Poet could be a Champion bet

  • Last Updated: January 3 2013, 9:18 GMT

Only three Grade One hurdle events take place for juveniles in Britain each season - one at Cheltenham, one at Aintree and the often-overlooked Coral.co.uk Future Champions Finale Juvenile Novice Hurdle at Chepstow, which takes place on Saturday.

Poet (right) makes a winning start over hurdles
Poet (right) makes a winning start over hurdles

Along with the day's other Grade One event, Sandown's Tolworth Hurdle, the contest is likely to provoke a response in the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival. However, as is invariably the case at the Welsh track, conditions will be testing and likely to differ significantly from those found at Prestbury Park in March.

Concerns about the ground led connections of Marsh Warbler, the winner two years ago, to let their charge line-up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle rather than wait for the Triumph but he beat only a handful home.

Last season's victor Hollow Tree thrived in Chepstow mud but again struggled to cope with pacier rivals on a faster surface at Cheltenham and, of the recent winners, only the two trained by Alan King have held their own in the Triumph.

Franchoek was sent off at even-money to land the juvenile crown and ran creditably in finishing second to Celestial Halo, while Walkon was also returned a beaten favourite when going down by half a length to Zaynar.

King is set to be represented by Handazan but he has already been put in his place by Far West on two occasions and victory for him would appear to only strengthen the position of Paul Nicholls' charge at the head of the market.

Amazingly Nicholls has never won this contest, however he could saddle two French imports in an attempt to set the record straight.

He has spoken in positive terms about Caid Du Berlais and he looks of more interest than Valco De Touzaine who was beaten on his British bow at Sandown.

Nicholls and Henderson have gone head-to-head in a number of the big Saturday races already this season and that could again be the case with the Lambourn handler's Megalypos among the entries for Chepstow.

A French import who has already run over fences, he'll be attempting to follow in the steps of the talented but fragile stablemate Blue Shark who routed the opposition on his British debut back in 2005.

The two dominant British jumps trainers are also set to face off in the Tolworth Hurdle (sponsored by 32Red) at Sandown, a race they have kept between them for the last five years.

Henderson has landed the last two with Captain Conan and Minella Class, the former bypassing the Cheltenham Festival altogether, while the latter finished a respectable sixth in the Neptune.

This is not a race that he has targeted with his Festival prospects in recent years which doesn't bode well for ante-post supporters of Golden Hoof and Royal Boy.

The same may not be true of Nicholls who can number Supreme winner Noland among his quartet of winners but only two four year olds have been successful in the Tolworth, suggesting that the doubly-entered Caid Du Berlais and For Two could be up against it.

If the Tolworth is to have an impact upon the Festival, perhaps it will come in the form of the eight year old Poet, touted in some quarters as a potential Champion Hurdle runner.

The eight year old impressed on his hurdling bow at Newbury and has been compared favourably with Alderbrook by part-owner John Francome.

A Group Three winner on the Flat, he'll relish the testing ground and has saved some of the best performances of his career for this venue - another one could see his odds of 66/1 for the hurdling crown slashed as there's no doubt that he has the class to be a factor if continuing to progress over obstacles.

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