The Cheltenham Festival is on the horizon in mid-March and Mark Howard kicks off his Portfolio by keeping faith in Gordon Eliott's Stayers' Hurdle hope.
We were treated some wonderful performances over the Festive period, not least in the novice division with the likes of Appreciate It, Bravemansgame, Monkfish, Shishkin and Zanahiyr cementing their positions at the head of the ante-post markets for their respective races at the Cheltenham Festival.
The Stayers’ Hurdle betting is currently dominated by previous winner Paisley Park and young pretender Thyme Hill, who have already gone head to head twice this winter with the current scoreline reading one each. The pair could clash again in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham (January 30) as a final dress rehearsal before the one which counts most in March.
There appears to be value outside the top two though and, despite only finishing fourth at Leopardstown late last month, some bookmakers may have over-reacted by pushing FURY ROAD out to 20/1. Nine and a quarter lengths in arrears of the supplemented winner Flooring Porter in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, the seven year old has run poorly on all three visits to the Dublin track with form figures of 544.
With Jack Kennedy failing to pass the doctor following a fall aboard Defi Bleu twenty four hours earlier, the Stowaway gelding was partnered by Sean Flanagan for the first time. Prominent for much of the race, he lost his position on the approach to the second last when Mark Walsh aboard stablemate Sire Du Berlais moved up on his outside leaving Fury Road in a pocket. He struggled thereafter producing a laboured effort keeping on at one pace.
An easy winner over two miles five in a Grade 2 at Punchestown in November, the former Irish pointer has yet to win at Grade 1 level but proved last spring that he is capable of mixing it at the highest level.
Denied by a neck in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham behind Monkfish and Latest Exhibition, he finished a length and a quarter in front of the aforementioned Thyme Hill. Still unexposed over three miles under Rules – he has only tried it twice – Gordon Elliott is expected to give Fury Road one more run before heading back across the water in March.
The Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park (January 28) over three miles is the most likely option.
Alternatively, he could revert to two miles five for the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan (February 21), although that may be deemed too close to the Festival. Elliott has won the last four renewals of the latter event.
The triple Grand National winning trainer is responsible for 32 Cheltenham Festival victories and is currently the fourth most successful of all time behind Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls.
Surprisingly, he has only fielded two runners in the Stayers’ Hurdle – Tiger Roll (13th in 2015) and Apple's Jade (8th in 2020).
Fury Road looks overpriced in a division which may not be as clear cut as the betting suggests and could make it third time lucky for Elliott.
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