2021 Cheltenham Festival – Doubt Over Triumph Hurdle favourites After Elliott Controversy
2021 Triumph Hurdle Tips
In the latest instalment of his ante-post previews, Lewis Tomlinson analyses the Triumph Hurdle. The opening race on Gold Cup day at the Cheltenham Festival, the race featured the unluckiest loser of the meeting last year when Goshen unseated Jamie Moore at the last hurdle when miles clear of his rivals.
2021 Triumph Hurdle Overview
Friday at Cheltenham flies into action with a fascinating renewal of the championship event for juvenile hurdlers. Could there be a potential superstar amongst this year’s crop of four-year-olds?
Triumph Hurdle Contenders – Zanahiyr
If so, it could well be Zanahiyr, who has made a flawless start to his hurdling career. A winner on the flat for Mick Halford and the Aga Khan, he quickly showed his aptitude for obstacles when making a winning debut at Ballinrobe in October and shot to the top of the Triumph market when breezing clear to win a Grade 3 at the Fairyhouse Winter Festival, notching an impressive time in the process.
The step up to Grade 1 level beckoned, and Zanahiyr once again underlined his position as Ireland’s leading juvenile, landing the odds with more in hand than the distance and manner of victory suggested. I’d be inclined to mark Zanahiyr up for that performance, as he proved he could quicken from a dawdling pace and still put the race to bed in a matter of strides. As it stands, though, will this horse be allowed to run if he remains with Gordon Elliott?
Elliott did hold an embarrassment of riches in this division this season, but Quilixios has been switched to Henry de Bromhead after Gordon Elliott was mired in contoversy after being pictured riding a dead horse. Quilixios made a winning start over hurdles at Compeigne for Francois Nicolle, a performance that showed enough to convince Cheveley Park Stud he was worth adding to their talented team and struck twice at short odds in Ireland early in the season, winning at Punchestown and Down Royal in the space of three weeks.
He was equally unfazed when meeting more meaningful opposition in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle earlier this month and looked the winner from a long way out, Jack Kennedy biding his time in the saddle before ranging up to Fred Winter favourite Saint Sam and going past under hands and heels. Quilixios responded when shaken up after the last, though I’m unsure whether he possesses anything like Zanahiyr’s devastating turn of foot and he’d still rank as the yard number two in the pecking order for me. But will a change of stable affect him so close to the Cheltenham Festival?
Another scheduled Elliott runner is Duffle Coat, a son of precocious sprinter Alhebayeb whose only other winner over jumps so far came at odds of 50-1 in a Leicester maiden. Sent off an unfancied 16-1 chance on his victorious racecourse debut in September, Duffle Coat quickly added to his tally at Gowran several weeks later before making two successful raids over the Irish Sea, having won the Wensleydale at Wetherby and the Prestbury at Cheltenham by the middle of November.
I’m always fairly sceptical of early season juvenile form, though, until I see it backed up later in the year. The pool of horses racing that early in the season is smaller, and these youngsters can be learning and improving at different rates – the best horse in October isn’t always the best horse in March. He was off the bridle a long way from home at Cheltenham last time, though, and whilst that form has been boosted since, I find it hard to see him having the gears make it five-in-a-row here.
The two-and-a-half length runner-up to Zanahiyr at Ballinrobe was Dark Voyager, a horse from the Willie Mullins yard carrying the colours of Joe Donnelly. Two starts later, Dark Voyager was beaten again by a hurdles debutant trained by Ellmarie Holden. This distance this time – 41 lengths. The winner’s name is French Aseel, and so taking was his performance at Leopardstown that Donnelly felt it necessary to stump up the money to join his powerful Mullins cohort.
French Aseel had form over six furlongs on the flat, and that raw speed was evident in winning a traditionally strong race- the runner-up Coltor won next time out and features prominently in the betting for the Fred Winter. The more I watch French Aseel’s victory that day, the more I am impressed by it at face value; he had every single one of his rivals in trouble turning for home and he sustained that intense gallop all the way to the line, though it’s worth considering whether a race where several hurdles were omitted enabled was always likely to see a speedy ex-Flat horse to best effect. The form of that race is reading well, however, and he’s a hugely exciting prospect.
It’s fair to say the standard in Britain generally looks a shade below what we’ve seen in Ireland so far this season. Adagio, shortest priced of the domestic runners, is a likeable animal and has improved run-for-run since joining David Pipe. He met his only defeat in four hurdles starts at the hands of Duffle Coat at Cheltenham in November, but is clearly already more potent weapon and proved himself a genuine contender for Triumph glory when powering clear to win the re-arranged Grade 1 Final Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow in January.
That was the strongest juvenile hurdle in the UK so far this season, with Nassalam, the impressive winner of two weak races at Fontwell by a combined total of 108 lengths, chasing him home in second.
Tritonic, placed at Royal Ascot and in Listed company, on the flat is one of the better horses to make the hurdling switch in recent years. He only scrambled home on his hurdling debut at Ascot last month, having been set a fair task to reel in the front-running Casa Loupi, with a decent field well strung out in behind.
That bare form would need at least a stone’s improvement and Tritonic didn’t look the finished article yet at Ascot, but the level of his ability on the flat would leave you hopeful for more to come in this sphere. I find it hard to see him winning a Triumph, but he’s a lovely recruit to this game and one to keep on side of going forward.
Of course, this is a division where a lot can change in a short space of time. Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle at the end of the month normally has a say on the market, though that race hasn’t produced a Triumph winner since Zarkandar. Nevertheless, it’s not unfeasible that something currently unconsidered may be a major player come Marh.
Triumph Hurdle Big-Race Verdict
Gordon Elliott holds the key to this race and he market probably has it right in preferring his Zanahiyr, who looks to possess a deadly number of gears and has shown he can win in a variety of different tactical set-ups.