2021 Cheltenham Festival – Blue Can Lord It Over Rivals At Decent Price
2021 County Hurdle Tips
Formerly the last race at the meeting, this race has found a new home earlier on the Gold Cup card. Lewis Tomlinson has been tasked with finding the winner.
County Hurdle overview
The County Hurdle is traditionally one of the week’s most competitive races, with a maximum twenty-six runner field taking part in this tricky handicap over 2m1f. It’s been less competitive in the training stakes, in recent years, though-the last six renewals have all fallen to either Dan Skelton or Willie Mullins, both of whom have won three County Hurdles apiece.
Key contender – Blue Lord
Mullins looks to have a leading contender again this season in the shape of his smart novice Blue Lord, who has shown up well in all three starts this season. He got the better of last season’s Champion Bumper seventh Julies Stowaway on hurdles debut at Punchestown, before pulling his chance away when upped in trip to finish second behind Bob Olinger at Naas in January.
His third behind Appreciate It and Ballyadam when dropped back to two miles in the Chanelle Pharma was a better performance, and he looks far from overfaced by his opening Irish mark of 142. Even allowing for the additional few pounds the British handicapper is likely to add to that, it could be very lenient for a dual-Grade 1 placed, especially given there could be clear upside if Blue Lord’s racecraft improves for this sort of environment. A strongly run race over this sort of trip, on paper, should give him a real chance of travelling at a more natural pace and his place near the top of the market is fully justified.
Irascible (20-1) matched his second to Appreciate It over Christmas with a fifth in the Chanelle Pharma, and like Blue Lord, doesn’t look to have given too much of a hard time by the Irish handicapper, with 139 as an opening mark. He too should appreciate the way this race will be run, though I’m not certain as to whether there’s quite as much scope for improvement in Irascible as there is in Blue Lord.
Third Time Lucki
Dan Skelton’s representative this year will be his novice Third Time Lucki (10-1), who fared best of the home team when fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper. He’s already won three times over hurdles this campaign, but I don’t think most of that form amounts to much and they were all races a horse of his ability would’ve found it hard to lose. I think he looks like he wants further and I fear he may be caught out for gears against some speedier types in this. I’m not sure he has much in hand of the assessor from 144, either and he’s too short for my liking, even given the trainer’s record in the race.
Betfair Hurdle winner Soaring Glory heads the betting in some books, though the Supreme, for which he is a similar price, also appears to be an option for Jonjo O’Neill’s six-year-old. The Betfair looked a well up-to-scratch renewal this season, and Soaring Glory was able to make a mockery of his opening handicap mark of 133, asserting at the finish to win more convincingly than the three-length margin suggested. Given the Supreme doesn’t look to be the deepest renewal, I’d be tempted by the chance of Grade 1 glory if he were mine.
Steadily progressive Betfair runner-up Fifty Ball (12-1) may also run here, and he’s enjoyed a consistent season for the Gary Moore team, though will need to produce a clear career-best in a race of this depth.
I’d be inclined to give Milkwood, who finished down the field in that race, another chance. Neil Mulholland’s horse ran really well when fourth in a strong renewal of the Welsh Champion Hurdle at the beginning of the season and probably would’ve won the Gerry Fielden at Newbury on his next start if not for being brought to a near standstill two out.
Despite not really seeing his finishing effort through, I wasn’t too disheartened by the way Milkwood travelled through the Betfair and I’d be happy enough to give him another chance if taking to Cheltenham, which will provide a different test to the primarily flat tracks he’s raced on in the past. He’d need the ground to be on the quicker side, and is a hold-up animal, so will need luck in running in this rough and ready race, but he’s more than capable of winning a big handicap off his mark and is one to keep on side of no matter how he runs at Cheltenham.
Drop The Anchor has improved his rating by 19lb this season. Having won a Grade B handicap at Listowel on his seasonal debut, he produced a career best to win in the Ladbroke at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out. Others prominent in the betting include Saldier , who won the Morgiana at the start of last season but has failed to fire at all in Grade 1 company this campaign and Noel Meade’s improving novice Thedevilscoachman (12-1), who met his only career defeat in Grade 1 company when fifth to Appreciate It over Christmas.
I also think Felix Desjy (20-1) is a potentially interesting runner here. A Grade 2 winning novice hurdler two seasons ago, Felix Desjy made a fine start to life over fences this season, turning over Darver Star and Sizing Pottsie in a Grade 2 before the wheels came off on his last two starts. He was a fractionally superior novice hurdler to Aramon, who finished second in his last season from a mark of 149, so that formline suggests he could be a threat from his Irish mark of 151 if reverting to hurdles helps him get his mojo back.
County Hurdle Big-race verdict
Blue Lord represents a trainer with a fantastic record in the race and is the right favourite. He’s already shown a strong level of form, and this race should pan out might even allow him to travel keenly without being overly disadvantaged by that issue. He’s the top selection. Milkwood needs to prove his aptitude for an undulating course, but the price of 25-1 makes up for that question mark and he’s fine each-way price if getting his ground.