The Lanzarote Hurdle – Nicky to nick-it from Nicholls

Kempton’s Lanzarote Hurdle was established in 1978 and originally run over two miles. In 2007 the race was extended to its current trip of 2m5f.

In the 10 renewals since the change in trip, just three winners have carried more than 11 stone to victory. Paul Nicholls and Nick Williams have landed three apiece in that period, with Modus winning for team Ditcheat 12 months ago.

Six-year-olds have been dominant in recent times, with the race tending to favour a progressive type with few hurdling miles on the clock. Three of the past 10 winners had only run three times over hurdles, prior to landing this valuable event. Despite the race usually attracting a fair-sized field, shocks have proved rare. Of the past nine renewals, Micheal Flips at 9/1 was the biggest price winner.

Nicky Henderson is responsible for the front two in the betting for tomorrow’s renewal. Diese Des Bieffes is only a five-year-old, and has had just three outings over hurdles. He was runner-up to classy novice If The Cap Fits last time at Kempton. Outpaced during that two-mile contest, he stayed on strongly in the home straight, and it would be a surprise if this extended trip didn’t prove ideal. He’s by popular French stallion Martaline, responsible for classy types including Dynaste, Disko and Agrapart. Leading juvenile hurdler We Have A Dream is also among his progeny. Henderson’s youngster is set to carry 11-2, though 5lb claimer Mitchell Bastyan appears booked for the ride. This fella looks to have a huge chance.

William Henry will carry top-weight and is challenging his stablemate at the top of the market. He came down on chase debut and has reverted to hurdles. A classy novice last term, he was runner-up to Wholestone at Cheltenham last January, with Poetic Rhythm five-lengths back in third. The strength of that form has been well advertised this winter, and of those at the top of the handicap, he looks the class act.

Bags Groove joins him at the top of the pile. Harry Fry’s seven-year-old won a Pertemps Qualifier at Kempton in November, but is raised 5lbs for that effort. This looks more competitive, and I’m far from sure that he has enough improvement left to win off this latest mark.

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Paul Nicholls has enjoyed plenty of success in the race, and has another leading contender in Topofthegame. The six-year-old is lightly raced, with just four starts under rules, and is another reverting to hurdles after falling on his only chase outing. He was some way behind William Henry in the race at Cheltenham, though was a huge raw baby at the time. There’s every chance that he can turn that form on its head, especially as he gets 6lb from that rival. He’s by Flemensfirth, and as such should have no problem with conditions. He should go close.

Nick Williams has a couple lurking at the bottom end of the handicap. With such an outstanding record in the race, the Devon trainer cannot be dismissed. Dentley De Mee looks the one to keep an eye on. The five-year-old has had just three outings over hurdles, and though he’ll need to improve plenty to be competitive here, there’s every chance that he could do exactly that. He gets the best part of a stone or more from the leading protagonists, and it would be no surprise to see him sneak into a place.

Owner JP McManus captured last year’s event, and has one of the favourites this time in the Alan King-trained River Frost. He was fifth in a strong renewal of the Silver Trophy at Chepstow in October, and that form certainly gives him a chance here. He too is lumbered with top-weight, and will be ably assisted by Barry Geraghty; twice a winner of this race in the last five years. This six-year-old is clearly a player, but I’m not convinced he’s quite good enough.

Siding with Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson is often a sensible decision, and I think the pair have this race between them. I’m just favouring Diese Des Bieffes over Topofthegame, though I fancy it’ll be close.

Best of luck to those having a punt.

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