfair Hurdle winners at Newbury, when the race is run later this month. A good performance there is sure to see their County Hurdle odds drift in towards favouritism, but how heavily the handicapper will punish any success will be all important to their Festival chances.Movewiththetimes (pictured) and Consul De Thaix will fly the J. P. McManus flag in the County Hurdle.
Leopardstown also hosts an important County Hurdle trial at the end of January and it was 20/1 shot Ice Cold Soul
) who landed the prestigious Coral.ie Handicap Hurdle title this year. Noel Meade's seven-year-old had won a good handicap at Leopardstown earlier in the autumn, but it was still a turn up for the books when he got ahead of the leaders before the last fence and stayed on for a huge victory.
Ebor winner and Melbourne Cup runner-up, Heartbreak City
) was the 9/4 favourite on his return to National Hunt racing in the Coral.ie Hurdle, but A. J. Martin’s charge failed to make his presence felt in the large field and he eventually finished eighth. Golden Spear
) ran on well for fourth behind Brain Power and Consul De Thaix in the Wessex Youth Trust Hurdle at Ascot. He performed well again to finish a close third at Leopardstown and he could be a danger when he embarks on his first visit to Prestbury Park.
(14/1 William Hill
) pulled off a big upset at Punchestown’s early February meeting when he got up late to deny Supreme Novices’ hopeful, Cilaos Emery what looked like being a routine victory. Gordon Elliott’s charge has raced at Cheltenham once before, but his poor effort in the 2015 Greatwood behind Old Guard is an experience he will want to forget. A few jumping mistakes cost him dearly in the lucrative Bar One Racing Handicap at Fairyhouse in December, but his latest victory was extremely encouraging and he has to be considered a prime contender for this title.
) has also been a prominent flat racer over recent seasons, claiming a Grade 2 victory at York during the summer of 2015. He only featured twice during 2016 and hasn’t jumped a hurdle for over 18 months, but he finished fourth when Wicklow Brave won this title in 2015 and at a rating of 141, he remains a credible option for Willie Mullins. That’s A Wrap
) put his seasonal unbeaten record on the line in the Coral.ie Hurdle and he didn’t disgrace himself when coming home less than three lengths behind the winner in sixth. He will be amongst the lower weighted horses if Thomas Mullins sends him to the Country Hurdle, and he is sure to garner plenty of support.Diego Du Charmil
returned to winning ways on his last outing at Musselburgh and Paul Nicholls’ reigning Fred Winter champion will be a tough nut to crack as he returns to try and claim a second Festival title. Who Dares Wins
) was a 10/1 shot in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, but a weak performance saw him trail home near the rear of the field. He’s claimed a solitary hurdling victory this season, after a decent summer spent on the flat racing circuit, but he’s likely to be burdened with a heavy weight if he lines up in the County Hurdle.
Diego Du Charmil (blue, pink cap) will be looking for a second Festival win in a row, after claiming the Fred Winter title last year.
Reigning Triumph Champion, Ivanovic Gorbatov
) is an interesting prospect further down the ante-post betting. Joseph O’Brien’s five-year-old cut an impressive figure when beating Apple’s Jade to that title last year, but whilst the runner-up has gone from strength-to-strength, the champion has failed to win another race since. This would be a distinct step down in quality and with a rating of 148, he’s sure to be amongst the top weighted horses in this handicap, but if this is his chosen path, he has to be considered a threat.
Consul De Thaix is due a big victory and this could be the perfect place for him to do it. However, his inability to claim victory in his career so far has to cast a showdown of doubt over a possible Festival triumph. Diego Du Charmil and That's A Wrap represent good each-way value and Ivanovic Gorbatov is an obvious choice for a Non-Runner, No Bet wager, but it’s MICK JAZZ who the finger of selection lands on in this year’s County Hurdle.
Willie Mullins’ Cilaos Emery didn’t run badly when Gordon Elliott’s charge outstayed him at Punchestown. Mick Jazz proved that day he was a two mile hurdler not to be messed with and at a rating of 142, he is likely to go to post at a very workable weight around the low 11 stone mark. Hopefully, a return to Cheltenham won’t bring back too many bad memories of his last visit and if he can put in another confident, error-free performance, the County Hurdle could be his for the taking.
17/3/2017 14:10pm Cheltenham selection – MICK JAZZ (14/1 William Hill)