Throughout this week I have been previewing one of the big Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival a week before the off time, and to finish my series I’m looking at Friday’s opener – the Triumph Hurdle.
We look set for a fantastic renewal of the Triumph Hurdle this season, with 3 major players lining up according to the market. Zanahiyr and Quilixios have been well fancied in the race for quite some time, but they both do have slight questions marks to answer now having changed trainers to Denise Foster and Henry de Bromhead receptively. Alan King’s Tritonic was the latest entry to throw his hat into the ring however with his recent Adonis success, and he’s seemingly the Horse punters want to get behind – largely aided by the recent uncertainty at Cullentra House. It’s not all about the first 3 in the market though, as Grade 1 winner Adagio will aim to continue the great season that David Pipe has been enjoying thus far.
I’ll start off by looking at Tritonic, who burst onto the scene at Kempton last month. This McNeill Family charge ran to a high level on the Flat for Alan King, reaching an official rating of 99 in a Summer campaign which saw him finish 2nd in the Golden Gates Handicap at Royal Ascot, before then finishing 2nd in the Listed Glasgow Stakes at Hamilton. Unusually for a Juvenile however, connections only Gelded him in October – so he’s always been on the back foot a little considering most of his Triumph Hurdle rivals were already starting their National Hunt careers at that point. Finally making his return to the track at Ascot in January however, Tritonic ran in what looked a pretty ordinary Juvenile Hurdle and was sent off the 5/4 favourite – but if you took that price you’d have been sweating heading down towards the last as Casa Loupi travelled much the best and held a 4 length lead. Composing himself after making a mess of the final flight however, Tritonic showcased his stamina to run down that rival in the final 150 yards – getting up to score by a length at the finish.
At this point it was understandable that there was barely a move for Tritonic in the Triumph Hurdle market, but that would all change after his next start in Kempton’s Grade 2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle on Good ground last month – as once again Tritonic was sent off a short priced favourite, but this time he won in much more convincing style. He was certainly very visually impressive when putting 10 lengths between himself and the re-opposing Casa Loupi (133) after the final flight, but I honestly think Tritonic is the worst priced favourite at the Cheltenham Festival. For starters he does not jump well enough; even in that impressive win he flattened the second last Hurdle to the ground. Secondly he’s not beaten a Horse who would get anywhere near the places in the Triumph, and you’d have fully expected him to beat Casa Loupi at Kempton by a lot further than he did at Ascot considering it was run on quicker ground. My biggest issue with his chances however is the fact that the Adonis has a terrible recent habit of throwing up an impressive winner who flattens to deceive afterwards; last year I was all over Solo because he looked so impressive when winning by 13 lengths at Kempton, yet he was stuffed 10.5 lengths in the Triumph. In 2018 Redicean won by an impressive 7 lengths before being stuffed 27 lengths, in 2017 Master Blueyes won by 11 lengths before being stuffed 19.5 lengths, in 2016 Zubayr won readily by 4 lengths yet was stuffed 32 lengths, in 2015 Beltor won by an impressive 5 lengths before being stuffed 21 lengths, and even Baby Mix won by 2 lengths in 2012 before being beaten 11.5 lengths. I may well be proved wrong, but with no winner of the Adonis landing the Triumph Hurdle since Zarkandar in 2011, I just cannot be having Tritonic as joint favourite at all here.
If you’re going to back one at the shorter odds then Zanahiyr is by far the better bet in my eyes, as he has enjoyed a genuinely impressive campaign for Gordon Elliott. This ex Mick Halford/Aga Khan Juvenile started his Jumps career by winning a 2m2f 3yo Maiden Hurdle at Ballinrobe in October, before he then stepped straight into Graded company at the November Fairyhouse meeting. Only sent off second favourite for that Grade 3 Juvenile Hurdle, Zanahiyr cruised up alongside Saint Sam (139) before sprinting away after the penultimate flight. After pinging the last, Jack Kennedy just let him ease his way up the run in when scoring by a very easy 14 lengths, and he certainly didn’t show any signs of being slow when recording a time 10 seconds quicker than the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle ran straight afterwards.
Continuing on his roll, Zanahiyr once more put in a nice performance when winning the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on his next start over Christmas – where this time he showed he could quicken off a slow pace, jumping the last before putting 3.75 lengths between himself and Busselton (135) under a hands and heels ride. There are obviously slight question marks about Zanahiyr now he is being trained by Denise Foster instead of Gordon Elliott, but I’d imagine at this point the majority of work will have been done – especially as he is one of those Horses who have been put away since Christmas with this race specifically in mind. The only off-putting thing with Zanahiyr really is his shorter price, but if you were offering me a match bet between himself and Tritonic I’d be taking Zanahiyr every day of the week.
Adagio is certainly worth taking his chance here having improved enough to win the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January, but I think he’d have to improve a bundle again to be winning a race like this. The Horse who I have had one eye on the Triumph Hurdle for since October however is Quilixios, and he has done nothing to put me off his chances. Unlike Tritonic and Zanahiyr who came from the Flat, Quilixios has been jumping from a very young age having started his career with Francois Nicolle in France – for whom he won a Compiegne Juvenile Hurdle by 12 lengths last March. The fact that this Horse won his first Hurdle race over a year ago speaks volumes about the length of time he has been Jumping, and it also means that he isn’t even a Novice Hurdler – so he only gets to run in the Triumph Hurdle as it is a Conditions race for Horses aged four. Nevertheless, he started his career in Ireland with a ruthless success in a 3yo Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown – jumping fantastically and putting 13 lengths between himself and the rest. He made much the same impression on his next start at Down Royal just 18 days later, where this time in all honesty he faced a bunch of trees – but he could do no more than what he did, jumping perfectly once again to score by an eased down 20 lengths. It would end up being a long wait until we saw Quilixios again after that run however, as he was due to turn up in that aforementioned Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow – but a travel ban between Britain and Ireland owing to COVID-19 wasn’t lifted in time for him to travel across, so he had to wait a little longer until the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.
Throughout the day Quilixios was pretty easy to back in the market, but close to the off-time money started to pile in on him to make a winning return – and he duly did just that. Once again putting in an exemplary round of jumping, Quilixios effortlessly breezed past Saint Sam (139) rounding the home bend, and after pinging the last he just maintained a 5.5 length lead up the run in to score nicely. I think there is plenty of reason to believe that he will come on massively for that run considering the length of time between races however, and I don’t think the quicker ground at Cheltenham will inconvenience him at all – as his flawless jumping will always ensure that he is gaining on his rivals. One obvious concern Quilixios will need to answer now is how the stable change from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead will affect him – and by the time we get to the Friday we will probably have a good idea – but the fact that Henry uses the same feed and hay as they do at Cullentra House would suggest that it shouldn’t pose too many issues. Straight after his win at the Dublin Racing Festival connections were saying that there was no doubt in their mind that Zanahiyr is the better Horse of the pair, but I really think the 2m1f trip at a track like Cheltenham will play to his strengths – and as much as you do need some speed to win a Triumph (which he certainly isn’t short of!), you equally need the ability to jump and travel as strongly as Quilixios does. Even if Zanahiyr does just have that better turn of foot after the last, I’d expect Quilixios to be hitting the frame here at the very least.
I will be keeping an eye on Zanahiyr’s price to see if it is worth placing a cover bet, but I’m firmly in the Quilixios camp and I’m hopeful that Cheveley Park Stud will be able to record their first success in the Triumph Hurdle. I’ll probably have to duck for cover if Tritonic does go on to win considering most of Twitter seem to fancy him, but I couldn’t be more against the Alan King charge at what looks a very poor price of 9/4. I envisage Quilixios having Tritonic beaten purely down to his brilliant jumping, and he’ll certainly travel into the race on the bridle for a long way. Considering the race will be run on the New Course it should hopefully turn into a bit of a stamina test rather than purely speed, and at that point Quilixios would be finishing just as well as anything else.
Good luck! – Jake Price