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Alan King anticipating Triumph ‘battle’ for Tritonic

Alan King is confident he has Tritonic in top form as he prepares for a “proper battle” against a clutch of fellow prospective stars in the JCB Triumph Hurdle.

Even before embarking on his so far unbeaten hurdles career, which includes a highly-impressive Grade Two win in Kempton’s Adonis on just his second start under three weeks ago, Tritonic took King to centre stage on the Flat as a Royal Ascot runner-up last summer.

The Barbury Castle trainer therefore has every right to consider him a leading light at the top level – but he has great respect for Friday’s opposition from either side of the Irish Sea.

Zanahiyr, like Tritonic unbeaten over jumps, has spent most of the winter as ante-post favourite.

He will represent Denise Foster, as he bids for a fourth successive victory – while his Irish compatriot Quilixios, transferred this month from Gordon Elliott to Henry de Bromhead’s stable, is already a four-time winner after his Grade One success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival.

The home contingent has a second strong contender too, in David Pipe’s Adagio – who won both the Triumph Trial over course and distance in December and the rescheduled Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow a month later.

Tritonic was yet to race over hurdles at that point, but has since surged towards the top of the market, and King is delighted with his preparation.

“He’s absolutely A1,” he said.

“I don’t think the track (at Cheltenham) will be any different to him, but the opposition is a lot stronger.

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“I’ve got great respect for David Pipe’s horse and the Irish horses – so it’s going to be a proper battle.”

Tritonic’s eyecatching Flat rating of 99 is an obvious indication that he could go right to the top over jumps.

“I hope so,” added King.

“But if he can do the talking on Friday now, we’ll see what happens.”

Quilixios, who has won his races by an aggregate of more than 50 lengths, also boasts fine credentials for the Champion Hurdle-winning partnership of De Bromhead and jockey Rachael Blackmore.

Chris Richardson, managing director of owners Cheveley Park Stud, echoes King’s respect for the opposition – albeit in a select field of eight.

“It looks a very good race,” he said.

“The fields might be a little bit smaller at Cheltenham this year, but all the top horses are there.”

Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival
Quilixios was an impressive winner at the Dublin Racing Festival (Niall Carson/PA)

Quilixios could yet be one of them, and Richardson added: “He’s done nothing wrong – he’s four from four.

“He was most impressive when well clear at Leopardstown last time.”

Adagio has done plenty to fuel Pipe’s dreams of victory in a race which launched his father Martin’s great training career when Baron Blakeney won it as an unconsidered 66-1 shot 40 years ago.

In his three wins from four starts over hurdles, he has proved all conditions come alike to him.

“The great thing about Adagio is that it doesn’t really matter what the ground is and he’s got Cheltenham form,” said Pipe, who reports Tom Scudamore’s mount back in rude health after being briefly laid low in mid-winter.

“He had a little colic after his last run and was a bit quiet in himself.

“(Normally) he’s a real character who loves his food and he was just off games for the week.

“He’s been in very good form since, and jumps and travels.

“It’s a red-hot Triumph Hurdle. Is he good enough? We’ll find out at Cheltenham.”

There are also two Willie Mullins’ hopefuls – Haut En Couleurs, a narrow winner on his only French start but unraced for current connections – and Tax For Max.

Completing the eight are Nigel Hawke’s Historic Heart – runner-up to Adagio in the Triumph Trial – and Sean Curran’s filly Talking About You, who is the most experienced hurdler in the field with four wins from her 10 starts.

Triumph contender Adagio is Pipe’s pick of the Festival

David Pipe views JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Adagio as his best chance of a winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

The Pond House handler has enjoyed a fine season to date – and believes he has assembled a “small but select team” for the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds, which gets under way in less than a fortnight’s time.

Pipe acknowledges this year’s Festival will have a different feel to it because of Covid restrictions, but is nevertheless relishing the prospect of sending his stable stars to the Cotswolds.

Speaking on a press Zoom call following publication of the weights for the Festival handicaps, Pipe said: “Obviously it’s different this year, but everyone is still trying to prepare their horses for Cheltenham.

“Our horses are in good form and have been running well. We’ve got a small but select team going there.

“I think we’re in a positive mood. It’s amazing how the atmosphere in any yard changes in the two weeks before Cheltenham – when you’ve got a few horses going there with a chance.

“Everyone gets a bit uptight and excited. Most of the hard work has been done, and now it’s a case of ticking them over and getting them there on the day.

“It’s very hard to win at Cheltenham. That’s why it’s very special when you do.”

The Pipe squad is led by Adagio, who has won three of his four starts over hurdles this season – most recently claiming Grade One honours in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January.

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“My best chance is probably in the toughest race – Adagio,” he said.

“It looks an ultra-competitive Triumph Hurdle, but our fellow hasn’t done much wrong and is improving with every run.

“After his last run he did have a little colic, which meant he missed a week, but he’s had a good preparation since.

“It’s obviously a concern at the time, but since then everything has gone well.

“He’ll have an away-day somewhere before Cheltenham, and we’re very much looking forward to it.”

Remastered on his way to victory at Ascot
Remastered on his way to victory at Ascot (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

One of the yard’s other big hopes is Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase winner Remastered, who holds three entries.

Pipe added: “I thought it was a really good performance (at Ascot). It probably wasn’t a great Reynoldstown, but he beat the horses that were put in front of him and battled really well all the way to the line.

“He’ll either go for the Ultima or the National Hunt Chase. It will probably come down to ground – if it is softer ground maybe the Ultima, if it’s better ground then maybe the three-mile-six-furlong novice.

“A lot of his form is on soft or heavy ground, so he would prefer it to be on the slower side. But saying that, the only time we’ve run him on better ground was at Newbury in a novice hurdle, where he finished second to Dashel Drasher, so that form isn’t looking too bad.”

Pipe is hoping the application of headgear might coax some improvement out of Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle outsider Main Fact.

Main Fact looks to have his work cut out in the Stayers' Hurdle
Main Fact looks to have his work cut out in the Stayers’ Hurdle (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “We’ll probably take our chance.

“For me, he disappointed (in the Long Walk) at Ascot, but bounced back with a good run to finish fourth at Haydock.

“Obviously he’s a big price and an outsider, but we will be putting some type of headgear on him in the Stayers’ Hurdle, to help horse and jockey in the early stages.

“He deserves to take his chance. Softer ground would be better for him. Why not have a go?”

Pipe has yet to decide between the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett for Make Me A Believer, while Leoncavallo is viewed as an “interesting” contender for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, a race son David would love to finally win.

He said: “The harder I try to win it, the less likely it seems to be that I’m going to!

“Every year there seems to be more entries in the Martin Pipe than any other other race at Cheltenham.

“We have a few entries for it. Leoncavallo is an interesting horse – he had a good season on the Flat last year.

“He’s in the Martin Pipe and the County Hurdle. He’s rated high enough on 142 and he’s nine years old – but he’s in very good form, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to me if he ran a big race in whichever one he goes for.”

Pipe has faith in Adagio

David Pipe is confident his JCB Triumph Hurdle contender Adagio has ticks in all the right boxes.

A winner of three of his four outings to date, Adagio already has a Grade One win next to his name – having won the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

That form was let down at the weekend when the runner-up, Gary Moore’s Nassalam, was well beaten at Haydock – but Pipe nevertheless thinks Adagio remains on the upgrade.

Pipe said: “Adagio has made a lot of improvement, although it was a bit worrying to see the second horse get beaten at Haydock the other day.

“I would say that my horse has a lot of ticks next to his name, because he’s already won at Cheltenham and is a very good jumper.

“Let’s see who is the best juvenile – we will only find that out on the day.”

Umbrigado was a winner at Wetherby last week
Umbrigado was a winner at Wetherby last week (PA)

One who may skip Cheltenham is Umbrigado, a winner at Fontwell and Wetherby recently.

“Umbrigado won very nicely at Wetherby – but whether he goes to the Festival or not is uncertain,” said Pipe.

“The owners have had winners there, but they are not hell bent on it, and it’s not out of the question that we will keep things more low-key with him.”

Pipe mulls Cheltenham prep for Adagio

David Pipe is undecided as to whether to give his exciting juvenile Adagio another run before the Cheltenham Festival.

The German-bred youngster has won three of his four starts over hurdles since arriving from Britain – following up victory at Cheltenham last month with a Grade One success in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

He had the option of return to the Cotswolds for Saturday’s JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial – but with conditions deemed too testing on a card which was eventually abandoned for waterlogging anyway, Pipe will consider alternative options before the Triumph Hurdle itself in March.

“It’s possible he’ll have one more run before the Festival. We just felt the ground would be too wet for him on Saturday and decided to give it a miss,” said the Pond House trainer.

“There’s the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh (next weekend), and there’s also a race at Exeter he could run in. They are the only two options for him really – otherwise, we could just give him a racecourse gallop and go straight to Cheltenham in March.”

Adagio is a best priced 10-1 with William Hill for the Triumph Hurdle, making him the shortest-priced British contender behind Gordon Elliott’s Zanahiyr and Willie Mullins’ new recruit French Aseel.

Adagio strikes Grade One gold with Finale success

Adagio proved too strong for hot favourite Nassalam in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow.

Having won by 59 and 49 lengths respectively on his first two starts in Britain at Fontwell, Gary Moore’s Nassalam was the even-money favourite to complete his hat-trick on his step up to Grade One level.

However, David Pipe’s Adagio also brought strong form to the table – winning two of his first three starts over obstacles, including a short-priced victory at Cheltenham last month.

With long-time lead Bannister beginning to falter from the home turn, it turned into a three-way fight between Nassalam, Adagio and the Paul Nicholls-trained French recruit Houx Gris, before the former pair turned the screw and drew clear.

It was clear on the run to the final flight that Adagio had more to give than the market leader and he galloped all the way to the line to score by two and a half lengths under Tom Scudamore.

Pipe said: “It was a very good performance and the first two were favourite and second-favourite, so it’s rock solid form.

“I think we learnt a lot when he got beaten by Duffle Coat at Cheltenham in November. Last time at Cheltenham we rode him with more restraint and we did again today.

“We hadn’t declared him for this race when it was originally due to be run over Christmas. We came here today hoping it wouldn’t be quite as bad, it’s only soft ground rather than heavy and he’s handled that well.”

Coral cut Adagio to 12-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Pipe added: “We were coming here today to find out whether we were going for the Triumph Hurdle or the Fred Winter. It will be the Triumph Hurdle now.

“He’s always gone well at home – he’s got an engine. He was a bit quirky early on, but he’s improved since he’s been gelded.

“We’ll see how he comes out of today. Maybe he’ll go straight to Cheltenham, or maybe he’ll have one more run somewhere.

“We’ll enjoy today and have a think about it next week.”