The Triumph Hurdle has long been associated with producing future stars of the National Hunt with several big names of the jumps world landing the race as four-year-olds in the past en route to bigger and better things in the sport. They include Zarkandar, Celestial Halo and Katchit in recent years and there’s a host of promising youngster entered in the opening race of the final day of the Festival who will be looking to assert their future credentials in the Grade One event on Friday, 14th March.
At the head of the betting is the Nick Williams trained Le Rocher, who has been the favourite for the race since demolishing a field of five rivals over course and distance on Festival Trials Day at Prestbury Park at the end of January. A 10 length victory over Nicky Henderson’s Kentucky Hyden that day and a further five lengths in front of the much talked about Vicenzo Mio from the Paul Nicholls yard, was enough for bookmakers to single out the French import as the one to beat in the Triumph Hurdle.
It was only Le Rocher’s second start on British shores after making the switch to his new home in Devon last autumn and his debut also resulted in victory for his new connections with a win in the Grade One Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow on Welsh National day, where he once again finished ahead of Kentucky Hyden. The Henderson runner was a long time feature at the top of the Triumph market following his 33 length victory at Sandown on is British debut in November but failure to build on that promising start has seen his odds slide from 12/1 to as big as 40/1 whilst Le Rocher is a best price 6/1 to make it a hat-trick of victories for the season when he lines up once more at Prestbury Park.
Another French import who will be looking to record his third win of the season following a move across the Channel is the Paul Nicholls trained Calipto who heads to Cheltenham contesting favouritism with the current market leader following a brace of wins at Newbury. The more recent of those two wins at the Berkshire track came a couple of weeks back in the Betfair Novices’ Hurdle where he justified his 4/6 favourite tag with consummate ease but in all fairness, didn’t have a great deal to beat on that occasion. However, the form of his first Newbury win was franked last weekend when the Harry Fry trained Activial, who finished just over three lengths behind Calipto in November, won the Adonis at Kempton on his first start since that defeat and was cut in to 12/1 for Triumph Hurdle glory in the process.
The Newbury form between the pair clearly favours Calipto but there’s no doubting that Activial has improved since their last meeting and it would be no surprise to see the form reversed but at this stage, preference amongst the aforementioned trio has to be for Le Rocher who possesses the all-important course form.
One horse in the mix who doesn’t have winning form at Prestbury Park but finished second in the Triumph Hurdle trial at the Open Meeting earlier in the season is Guitar Pete, who represents the pick of the Irish Raiders following back-to-back wins at Leopardstown in the past couple of months; firstly in a Grade Two at the Christmas meeting and more recently in the Grade One Spring Juvenile Hurdle on the 9th February. That latest victory saw Guitar Pete’s odds cut from 25/1 in to the current best price of 10/1 to win the Triumph and as only one of two runners entered that boasts Grade One winning form, he has to be respected.
The runner up to Guitar Pete in that Grade One was Tiger Roll, son of 2007 Derby winner, Authorized, who won his first start in a hurdle at Market Rasen last November before falling short at Leopardstown last time out and the Gordon Elliott youngster could be anything as he heads over the Irish Sea and it’s not inconceivable that he could reverse that form at Cheltenham after jockey, Bryan Cooper, lost his whip during that race and could well be a dark horse at odds of 16/1.
The John Ferguson trained Broughton made a late claim for consideration when he landed the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh in early February in what was only his second start over obstacles following a career as a modest handicapper on the flat. More would be required on Gold Cup day if he’s to win the Triumph but clearly a horse heading in the right direction, it would be no surprise to see this son of Teofilo make his presence felt and is available to back at 14/1.
Another entry that has made the switch from flat to jumps is Pearl Castle who has won two of his three starts since transferring to the yard of John Quinn from Andrew Balding and is open to further progress after two eye-catching performances at Doncaster already in 2014 and could be worth a second look in the betting at 16/1 for anybody looking for a bit of value.
The leading protagonists in the Triumph Hurdle are all open to improvement and quantifying what a horse still has to offer is always difficult when assessing races involving novices. Therefore, the safest option is to look at what little known form is in the book and the fact that Le Rocher is already a Grade One winner and an easy winner over course and distance means the Nick Williams runner gets the nod to win the 2014 Triumph Hurdle. Fellow Grade One winner and another who has proved he is capable of running a big race at Cheltenham, Guitar Pete, is taken as the next best alternative whilst Tiger Roll is the prediction to complete the first three home.
Triumph Hurdle Prediction
1st – Le Rocher 2nd – Guitar Pete 3rd - Tiger Roll