It looks a competitive renewal of the Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday, with the Paul Nicholls trained Capitaine heading the betting.
Winner of a Grade 2 at Ascot in December, the handsome looking grey ran green at times, but nevertheless, stayed on powerfully to pull clear of a decent field. That victory came from the front on good to soft ground, though his high knee action suggests he should be fine in the likely testing conditions at Sandown. He’d previously been held too far off the pace at Haydock, when finishing second in a listed event. He’s a robust, scopey type, that looks sure to make a chaser in time.
The past nine renewals have all been run on soft or heavy ground, and without exception, have gone to horses that looked suited by further than the bare minimum two-mile trip. Fancied horses have a strong record in the race, with seven of the last 11 winners sent off at 3/1 or shorter. And though five and six-year-olds have proved most successful, a pair aged seven have landed the prize in the past 10 running’s.
Nicky Henderson has a terrific record in the race, and has a couple of seven-year-olds set to line up tomorrow. Kayf Grace looks to be his most notable challenger. A high-class bumper performer, she opened her account over hurdles at Bangor. By Kayf Tara, her record suggests that soft ground will not be an issue. She looks to have gears, and though this is sure to be a serious test, her Aintree bumper win proved that she has both class and guts. I would be slightly concerned if the ground became heavy. Indeed, the trainer has a habit of withdrawing horses late-on if he feels they are unsuited by a slog.
Henderson’s second dart at the bullseye is Gaitway. Back from two years on the sidelines, his effort at Cheltenham in December was respectable. He should improve for the run, but the long lay-off is a major concern. He’s not a horse I’d be backing at this stage of his comeback.
Colin Tizzard is having a sensational campaign, and looks to have a classy young hurdler on his hands with Finian’s Oscar. Ann and Alan Potts spent a small fortune on this fella, and he looked an exciting recruit when storming home at Hereford on debut. He’s dropping back in trip, which is a slight worry, though testing conditions will help. He looks the likely type for this race, and his trainer can do no wrong. I fancy he’ll go close.
Celestial Path is an interesting contender, though his entry rests on a schooling session this morning. “Tom Scudamore will school him and we'll make a decision on the Tolworth after that,” said trainer David Pipe. “He was a very good Flat horse, but he only went a mile and you'd prefer it if he was proven over further. He's been gelded since we got him and he's done lots of schooling already, he's been jumping okay.”
The ‘jumping okay’ comment is hardly a ringing endorsement, and I’d be a little surprised if he isn’t given an easier option for his hurdling debut.
One that certainly could go close, if taking up his entry, is Dan Skelton’s Mohaayed. He ran a cracker over Christmas at Kempton on hurdling debut, and should improve for the experience. As an ex-flat performer, the ground would again cause concerns. His sire, Intikhab, has been responsible for several decent jumpers over the years, including the talented Kempes, who was good enough to chase home Hurricane Fly in the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in 2009. Mohaayed certainly possesses the ability, if he copes with conditions.
One that should be suited by both the ground and track, is Harry Fry’s Chalonnial. He’s a big chasing type who galloped powerfully to victory at Bangor last time. The worry is whether he’ll possess the necessary speed to get competitive in a Grade 1. Nevertheless, I fancy he’ll be finishing the race to great effect.
It’s a tough one to call, but I’ll be siding with Finian’s Oscar for the all-conquering Tizzard Team. I fancy that Kayf Grace will go on to achieve more over hurdles, but track and ground will be against her on this occasion. Best of luck to those having a punt.