Kempton hold an excellent card on Saturday, with a trio of Grade 2 races, likely to give further pointers to the Festival now less than three weeks away.
The Adonis Juvenile Hurdle has been a terrific trial for the Triumph in recent years. Several wonderful horses have taken this on route to successful careers. Well Chief won the race in 2003 before being beaten a head at Cheltenham a few weeks later. Penzance managed the Adonis-Triumph double in 2005 as did Soldatino in 2010 and Zarkandar a year later. Going further back, both Snow Drop and Katarino were successful here before winning again at Cheltenham.
But the roll of honour doesn’t stop there. Past winners also include Binocular and Punjabi who both went on to win the Champion Hurdle. Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have won six of the last eight renewals and they have strong looking entries for Saturday’s race.
It’s slightly surprising to see Top Notch lining up after his victory just last weekend at Haydock. However, that race was won with such ease that Henderson seems happy for the horse to take his chance, saying: “I don't think I need to run Top Notch again but he's so fit and well we'll have a look at it. Originally he was on the subs bench for the Triumph, but he's now actually going to play." Should he turn up, it would take something special to beat him.
Team Ditcheat have two entered with All Yours a recent winner at Taunton and Qualando a promising French import who just missed out on debut at Exeter. The latter is bred to appreciate cut in the ground and would probably appreciate more rain between now and race-time. All Yours comes under the same ownership as last year’s Adonis winner Activial.
Newport trainer Robert Stephens has an interesting runner. Beltor is the son of Authorized out of a Danehill mare. He only managed a rating of 76 on the flat but was very impressive on hurdles debut when accounting for John Ferguson’s Arabian Revolution. This is clearly a tougher assignment, but he has to be respected on his Ludlow victory.
David Pipe may well bring Baraka De Thaix back after a short break. He disappointed last time but had shown great promise at Cheltenham in November when chasing home Hargam and Golden Doyen. He’s nicely bred and it would be no surprise to see him run a huge race.
Paul Nicholls has dominated the Grade 2 Pendil Novices’ Chase in recent times having won seven of the last nine renewals. Run over a distance of two and a half miles, Captain Chris took the race in 2011 before surprisingly dropping back in trip to win the Arkle Chase. Balder Succes won this last year before skipping the Festival in favour of Aintree.
The champion trainer has both Far West and Irish Saint as possible runners. The latter has had a terrific winter to date, though he was beaten last time by Willie Mullins’ mare Gitane De Berlais. His form looks strong and should he turn up he’s sure to go close. Melodic Rendezvous was runner-up to Southfield Theatre just a couple of weeks ago. That was only his second run over fences and it looked a decent performance. He’s capable of further improvement and can go well here.
God’s Own certainly has the edge on experience and a step up in trip will surely help his cause. He’s been tried against some of the top two milers, and has come-up just short. He was second in this race to Balder Succes last year and looks certain to go close again. Un Ace is an interesting one for Kim Bailey. He ran a cracker behind Champagne West at Cheltenham in December and has had a wind operation since then. It would come as no surprise to see him go close. A good performance could see him heading for the JLT at the Festival.
The Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle is the last of the Grade 2 races on the card. Sire De Grugy won this in 2011 and Grumeti a year later. Back in 1991 Granville Again took the race as a five-year-old and two years later won the Champion Hurdle.
This year’s renewal probably lacks a standout candidate though Nicky Henderson has several entered, each with enough form in the book to have a great chance. One For The Guv’nr stormed home last time at Ludlow and was only just beaten by the useful Robinsfirth in his first run over hurdles.
Gary Moore has entered Dabadiyan, once rated 110 on the flat. If he transfers some of that form to hurdles he could be something special. He’s a Zamindar gelding and is one of the most interesting runners on Saturday’s card.
The clock is certainly ticking for those hopeful of sending their horses to Cheltenham. As prep-runs go, this is probably as late as you’d wish to leave it. Sire De Grugy is due to run at Chepstow on Saturday in the hope of putting in a better round of jumping and booking his ticket for the Champion Chase.
The pressure is now truly on.