2020 Champion Hurdle Trial tips – O’Brien’s 6/1 chance can raid Haydock feature
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at the potential big race field for Saturday's Haydock hurdles feature.
One of the big feature races on Saturday’s racecard at Haydock is the Grade Two The New One Unibet Champion Hurdle Trial which gets underway at 3.15pm as the fifth race of the day at the Merseyside track.
Named after high-class hurdler The New One who won this race four times in succession between 2015 and 2018, the two mile contest has been won by several top-class performers in the recent past not least Nigel Twiston-Davies’ former stalwart, and a potential field of nine runners could face the tapes for the latest renewal which carries a first prize in excess of £40,000.
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at the possible big race field for Saturday’s hurdling highlight and gives his selection to land this classy Grade Two purse.
Nigel Twiston-Davies saddled The New One to win this race on four consecutive seasons, and the Naunton trainer is represented this year by Ballyandy (9/2, Unibet) who continues to run well but has often just found one too good in his career over timber.
The Kayf Tara gelding registered his last hurdles success at Uttoxeter almost twelve months ago, beating Burrows Park, after which he collected consecutive bronze medals in outings at Ascot and Cheltenham respectively, the latter of which came in the Coral Cup.
Having looked in need of his reappearance at Chepstow in the Silver Trophy Hurdle behind Flash The Steel, he has run well in defeat in all three subsequent outings, getting to within a length of Call Me Lord at Cheltenham in the International Hurdle and then finishing a creditable third to Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
Suited by the conditions, he is likely to give another good account although there is a slight suspicion he was flattered at Cheltenham and he might again struggle to seal the deal and get back on the scoresheet.
Cornerstone Lad (5/1, Ladbrokes) lowered the colours of dual-Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’air when taking the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and landing a hat-trick of wins in the process, but Micky Hammond’s charge was seen to maximum effect on that occasion and he’s unlikely to be granted a soft lead this time around.
The Delegator gelding had posted his earlier successes in much more modest company at Catterick and Wetherby respectively; but he has won here in the past on heavy ground and he was the benefactor of an enterprising front-running ride in the recent Newcastle feature where he denied Buveur D’Air by a short-head where he kept on doggedly to land an unexpected win.
It transpired after the race that the latter had finished lame following an injury sustained in the contest, otherwise the result might have been different, but his task now is to back up that surprise success in a strong renewal of this contest.
Call Me Lord (4/1, Bet365) is one of two potential runners in the field for Nicky Henderson, and the Slickly gelding could still have the potential for more over timber given he remains relatively lightly raced and he has only once finished out of the frame in hurdles starts which came when failing to stay three miles in the 2018 Long Walk Hurdle.
A dual-hurdles winner in France, including on heavy ground, he won three of his first six starts for the Seven Barrows maestro, including posting a wide-margin success over Lil Rockerfeller at Sandown in the Select Hurdle.
Having failed to stay three miles behind Paisley Park next time, he bounced back with a very creditable third to Malaya in the Imperial Cup where he was racing under a big weight; but he wasn’t seen out again until making his reapperance in the Coral Hurdle where he found only If The Cap Fits too strong, possibly outstayed by the winner on his return.
The front two were clear, and he showed the benefit of that outing to mete out a defeat of Ballyandy and others – including stablemate Pentland Hills – to win the International Hurdle, although he was all out to hold on. However, his momentum was slightly halted by a last-hurdle mistake, otherwise he might have won a shade easier and a repeat of that effort would surely put him in the mix.
Pentland Hills (6/4, Unibet) had been unbeaten in three hurdles starts last term following his switch to the Henderson camp from the flat where he had been trained by Chris Wall.
The Motivator gelding was an impressive debut winner at Plumpton, after which he landed consecutive Grade One wins at Cheltenham and Aintree respectively which include the Triumph Hurdle.
He shaped well for a long way on his reappearance in the recent International Hurdle, travelling well into the race and leading over the final obstacle before fading into fifth where he looked as if the run might have been needed.
He is sure to come on for that return effort, but this will be first time he encounters heavy ground and unlike his stablemate he’s not certain to be suited by the demands of the surface given his flat pedigree where his flat speed which has served him well to date might just be blunted by the more testing conditions.
DARASSO (6/1, Bet365) meanwhile is a potentially interesting Irish raider from Joseph O’Brien’s stable, and the Konig Turf gelding is dangerous to dismiss assuming he turns out here following a break at the top of his game.
He had twice beaten the very useful Janika over hurdles in France when trained by Guy Cherel, and he was a dual-winner over fences for that handler before being bought by JP McManus and moved to Ireland.
Only Bachasson proved too strong for him on his first start for O’Brien at Punchestown last December, after which he was thrust into the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park where he ran well enough but shaped like a non-stayer behind Presenting Percy.
He has since been dropped to the minimum trip where he is 2-2 over the distance, running out an easy winner over Forge Meadow in the Grade Three Red Mills Trial Hurdle prior to lowering the colours of Cadmium when switched to fences and claiming the Navan Webster Cup.
A return to hurdles wouldn’t be a problem, while the prospect of heavy ground is also of little consequence, and he has proven in the past he can go well fresh. Assuming he takes his chance in this contest then he could be set for a big run if turning out at his best and he remains thoroughly unexposed.
Ribble Valley (14/1, Paddy Power) looked a very smart prospect when winning his first two hurdles starts, scoring in minor company at Hexham and Wetherby respectively with a pair of wide-margin efforts.
Nicky Richards’ Westerner gelding however was put in his place when taking a step up in class to contest the Grade Two Kennel Gate Hurdle at Ascot when last seen and this is no easier an assignment.
He remains open to improvement however and if he turns out in this contest he can give a good account; but on his recent Ascot performance he probably has a bit to find.
Tom Symonds has his team in decent heart, and Song For Someone (10/1, Unibet) could bid to get back on the winning trail although he has to find some measure of improvement to do so.
The Medicean gelding won twice in France prior to joining this yard, and following a pair of runner-up efforts at Ludlow and Fakenham last winter he was gelded after which he won races at Newbury and Warwick before posting a creditable sixth to Pentland Hills at Aintree.
Having made a winning return to action at Fontwell, he was far from disgraced in finishing third to Mack The Man in a Listed hurdle and he can find further progress although on his form to date, including with Pentland Hills, he’s going to have to.
Minella Charmer (40/1, Paddy Power) is on a hat-trick following earlier wins at Newcastle and here latterly, beating Fin And Game on his latest start by just over one length.
The King’s Theatre gelding is well-suited by a soft surface, but on his form he has a mountain to climb taking a considerable hike in grade where he is rated fully 25lbs below top-rated Call Me Lord. Similarly, Eleanor Bob (100/1, Bet365) also arrives in search of a hat-trick of wins with Venetia Williams’ charge posting a pair of successes at Leicester and Exeter respectively.
The Midnight Legend mare would get weight from this field, and like many from the yard will relish these conditions; she was an impressive winner of her last run, scoring by nine lengths from Misty Whisky.
This however is a huge step up in grade, and while unexposed and so might have more to offer, she has to make up 12lb with Minella Charmer let alone contest against the like of Call Me Lord and Pentland Hills who are both rated significantly higher.
This is also a very tough ask for a novice with just three hurdles starts under her belt, and she is very hard to make a case for. She is entitled to take her chance, but she looks outclassed.
Ballyandy can go well, but his win record is off-putting, while Nicky Henderson’s possible pair of Call Me Lord and Pentland Hills should both also put on bold shows. The latter especially ought to progress for his reappearance in the International Hurdle – won by Call Me Lord – but she’s not certain to be suited by heavy ground.
DARASSO (6/1, Bet365) would be interesting if lining up on his seasonal reappearance, and Joseph O’Brien’s charge is an unexposed sort who has kept good company in his short hurdles career since joining the Irish handler.
A smart sort in France, he twice beat Janika over hurdes before joining this yard, and he is 2-2 at the minimum distance which includes a Grade Two win over fences. He had also beaten the smart Forge Meadow in a Grade Three over hurdles on just his third start over hurdles for the O’Brien team, and there is a suspicion he has more to offer.
Heavy ground suits, and he has won on testing ground in France, while he has run well on both his seasonal introductions so a lack of a recent run might not present too much of a problem. He’d be an interesting contender if taking his chance in this race, and if he lines up then it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see a bold show.