James Owen’s Burdett Road will look to consolidate his place at the head of the Triumph Hurdle market when he contests the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday.
The four-year-old, a Royal Ascot winner last June, has made the perfect start to his hurdling career.
After winning his debut at Huntingdon by 12 lengths, he then claimed a similar contest to this by an easy six and a half lengths.
The form from that race has since been boosted by the subsequent success of the second-placed An Bradan Feasa, a comfortable winner when returning to Cheltenham in December.
Harry Cobden has ridden Burdett Road in both hurdling starts and will do so again at the weekend after partnering the gelding in a pleasing schooling session at home.
“We couldn’t be happier with him at home and he has schooled well. Harry was in on Thursday morning and schooled him and he did well and we’re looking forward to Saturday,” said Owen.
“This is a much tougher race (than before), there’s Sir Gino and we’ve got to give weight to the (JP) McManus horse that comes over from France (Milan Tino) and might improve. This is a lot tougher and should shed a lot of light on the Triumph Hurdle, it’s a trial and it should do.
“Hopefully we’re still favourite for the Triumph at 10 past 12 on Saturday.”
On choosing this race ahead of the Unibet Hurdle, the trainer added: “We made the decision just before declarations and if Harry was available in the Unibet, we were actually swaying that way with the allowances. But Harry was riding for Paul Nicholls in that, so it just made sense to stick amongst the juveniles where Harry was available.”
Nicky Henderson’s Sir Gino is also unbeaten over hurdles, with a French Listed success followed up by a 14-length Kempton win on his British debut in late December.
“His jumping was far from perfect at Kempton, so he’s had plenty of practice in that department and is a person we like a lot,” said Henderson via his Unibet blog.
“This is a competitive race and Burdett Road has looked very good, therefore I should imagine whoever wins will likely be favourite for the Triumph.
“Sir Gino’s work has been very good, and he would be right up there with some of our previous good juveniles we’ve had down the years.”
Noel George and Amanda Zetterholm’s Milan Tino was third behind Burdett Road at Prestbury Park in November and will receive 5lb from the two aforementioned horses when he takes his chance under Jonjo O’Neill jr.
Harry Fry’s Gidleigh Park heads the market for the SSS Super Alloys Novices’ Hurdle, a Grade Two event run over two miles and four and a half furlongs.
Unbeaten in three under rules, his latest win was a nine-length Newbury triumph, his first attempt at a two-and-a-half-mile trip and a performance that inspired a step up in grade.
“We couldn’t have asked for any more than what he has done up until this point,” said Fry.
“We stepped him up in trip the last day and he showed improved form and now we are stepping up in grade, so he will have to progress again.
“We feel he is doing that at home and is maturing and progressing with his racing. It’s his first run at the track, but I don’t anticipate that giving him any problems and I’m hoping he can continue to progress as he has done so far and keep the dream alive.”
Jonjo O’Neill’s Johnnywho is a key rival, a McManus-owned gelding who was last seen finishing fourth when beaten two lengths in the Grade One Challow at Newbury.
“He’s come out of the Challow well and Jonjo was happy with him and hopefully he can come forward again and run a nice race,” said Frank Berry, racing manager to McManus.
“He looks a nice staying horse and hopefully there is more to come.”
Paul Nicholls runs Isaac Des Obeaux, a six-year-old from the family of Clan Des Obeaux who won his last two outings at Chepstow by decent margins.
“He is taking on stronger opposition after bolting up twice in ordinary races at Chepstow,” the trainer said via Betfair.
“Positive tactics seem to suit Isaac Des Obeaux who stays well, is a decent prospect and should run another tidy race. He will be a lovely chaser in time.”
There is a valuable handicap over fences in the Paddy Power Cheltenham Countdown Podcast Handicap Chase, with Nicholls set to saddle two short-priced contenders in Hitman and Il Ridoto.
The latter was narrowly beaten in the December Gold Cup over course and distance last time out and is the reigning champion in the contest having prevailed by a length 12 months ago.
“He seems to reserve his best for Cheltenham and won this race a year ago off a mark of 138,” the trainer said.
“He is now 10lb higher after a career best when he was just beaten in the last stride by Fugitif in the December Gold Cup after looking like the winner landing over the last fence with a clear lead.
“Il Ridoto has been working beautifully at home, looks great and must have a strong chance.”
Hitman is the other runner, a horse Nicholls is hoping will improve for a wind operation.
He said: “We cauterised his palate after he ran below-par at Aintree late in October.
“He is in great shape now at home and if he runs like he did in the Ryanair Chase in March (third), he must have a live chance off a mark of 156 with Freddie Gingell taking off a valuable 5lb, but I have a feeling he might just improve a bit for the run.”