The incredibly wet winter continues, and Wincanton’s meeting on Saturday may well become an all-hurdle card as a consequence.
The showpiece is the Grade 2 Bathwick Tyres Kingwell Hurdle, with the possibility of a return to action for My Tent Or Yours. Nicky Henderson has multiple entries, and just who takes part will depend on ground conditions and whether Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle goes ahead today.
Hargam and Top Notch looked set to head to the borders track, but one or maybe both could still find themselves running at Wincanton. Should the ground be deemed not suitable for My Tent Or Yours, then Henderson favours a racecourse gallop for the Champion Hurdle runner-up of 2014 as he prepares to take on Faugheen at Cheltenham.
Let us hope that a few of these actually turn up on Saturday for the Kingwell. The race was first run in 1971 and is recognised as a timely trial for the Champion Hurdle. In its infancy the event was targeted by the late and great Fred Winter. His wonderful hurdlers Bula and Lanzarote dominated the event with three wins apiece from 1971 to 1976. Both also lifted the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Numerous horses have completed the Kingwell - Champion Hurdle double, including Kribensis, Alderbrook and Katchit. The latter took both as a five-year-old, something that Hargam and Top Notch may well attempt. As tough as it is to win the Champion Hurdle at five, this race has proven a whole lot easier for the second season hurdlers to crack. Indeed, that age group have won three of the last seven renewals.
No trainer has managed to dominate the race in recent times, though Nicholls has won three since 2001. The Champion trainer has a terrific record at Wincanton and will again be represented by last year’s runner-up Irving. Something of an enigma, the eight-year-old won the Elite Hurdle at the track in November, but was given the winter off after flopping in the Fighting Fifth. That disappointing effort was his third run in a month, and he does tend to perform at his best when a fresh horse.
It’s hard to second guess Mr Henderson and we must therefore wait and see just who from Seven Barrows makes the starting line. My Tent Or Yours is certainly the class act, but will undoubtedly need the run. Top Notch is a tough nut who needs to improve further if he is to compete at the very highest level. He failed to see out the trip in the Relkeel at Cheltenham, and this should be more suitable. He’s likely to set a strong pace and try to tough-it-out from the front. Irving got the better of him at Haydock in November, but it was close.
Hargam needs better ground and I’d be a little surprised if he runs. He’ll need some form of prep if he is to head for the Champion Hurdle fighting fit, but slogging his way through ground he hates is far from ideal.
Of the remaining Kingwell contenders, the Oliver Sherwood trained Rayvin Black is a fast improving sort, though he’s been pretty busy of late. He ran at Sandown a couple of weeks back when runner-up to one of Nicholls’ juveniles and just ahead of the disappointing Peace And Co. Though that was plenty recent enough, the race was something of a stop-start affair, and may not have taken that much out of him. He’s capable of a big run against classier types that are just as likely to underperform.
Melodic Rendezvous and Roadie Joe will be running for place money at best, and their respective trainers will no doubt be hopeful that plenty of the entrants remain back at their stables rather than travelling to a soggy Wincanton.
Sadly at this stage of proceedings the race is something of a puzzle. It would be great to see My Tent Or Yours back on track, and the prospect of him taking on Top Notch and Irving is pretty exciting. Unfortunately, as the rain continues to pour down, that prospect looks less likely.