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Dovecote Novices Hurdle Preview and Selection

Friday 24th February 2017
Nicky Henderson

Our top racing columnist Maddy Playle (@mp_horseracing) is back with her latest blog for www.jumpsracing.co.uk. This week, Maddy breaks down the Dovecote Novices Hurdle at Kempton on Saturday, and gives us her selection for the Grade 2 contest...

2m Sky Bet Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)

Capitaine – 9/4

The logical place to start would be with the favourite, Paul Nicholls’s exuberant grey Capitaine. He became known to most people following his runaway win in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Trial at Ascot in December. Sam Twiston Davies was able to dictate the race in front off a slow pace and aided by some great leaps, had the field in trouble entering the straight.

Capitaine stayed on well to record a facile victory with Saturday’s rival Captain Forez 3 ½ lengths adrift. Keep In Line was back in third with Lough Derg Spirit, who won last time out at Musselburgh with Peter The Mayo Man in behind, in fourth.

Capitaine then went to Sandown for the Tolworth Hurdle where he met the highly regarded Finian’s Oscar. He appeared laboured on the ground and a cataclysmic mistake at the last cemented the defeat. The winner has since gone on to score in a workmanlike fashion at Exeter, with bigger targets yet to come. The only other two to have run since haven’t exactly boosted the form, as fourth placed Global Stage disappointed behind Ballyarthur at Leicester and Charlemar found his Doncaster Novices’ Hurdle too hot to handle. 

On all known form, Capitaine deserves to be the favourite. His two defeats this season have both come on soft ground, which he is unlikely to face on Saturday. It is also possible he could get things his own way from a tactical perspective, as of the main players he is the only one who likes to front run.

Despite this, I would be very happy to discard him at the prices as he strikes me as an excitable character with his own ideas about the game. It remains to be seen how he would respond in a battle and he will have more on his plate on Saturday. I would prefer to look elsewhere.

Elgin – 7/2

Course form is always handy when assessing a race like this, and Alan King’s Elgin brings the 32Red Casino Novices’ Hurdle to the table. He beat Mohaayed by 1 ¾ lengths giving him 5lb with Ballyhill, who has since disappointed in the Betfair Hurdle, in third. One time Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Jenkins disappointed in fourth before scoping badly, with smart ex-flat performer Glaring behind him. I watched this race live at Kempton and my initial thoughts were it was a pretty poor renewal.

Elgin’s next run came at Haydock in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle. He ran another solid race but was no match for the superb Neon Wolf, who looks a similar type to the aforementioned Finian’s Oscar. Crievehill finished just two lengths behind him and he hasn’t run since, and old friend Mohaayed was back in fourth.

We know Kempton suits Elgin, and he is a horse with considerable talent. I think he has improved with racing but will need to progress again to score here. In all likelihood he will make a good benchmark as to how we can value this race, and I have no doubt he will go well, but his trainer has a monopoly of young hurdlers and I do not think he is anywhere near the best of them. He looks as if he lacks the required class to win at this level.

River Wylde 7/2

River Wylde has already stumbled across one of Saturday’s rivals in his short career, as Elgin claimed his scalp in a bumper last March, giving him 7lb. He then won a Warwick bumper emphatically before finishing 40 lengths behind Brahms De Clermont at Cheltenham. He played no part in that race under a penalty and I am willing to forgive him that.

The defeat was well and truly banished on hurdling debut at Ludlow, where River Wylde sauntered through the race to score by 7 lengths, with his Cheltenham conqueror Brahms De Clermont discarded in fourth. I am confident this is a more accurate representation of their respective abilities.

Melrose Boy finished in second and has since finished a close third to Eaton Hill and Mount Mews in a decent Novice Hurdle at Wetherby. Monbeg Oscar filled the third position and he has since been turned over by Master Of Irony in a Novice Hurdle at Market Rasen.

I think the race will end up looking an above average renewal in time. River Wylde returned to Ludlow in January and again stamped his authority on the field, despite making a mistake at the last. Grand Turina and The Blue Bomber aren’t bad horses and he gave them 17lb and 7lb respectively.

Can Nicky Henderson claim his 8th Dovecote win this weekend?
Can Nicky Henderson claim his 8th Dovecote win this weekend?

Nicky Henderson’s gelding is the one who has caught my attention in this race. Cheltenham aside, his record is blemish-free and the improvement he has shown excites me. He is a strong staying, gutsy horse who will be running on encouragingly at the finish, and I’m sure in time he will get further. He has got more to prove up in class but he gets 4lb from market leaders Capitaine, Elgin and Peter The Mayo Man, which only serves to makes his job easier.

Henderson is in fine form and it speaks volumes that it is River Wylde who carries these colours in this race, as his owners have an array of smart young hurdlers.

Captain Forez 9/2

If any of these horses scream ‘chaser for the future’ it is undoubtedly Captain Forez. Dan Skelton’s gelding by Network is a towering fellow, and this will be just his fourth lifetime start, having moved to these shores after a promising second in a 2m ½ furlong hurdle at Auteuil.

His first run in Britain came at Newbury in what I think was an outstanding Maiden Hurdle. Captain Forez did much of the donkey work before sticking on to finish an honourable third. Ahead of him were the previously mentioned Jenkins and another highly touted individual in Bags Groove. Pingshou finished in fourth and is a similar type to Captain Forez, and he franked the form next time when beating William Henry and Lieutenant Gruber at Cheltenham in another hot contest.

Next up was the Supreme Trial at Ascot, where he faced one of Saturday’s rivals Capitaine, who had the run of the race. Captain Forez was giving him 7lb though, and failed to show any real change of gear before again running home well. This suggests it is the distant future, rather than the near future, in which he will shine.

I am a massive fan of Captain Forez. He exudes presence and is the stamp of a horse I fall in love with. His two runs in this country have been very good, but I do not think Saturday’s race will marry well to his strengths. He raced in Auteuil on very soft ground, before going to Newbury where it was soft and Ascot where it was good to soft. It is sure to be quicker than that at the weekend and for a horse with such a pronounced knee action I am not sure he will cope with it.

Kempton is a speed track and a more galloping course would surely be more preferable. He does get weight from most of the big guns on Saturday, but I’d be surprised if this allowed him to win. Connections clearly rate him and are minding him for the future, and he is likely to be the best of these once over fences.


The Dovecote Novices Hurdle roll of honour is full of familiar names and has been shared between King (Senorita Rumbelita, Trenchant, Grumeti, Winter Escape), Henderson (Shatabdi, Forgotten Voice, Days Of Heaven) and Nicholls (Escort’men, Irving) in recent years. It is only fitting those three names dominate the card this year.

Race conditions appear as if they will suit Capitaine down to the ground, but I am a little reluctant to trust him in a race like this, and at the prices, he fails to appeal. Elgin is a solid, likeable type but I’m not sure he has beaten anything of note, including Mohaayed, who he faces once more, and I would be disappointed if something couldn’t improve past him.

I would love to see Captain Forez run a sound race but it really is all about the future with him and I’d be surprised if he had the pace to figure at this track and on this ground at this stage in his career. I am suspicious Peter The Mayo Man bossed a trio of poor fields at the start of the season and will now find it hard to give away weight, therefore he can be abandoned.

RIVER WYLDE has shown improvement in abundance and despite slight concerns over very fast ground I am willing to chance him up in class. He has the battle-hardened attitude some of his more inexperienced rivals lack and I think he will be firmly on terms coming to the last. 7/2 is more than fair and I am hopeful he’s read the script at Seven Barrows so Henderson can add another Dovecote winner to his resume.

NB - All prices right at the time of writing

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