Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: Triumph Hurdle

2m1f Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) – Friday 13th March 2020

It’s been a bit of a strange season in terms of Juvenile Hurdlers; in recent years we’ve come accustomed to JP McManus having the perceived ‘best’ four-year-old, with Horses under his ownership going off as Triumph Hurdle favourite in the past four successive years. Elsewhere high-profile trainers Gordon Elliot, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins have a combined entry of two Horses in the 2020 Juvenile showpiece – a lowest joint entry since 2010. Despite the absence of famous connections, an intriguing trio of Juveniles emerged from quite an early stage; namely Allmankind, Aspire Tower and Goshen.

Gary Moore’s Goshen has been a revelation since starting his three-year-old campaign at Brighton in June, bolting up in three successive Handicaps on the Flat to see his official rating climb 24lbs. This improvement materialised from a combination of stepping up in trip and allowing him to race much more prominently, tactics which have played perfectly into his hands over Hurdles. What has followed is three wide margin successes in small field Juvenile Hurdles, where he has made virtually all on each occasion. The first of those came at Fontwell when winning by 23 lengths, then Sandown by 34 lengths, and finally Ascot by 11 lengths. Goshen raced keenly on each occasion, but most worryingly in regard to his Cheltenham chances is his jumping out to the right. On Goshen’s sole start going left-handed over Hurdles he jumped right at all nine Hurdles jumped. Since that debut run, he’s ran twice at right-handed tracks in Sandown and Ascot, where he jumped right at 9/16 Hurdles taken across both runs. A particular habit Goshen has is to get progressively worse as the race goes on, with him running down the last two flights and jumping dramatically right on all three starts over timber. With this jumping tendency in mind, he could not be on my radar stepping up to Graded level for the first time at Cheltenham.

Another tearaway who would have a much better chance in my eyes is Dan Skelton’s Allmankind. This 86 rated Flat Horse joined Lodge Hill from Michael Bell, having undergone a wind-operation before starting his career under National Hunt rules. Making his debut at Warwick in November, Allmankind pulled like a train under Harry Skelton, but absolutely bolted in by a massive 37 lengths. Although clearly on the day Allmankind didn’t seem to beat much, the form has technically taken a boost from distant-fourth Galahad Quest, who has since won a the Grade 2 Triumph Trial at Cheltenham on Trials Day. Regardless on the form, Allmankind was impressive on his debut, and proved that he is a good Horse when stepping into Grade 2 company at Cheltenham himself in December. Lining up against some nice Juveniles such as Botox Has (139), Allmankind made all on the Old Course at Prestbury Park, despite losing his left fore shoe. This impressive performance was then followed up at the highest level on Welsh National Day, with Dan Skelton’s Sea The Moon gelding winning the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle on Heavy ground. Once more making all under Harry, Allmankind gave us a first real comparison to the Irish contingent, beating Joseph O’Brien’s Cerberus by an impressive nine-lengths.

That brings me perfectly on to Aspire Tower, who looks to head a fairly weak looking Irish challenge. This Henry de Bromhead charge is another to graduate from the Flat with an official rating of 86, and is another who likes to go from the front – making all at Punchestown on Hurdles debut to score by thirteen-lengths. Like Allmankind, this Son of Born To Sea was stepped up into Grade 2 company following on from his Maiden success, where once more he made all to score by an impressive 18 lengths, in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Heading back to that track for the Dublin Racing Festival last month, Apsire Tower was sent off as a short-priced favourite to continue his unbeaten record over obstacles. Racing keenly under Rachael Blackmore, this four-year-old didn’t have his usual long lead coming down to the second last flight, and was joined before the last when taking a fall. The Horse who joined him that day was Cerberus, well beaten by Allmankind on his previous start. Although he ended up pulling himself up and not winning the race, I did find it worrying that the first time Aspire Tower found himself under pressure he made a mistake – and he now has a massive stat to overcome heading to Cheltenham. No Juvenile Hurdler has won the Triumph Hurdle having fallen on their last start over the past ten years.

Clearly of the trio mentioned, Allmankind would have been my selection on form – but it’s hard to get away from the well cited fact that each Horse likes to get on with the race from the front, which could cause a frantic pace and mean that at least one of the three boil over. Aspire Tower seemingly has the better temperament of the trio, but I cannot envisage Allmankind or Goshen settling anywhere other than in the lead. Considering this potential pace burn-up in combination with my thoughts that the Juvenile Hurdle division needed a stand-out Horse to emerge, the performance of Solo in the Adonis took my breath away.

Ante-Post Article Horse Name Header Image - Solo

Solo made his Hurdles debut at Auteuil in October for legendary trainer Guillaume Macaire – responsible for the likes of Long Run, Vautour and Master Minded just to name a few. Chasing the leaders that day, Solo was travelling extremely well between the final two flights, but couldn’t quicken when asked for an effort from Adrien Fouchet, finishing second to Stratagem – a Horse who’s since joined Paul Nicholls and won at Kelso last month. Despite not winning on his first start over Hurdles, Solo made amends under no uncertain terms at the same track in November, going well clear after the fourth Hurdle and winning by an impressive 15 lengths. Shortly afterwards Solo was purchased by Johnny de la Hey, to go into training with Paul Nicholls. The Champion Trainer is no stranger to having top quality French Juvenile recruits, perhaps most famously training Zarkandar to win the Adonis before Triumph Hurdle success – and that’s the exact route Solo will bid to emulate. Connections have had to take their time with Solo considering he is unusually a Colt, who only joined Ditcheat in November. Having had time to acclimatise, Solo was due to run at Wincanton in a Novices’ Hurdle before the meeting had to be abandoned – meaning the Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton was his last real chance of having a run before the Festival. Settling well to chase the leader, Solo was travelling powerfully and was forced to take up the running from the fourth flight. What followed was a scincillating success under Harry Cobden, with the pair readily pulling clear to score by thirteen-lengths, beating the useful Fujimoto Flyer (135). Although the Handicapper has seemingly gone overboard handing out an official rating of 157, the manor of Solo’s success on just his first start over obstacles in England was simply breathtaking.

Solo will clearly need to take another step forward at the Cheltenham Festival, but his running style of being able to settle in behind the leaders will be perfect considering the previously discussed front-runners. The fact that Solo was forced to take up the running four from home at Kempton suggests he will be suited to a stronger gallop, and he looks like a potential superstar in the making.

Solo 3pts Win @ 10/3 NRNB

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