Prospect Wells will be attempting to prove why he is the antepost favourite for the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March by winning this weekend’s hugely competitive looking Ladbrokes Hurdle over 2 miles at Ascot on Saturday.
Already twice a winner from three starts this season, Prospect Wells is one of those select few Graham Wylie owned horses that has moved south to the yard of Paul Nicholls from the now defunct yard of Howard Johnson operation. The six year old has it seems, progressed nicely at Ditcheat, and although he had to be content with second place in the Grade 2 Sharp Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, he put up a good show against the winner, Steps To Freedom, who is the current antepost favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Prospect Wells is currently the 7/2 favourite to win Saturday’s race.
Next best in the market is the Nicky Henderson trained representative, Gibb River, with odds of 9/1. Henderson of course has saddled three winners of this race in the last ten years including the last two, Sentry Duty in 2008 and Jack The Giant in 2007. Gibb River seemed to have made the transition from the flat to hurdles last season with absolute aplomb, winning three times on the bounce in non-pattern races. However he was clearly outclassed in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival back in March and was also beaten into third place, first time out this season in a Listed race at Sandown a fortnight ago. He should improve for that run and now in handicap company, he has to be in with a decent chance.
Following his excellent effort last week in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham over 2m5f, the Paul Nicholls first string entry, Brampour, despite carrying top weight, should have enough class about him to get close. The 10/1 shot was beaten into third place in the ‘International’ by the very classy Grandouet and the hugely improved Overturn but as only a four year he has to be given great credit.
Based on his second place behind Steps To Freedom at Punchestown in October, the Edward O’Grady trained Sailors Warn has to be in with a big chance, despite only being 12//1 in the market. He was only 1¾ lengths behind Steps To Freedom in that race and came up against another ‘good thing’ Unaccompanied from the Dermot Weld stable next time in a Listed race over 2 miles at Naas. He was beaten three lengths in that but the winner is a hugely classy novice who was second behind the brilliant Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham back in March.
Sailors Warn would appear to have a better chance than the other 12/1 shot in the race, Raya Star from the Alan King yard, who finished third last time out in a Listed race over 2m1f at Newbury, beaten in that race by over ten lengths by winner, Rock On Ruby. However the five year old is well in at the weights and is from a stable that has been extremely consistent lately.
The one preferred for each way purposes is the Dr Richard Newland entry, Act Of Kalanisi, last seen running into third place in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton just over a month ago. Dr Newland as we all know has a great knack of getting his horses in the picture in big handicap races. There was no better example of this than last weekend when he landed a big handicap chase at Cheltenham with Night Alliance. Act Of Kalanisi won a very nice Class 2 handicap last February at Ascot and looks like he has been trained to win this in similar fashion on Saturday. With odds of 25/1 he has to be a decent each prospect.
Although having gone up 8lbs in the handicap, the Donald McCain trained Desert Cry has to be respected. He incurred the penalty due to his win at Haydock last month but McCain did not think that he would win that race and therefore believes that he will improve for the run. It is dangerous these days to omit any McCain horse from the thinking, particularly in races such as this and with odds of 14/1 he is quite a temptation to back!