Yet another competitive Cheltenham Festival handicap and yet another where the money is likely to pour in for one of JP McManus’ horses.
While the pace of the race, the trip and the ground are all important here, we never lose site when previewing these races of the fact that the key ingredient for success is being well handicapped and we reckon we’ve found one who is probably 10lbs better than his current mark.
Here are our six against the field:
Dealing with the negatives first; Adjali hasn’t won a hurdle race since December 2018 and he was rather disappointing on his seasonal debut at Ascot back in November.
However, the form he’s shown on soft ground at Chepstow and in finishing third to Fakir D’oudairies in the Triumph Hurdle Trial last year marked him out as decent and with plenty more progression to come.
He was 7th in the Triumph Hurdle last year, fourth in a Grade 1 behind Pentland Hills and has had a much-needed breathing operation since his last start.
On the balance of his form and knowing what is expected of him, it’s easy to see a much better run coming now in these conditions and so off a mark of 140 he actually begins to look pretty well handicapped.
Right up at the top of the weights, Willie Mullins’ charge has enough experience and was fourth and fifth the last twice in Grade 1 hurdles behind some top-class animals.
Runs such as that probably haven’t done his handicap mark any good, but he’s solid and will like these conditions as he proved with a good sixth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here last year.
Ciel De Neige
The one for money and another likely market leader for JP McManus, this horse was second in a very tough Newbury handicap last time and on form he’s a leading contender.
However, that race was run on good ground and he was beaten at long odds-on the time before in a soft ground maiden, so there are some lingering doubts about underfoot conditions despite his third last year in the Fred Winter.
Ridden by Barry Geraghty but not carrying the first colours of JP McManus, Saint Roi just about makes the shortlist on potential but he is very hard to assess after two maiden hurdle runs in Ireland.
He won the second of those races very comfortably on soft ground it has to be said and he had fair form in France having been third in a Listed race, but whether the rough and tumble of this contest is up his street has in no way been proven yet.
A live outsider for sure after two good runs in £100,000+ handicaps at Ascot and Newbury, where there was also some encouragement as far as handling this course goes.
Just behind Ciel De Neige in that good ground race last time, his form is solid but also kind of shows what he can do so back in these conditions we couldn’t say with any great confidence that he has something in hand on the handicapper.
Another from that Newbury contest this time having been back in eighth place, there is more to like with this one in that he has been better on softer going and so we can probably upgrade his performance from last month a little.
With that in mind and given the fact that he has actually been dropped a couple of pounds for finishing just six lengths off the pace, he very definitely enters calculations with the added bonus being that we’ve seen him do well here before when he was second in a Cheltenham novice hurdle in December.
Should he rediscover the form of his Fred Winter run last year now he’s back on this ground, then of course Ciel De Neige is a leading contender and he’s certain to be well backed. He would be on a par however with Stolen Silver for us in these conditions while Sir Valentine should not be this price, but none of them truly stand out on the handicap.
The one who does is Nicky Henderson’s ADJALI who looks way better than a 140 horse, something that after a wind op, some time off the track and for racing in these conditions he may well be about to prove at a very nice price.