A massive field of four-year-old hurdlers will do battle in the opening event on the Friday of the Cheltenham Festival-yes it’s the JCB Triumph Hurdle, one of the younger events staged at Prestbury Park, having been transferred from now defunct Hurst Park in 1965.
There have only been eight winning favourites since that date, and indeed only one odds-on success, that was the mighty atom, little Attivo in 1973. Surprisingly this is not a race in which the Irish do well, with only six wins in all, the last being Scolardy in 2002. Anyone with a Betfair Free Cheltenham Bet need to bear this in mind.
By far the most successful trainer is Nicky Henderson, who up to now has captured the race five times, his most recent winners being Zaynar in 2009 and Soldatino two years ago. This year the Seven Barrows handler has a squad of four to choose from, with the most likely to make a bold bid being Lyvius, a German import who made a winning debut at Kelso in mid-February. The odds-on shot had little to beat but did it well enough.
However, one man that always likes to target his better juveniles at this event is Alan King. He landed a nice touch with Penzance in 2005 and repeated the feat with subsequent Champion Hurdle winner Katchit in 2007. (Supporters of last year’s winner, the Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar take note).
Back to King though, who has plenty to choose from, including one that the trainer himself is keen on, Grumeti, who would be unbeaten over timber had he not capsized two out at Newbury the time before last when totally in command. He was made to battle next time by a Nicholls newcomer Pearl Swan, but got the nod in a photo. Even those following the Cheltenham Gold Cup betting need to remember this.
King’s other four entries would all be worthy candidates: Ardlui, Fire Fighter, Vendor and Balder Succes, the latter in particular after posting a four-timer at Ascot recently. The Irish have been raving over Minsk, but his connections will surely be keeping an eye on all of King’s entries, anyone of which could prevail.