Snap to It with Hobbs' Ace
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1pt win Snap Tie in the Racing Post Hurdle at 16/1 (General).
1pt win King Of Queens in the Racing Post Hurdle at 25/1 (General).
Four of the last 10 renewals of the Racing Post Hurdle (formerly the Greatwood Hurdle) have been won by horses carrying top-weight, whilst three others have carried 11st 4lbs or more to success, so the conclusion can be drawn that "class will out".
Indeed Accordion Etoile (2004) went on to be fourth in the Champion Hurdle, Detroit City (2006) was sixth the following March, Khyber Kim (2009) was second to Binocular, Menorah (2010) was fifth behind Hurricane Fly, and last-year's winner Brampour wasn't beaten far in seventh this March.
Only one horse in the last decade has won both this race and the Champion Hurdle; the great Rooster Booster in 2002/3, but the feeling is that when assessing Sunday's contest, we need to look for a horse who has the potential to be a live Champion Hurdle contender.
Unfortunately that isn't the case with my main selection, 16/1 shot SNAP TIE, however that is only because of his age, history of injuries and the stage of his career than anything else.
Philip Hobbs' 10-year-old was the subject of the best training performance of last season, winning at the Punchestown Festival after two and a half years on the sidelines.
To win an ultra-competitive handicap in Ireland on ground softer than ideal was a great feat, and although his mark has subsequently risen by a stone, there is no reason why he cannot be a major player on Sunday.
He was actually seventh in the 2009 Champion Hurdle, but after finishing a close-up fifth in the Scottish Champion Hurdle (off a mark of 158, 7lbs higher than he is rated now), and then winning on his chasing bow at Cheltenham, he suffered serious ligament injuries which kept him off the track for such a long time.
Obviously there are some pitfalls with backing horses that have had training problems, however this race has been the target for a while as Hobbs explains: "He's the best he's been for ages at the moment but his problems will always be a concern.
"He's off 151 now and the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham is the aim. It surprised me that he handled heavy in Ireland but it's possible that, had he stayed sound, he could have been Champion Hurdle standard but not now."
It's encouraging that Hobbs has targeted this race, and his own record in the contest speaks volumes: In the last decade he has saddled three winners (2002 Rooster Booster, 2006 Detroit City, 2010 Menorah).
As mentioned above, the son of Pistolet Bleu has been fragile and hard to train, so it's certainly prudent to add another string to my bow in this preview.
That horse is Thomas Mullins' 25/1 chance KING OF QUEENS, who could be very well-handicapped on a mark of 126. He won as he liked at Cork last month, and although up 10lbs for that, it means he gets into this race with a great racing weight of 10st 4lbs assuming one of the top two horses run.
He's another who missed a fair chunk of his best racing years due to injury, but he put some modest flat runs behind him with that Cork victory, and his subsequent second at Leopardstown on the flat suggests that he is well-handicapped in both spheres.
As a novice back in 2008/9 he wasn't beaten far in a Leopardstown grade one, and then chased home Ebadiyan at Punchestown, a horse who would have gone very close in the Triumph hurdle that season had he not run out at the second-last. Patrick O'Brady's charge has since won in Listed company and is rated 150; a mark of 126 for our horse looks tasty.
Although he's seven, and not exactly a Champion Hurdle contender, this looks the right race for him, and like Snap Tie, the dry forecast for the build-up to Sunday's race will be in his favour.
The race is built around Nicky Henderson's Darlan, and he has the potential to do exactly what Zarkandar did in last-Saturday's Elite Hurdle at Wincanton; give weight and a beating to his rivals (bar Snap Tie).
The Supreme Novices' runner-up is the deserving favourite, and jockey AP McCoy thinks he is a real Champion Hurdle horse, however this is a tough reappearance and he might not be great value at around 3/1, especially considering only two favourites have been victorious in the last decade.
During that time period trainer Nicky Henderson has only saddled five horses, two of which have finished second (Carracciola in 2003 and Aigle D'Or in 2008).
Henderson also has new recruit Cash And Go in the entries, a horse who is hard to assess on a mark of 141, however he did win a grade one in Ireland last season, whilst Darlan's owner JP McManus could also run It's A Gimme who ran Raya Star very close on his reappearance and he looks the ideal type for strongly-run two mile handicaps this season; both are feared.
Paul Nicholls has targeted this race in the past and is another who has several possible runners, the most interesting of which is Prospect Wells if he is turned out after his fine Wincanton second to stablemate Zarkandar.
Fellow Ditcheat inmate Dark Lover won well at the track on his return last month and has a lovely weight here, but that wasn't a great race and he has a lot more on his plate today. I also find it slightly off-putting that Nicholls said he would go novice chasing after this run, suggesting that this race is perhaps more of an afterthought rather than a plan.