2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips
The Triumph Hurdle is the four-year-old Championship event, a novice hurdle over two miles and a furlong that has announced the arrival of such as Our Conor, Katchit, Celestial Halo and Zarkandar in recent seasons.
It is one of the hardest races in which to assimilate the respective Irish and British form against each other, especially as several of the horses have been running in France until very recently.
2014 Triumph Hurdle Trends
Last time out: Thirteen of the last sixteen Triumph winners also won their previous race. Two more were second and one was third. Horses finishing fourth or worse last time are 0 from 100 since 1997. 44 of the 48 placed horses ran within 60 days, and every winner since 1992 had run within 55 days of their previous race.
Betting: The top four in the betting have won eleven of the last sixteen renewals, and all bar one since the introduction of the Fred Winter. That race has helped to thin the Triumph field, so hard luck stories are rare.
Key trials: The key race in Ireland has been the Spring Novices' Hurdle, which has been the Spring-board (geddit?!) for the last two Triumph Hurdle winners. This year, Guitar Pete beat Tiger Roll and Plinth. In Britain, Kempton's Adonis Hurdle has long been the main trial: since 2005 Penzance, Soldatino and Zarkandar all won that en route to Triumph victory. This year, Activial (misses Cheltenham) beat Commissioned and Solar Impulse.
2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview
The long-term presence of soft and heavy ground is a real fly in the ointment for form students of this race, as most of the main contenders will be facing very different turf than in recent starts.
Calipto heads the betting at 5/1 and that looks entirely fair. After all, this thrice-raced ex-Frenchie had Adonis winner Activial over three lengths behind when winning a Newbury juvenile hurdle. Moreover, that was on good to soft, a rare piece of evidence on a sound surface. He then turned up at the same venue a month before Triumph day and won a heavy ground novice hurdle.
So, we know he goes on the quick; we know he's got some class; and we know he's in decent form. Although he's not been tested above Class 3, he has raced against Graded stakes opposition, and the form of that first UK run is arguably the best juvenile hurdle form of the season, certainly on goodish ground.
After all, runner-up Activial won the Grade 2 Adonis; fourth placed Dawalan has won twice since, and is favourite for the Fred Winter; sixth placed Baradari also won next time; and seventh home, Shalianzi, won a Lingfield all weather maiden last time out!
The fact that Calipto recorded that form on good to soft is key. He may be beaten in the Triumph but he has revealed more clues about the race's suitability than many of his rivals.
Le Rocher is second choice in the ring, and Nick Williams' charge began his UK career by winning the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow in heavy ground. That was a real stamina test, and he followed up in the heavy ground Triumph Hurdle trial here at Cheltenham, also on heavy. Although he won a hurdle in Dieppe in June on good to soft, it would appear he has a preference for more ease. Further, the form of those two races cannot be said to have worked out, and I think he'll run below his market rank.
Guitar Pete is next and, while it's hard to crab his hurdles form - after all, he won the Grade 1 Spring Novices' Hurdle last time - this former 60-rated flat horse was beaten readily enough by Royal Irish Hussar at Cheltenham three months ago, on good ground. He seems better on easier, and is another I'll discount, rightly or wrongly.
Behind Guitar Pete that last day were Tiger Roll and Plinth. Tiger Roll was having only his second career start after winning a Market Rasen novice event on soft and, for one so inexperienced, ran a blinder. He's flat bred (by Authorized out of an Entrepreneur mare), and might improve for the better ground. In any case, he has more scope to improve past Guitar Pete's current level of form, given their respective experience (two hurdles runs versus six, and twelve runs in total, for GP).
The third that day is interesting at a price. Plinth is a cumbersome jumper and, if he kicks the timber from the turf as he did the last day, he'll do well to even get round let alone win. But the fact he ran within six lengths of Guitar Pete with such a woeful display of hurdling speaks volumes for his engine. He could well jump better on decent ground and, if he did, I'd fancy him to beat both Guitar Pete and Tiger Roll. The 25/1 with Hills appeals to small money.
Coming back to the UK form, Broughton has been perhaps the best backed horse of the last week. Formerly trained by Mark Johnston and rated 89 on the level, he made a fine start to his John Ferguson-handled National Hunt career when a head second behind Fox Norton in a Grade 2, with Royal Irish Hussar sixteen lengths back in third. That was on good ground, going on which he also has plenty of flat form; and he followed up by winning a Listed event on soft at the start of February.
He's tough, experienced at racing, and progressive over hurdles. He might just have what it takes to claim a Triumph, though he did show a bit of tail-flashing attitude when asked to close at Doncaster that first hurdling day. Moreover, O'Regan would not be my first choice jockey, even of the pair at Bloomfields...
Far back in third that day, and absent since, is Royal Irish Hussar. He needs quick ground, which he'll get, but those ninety days away mean he'll be bidding to do something no horse has done since 1992: win after more than 55 days off. He's been well backed but he's not for me, not on form and not on layoff.
Willie Mullins has Gitane du Berlais amongst other options here, and this filly has improved a good bit since her Irish hurdling debut third to Guitar Pete. First, she won an Aintree Listed event by eight lengths, and then she followed up in Grade 3 company at Fairyhouse by five lengths. Both of those wins were against her own sex, and this will be tougher against the boys, but she does receive the seven pound ladies' allowance, and that could help tip the balance in her favour.
Rutherglen is unbeaten in three hurdle starts, and warmed up for the Triumph in unconventional fashion by winning a flat handicap on the all-weather at Kempton. Despite his upside potential, the form he has demonstrated to date gives him plenty to find with some of these, and he ought not to be good enough.
Stablemate Pearl Castle looks much more likely, having won his last two on good to soft, both at Doncaster. He was more visually impressive on the first of that pair, when trouncing Dubai Prince, Varom, Area Fifty One and the rest; but he performed to a higher level - form-wise if not aesthetically - when seeing off the game Zamoyski by two and a half lengths.
That form gives him a bit to find with Guitar Pete, but he'll travel better off a more searching gallop, which is almost assured in the Triumph Hurdle. He can run into the frame, and perhaps even emulate trainer John Quinn's 2012 winner, Countrywide Flame.
The rest won't be good enough.
2014 Triumph Hurdle Tips
I think the favourite, Calipto, looks pretty solid. He's progressive, has form on a sound surface, and represents the barn of 2008 and 2011 Triumph winner, Paul Nicholls. 5/1 may not be a sexy price, but this chap looks almost certain to go close and, in that light, is a decent bet.
At more speculative odds, Broughton, Pearl Castle and Plinth could go well. Broughton, at 10/1, is a classy ex-flat fellow and, though somewhat 'attitudinous', he does have a high cruising speed and jumps pretty well. Pearl Castle has little to find to trouble the best of these and looked capable of better two starts back when thumping a decent field. 16/1 is entirely fair.
And if you're prepared to take a leap of faith which may turn out to be as tenuous at the literal leaping of Plinth, you may be rewarded. He looked to hate the ground in the Grade 1 Spring Novices' Hurdle last time, and yet was only beaten six lengths in third.
Two years ago, Countrywide Flame went over for the Spring Hurdle, and finished third. A month later, he won the Triumph Hurdle. At 33/1. There is a smidge of 25/1 about lightning striking twice in the form of Plinth and, if better ground leads to better hurdling, he could far outrun those odds.
Most Likely Triumph Hurdle winner:
Calipto 5/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)
Best Each Way Bet in Triumph Hurdle:
Pearl Castle 16/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)
Best Outsider in Triumph Hurdle:
Plinth 25/1 Hills (all in run or not)