The Insider: Cockney cracker
The Insider assesses the entries for Saturday's Scottish Champion Hurdle and unearths a 14/1 selection.
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The inclusion of My Tent Or Yours in Saturday’s QTS Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr makes for a fascinating conundrum.
Nicky Henderson’s crack two-miler has enjoyed a fantastic campaign, winning twice at Grade One level and only going down a quarter of a length to Jezki in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
With Aintree’s two and a half mile test considered unsuitable and the prospect of another clash with Jezki at Punchestown obviously not appealing to owner JP McManus, a return to handicap company beckons for one of Britain’s highest-rated hurdlers.
His last appearance in such a race produced a five-length victory in last season’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury but he’s 19lb higher in the weights now.
This obviously means he’ll force most of the field to carry more than their fair share of weight, but that’s not going to be the case with Court Minstrel and Flaxen Flare.
The former returned from a winter break to win well under top weight in a conditionals’ race at Aintree last weekend and is officially 2lb ahead of the assessor if turning out under 5lb extra.
Of the two I prefer the claims of Gordon Elliott’s five-year-old Flaxen Flare.
Last year’s Fred Winter winner is about as reliable as they come in terms of two-mile handicap hurdlers and ran another brave race back at Prestbury Park last month.
However, he finished around six lengths behind third home Montbazon when fifth in the County Hurdle and Alan King’s charge is rightly attracting plenty of support to confirm his superiority, despite being worse off at the weights with Flaxen Flare.
There are a couple of contenders who will have to compete from just out of the weights if My Tent lines up, but demand a great deal of respect nevertheless.
Clever Cookie has progressed a long way in a short space of time and still has untapped potential after slamming his rivals in a Grade Two novice event at Kelso.
This is another big step up, though, and the real eye-catcher is Cockney Sparrow.
It was very encouraging to see John Quinn’s mare bounce back from a crunching fall at Doncaster when fifth to Quevega at Cheltenham and the replay of that race is well worth revisiting.
After travelling well not far off the pace, there was a key moment at the second last when Cockney Sparrow lost momentum due to sidestepping the stricken Sirene D’Ainay.
She showed real intelligence to avoid being brought down but there’s no doubt it cost her a length or three.
Given she stayed on well to finish just four and a half behind the winner, her effort came be marked up considerably.
It’s not just the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle form that marks her down as a good bet here; if we just go back to November she was three lengths second to this weekend’s hot-pot My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
She was getting just 7lb on that occasion and although it would be folly to suggest the Henderson runner was at peak fitness for that his first assignment of the season, it could well be the case that he has now peaked for the campaign.
Throw in that Cockney Sparrow will be in receipt of 20lb this time, as well as the fact we’re getting 14/1 compared to the 6/1 SP at Newcastle, and we’re in business.
The one major doubt surrounds her participation but connections have suggested the presence of the top weight is making it an attractive option, while this race was also on her agenda last season after she won at Aintree, before the decision was made to go back on the Flat.
My Tent Or Yours could simply prove too good, but he has to be taken on after such a demanding race last time and Cockney Sparrow is capable of lowering his colours.