The County Hurdle is another brutal Cheltenham handicap but our final six here are all capable of giving a good account of themselves and the selection looks potentially very well handicapped.
There is a train of thought that a left-handed track isn’t his ideal, but he has put up one big performance around Cheltenham before when fifth in a conditional jockey’s handicap hurdle last April.
The ground seems to be drying ever so slightly now and that may be to his advantage too, though whether after winning around Taunton and going up 6lbs having previously won one of 7 races he is well enough treated for this race remains to be seen.
Although not quite back to his previous best, Ch’tibello ran a cracker when second at Aintree in December off 3lbs lower than today and he’s had a wind operation since. If the wind op has done the trick, and knowing he has been better in the past, then some significant improvement could be coming from Dan Skelton’s eight-year-old.
He seems to go on most types of ground and this trip is ideal so a big run is on the cards, though this is frightfully competitive and his strike-rate really isn’t the best over hurdles.
Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson team up here with a horse who is now three from three over hurdles after his latest win at Newbury a fortnight ago.
Considering he has shown a liking for slightly faster ground of late but has in fact won around Cheltenham on soft, he ticks a lot of boxes where underfoot and track conditions are concerned so the question that remains concerns his ability.
He’s an improving type who gets in here of effectively a 5lb higher mark than his latest showing and there’s no reason that alone should stop him.
This one is only a five-year-old with potentially more to give than what we’ve seen thus far, but conversely he has been kept busy meaning we have a pretty good handle on where he stands against this field.
One thing we do know is that he’ll have to be able to take his racing very well having been second to Malaya in the Imperial Cup at Sandown Park only 6 days ago so this may be a lot to ask of him, but there is no doubt that on bare form he has just as good a chance as any.
Inexplicably one of the outsiders for this race, Sternrubin was third in this race three years ago and ran second to Capitaine last time out who is one of the leading lights for this year’s contest.
If that Taunton form is any good then his price of around 25/1 is ridiculous given that Capitaine himself, who we do rate, is less than half that price so on the grounds of value alone he has to rate as a decent each-way prospect whatever wins the race.
Willie Mullins winning this race? Well it’s only happened four times in the last 9 years! He surely has yet another outstanding chance of taking the trophy again with this Whiskey Sour who was third in the race last year on only his fourth hurdle start.
It’s hard to say he’s gone forward a hell of a lot since then on the books but he’s only ever run on proper soft ground and it’s just possible his progression has been curtailed by that.
Today’s conditions may be a little more to his liking and we could just see him take a fair leap forward here when it really counts, something that would potentially make him look very well handicapped if it happens and I’m sure his master trainer is fully aware of it.
We could look like mugs after waxing lyrical about Whiskey Sour and then not tipping him, but while his potential is there based on his trainer’s history his own race record doesn’t scream that he’s as well-in as the odds would suggest.
The one we think has the potential to outrun his handicap mark more significantly is this CROOKS PEAK, a horse who has a good history on varying types of ground and who beat Danny Kirwan in a match giving him 6lbs. With that horse having run second to the 150-rated Angels Breath off level weights and our boy in here off 138, there are plenty of pointers towards a huge run.