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2017 County Hurdle tips - Mick can play all the right notes at the Cheltenham Festival

Jonathan Vine in Friday 16 Mar 2017
Superb Story winning the County Hurdle on Gold Cup day last year.

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 (7/1 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.

Movewiththetimes (10/1 bet365) beat a very handy flat racer in Cruisaweigh on his only bumper outing and has gone on to win two of his four 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. The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury has long been seen as a key trial for the County Hurdle and Alan King's youngster pushed Supreme Novice contender, Ballyandy all the way to the post and could easily have won on a different day. He is likely to be treated kindly at the weights if the County Hurdle is his Festival destination, so he has to be respected.

Leopardstown also hosts an important County Hurdle trial at the end of January and it was 20/1 shot Ice Cold Soul (20/1 bet365) who landed the prestigious 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. Golden Spear (12/1 BetVictor) 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 behind Ice Cold Soul at Leopardstown and he could be a danger when he embarks on his first visit to Prestbury Park.

Mick Jazz (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.

Nicky Henderson confirmed in his stable tour that Peace and Co (10/1 BetVictor) will be making his return to action in the County Hurdle. The 2015 Triumph Hurdle winner wandered off into the wilderness last year, forcing Henderson to pull him out of the firing line and work him hard on the gallops for the best part of a year. Apparently, he is a much more patient runner now and won't streak off at the front of the field as soon as the starter drops his flag. If he has matured and improved, like Henderson says he has, he will be difficult to stop.

Willie Mullins' Bleu Et Rouge (16/1 bet365) is fancied by many to spring a surprise and challenge for the County Hurdle title, despite struggling for form this season, with his only win coming in a 19 furlong contest where he beat Gangster by less than a length. Diego Du Charmil (16/1 BetVictor) 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. 

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 (20/1 William Hill) 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.

North Hill Harvey has course-and-distance winning form to back up his claims, despite seeming like a better staying prospect than a two mile sprinter. It will be very interesting to see how Peace and Co copes on his reappearance and he could be a massive danger if he has got his act together, 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)

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2017 County Hurdle tips - Mick can play all the right notes at the Cheltenham Festival

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.

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