National Spirit Hurdle tips – Big-race preview of Fontwell feature
Brian Healy looks over the big-race field for Sunday’s feature at Fontwell where he has National Spirit Hurdle tips for the day’s Grade Two highlight at the West Sussex track.
The Grade Two National Spirit Hurdle is the feature race of the afternoon at Fontwell, and the 2m 4f contest goes to post at 3.20pm as the third race of the day at the West Sussex track.
This race boasts a solid roll-call of winners which includes the likes of Old Guard, Lil Rockerfeller, Celestial Halo, Lough Derg and My Way de Solzen amongst others. Who will join that winners’ list on Sunday?
Brian Healy looks over the five runners bidding to land the £45,000 first prize and gives his National Spirit Hurdle tips to land the Grade Two contest before a possible Cheltenham Festival appearance next month.
NATIONAL SPIRIT HURDLE TIPS – BIG-RACE SELECTION
RUNNER BY RUNNER GUIDE
Progressive over hurdles last term, winning five of his seven starts which included a Chepstow Grade One over Christmas prior to finishing fifth behind Pentland Hills in the Triumph Hurdle.
Paul Nicholls’ charge warmed up for his new campaign with a solid run on the flat and he duly showed the benefit of that outing to win on his return to hurdling at Cheltenham in October.
Following a couple of lesser runs back in Graded company he was a good winner of the Listed Contenders’ Hurdle on his latest start where he battled on well to beat Call Me Lord by three lengths.
The Muhtathir gelding ought to give another good account again but he has to prove he is as effective over this longer trip as he at two miles.
Showed plenty over hurdles last term, winning twice with successes at Cheltenham and Taunton prior to chasing home Klassical Dream in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle during last season’s Cheltenham Festival.
Olly Murphy’s charge was tried over fences for his couple of runs this term. However whilst he largely ran well enough in his two outings over the larger obstacles his jumping didn’t always cut the mustard in his runs and he was held back somewhat by a tendency for mistakes.
He did make the frame in both of his starts though, but he showed he had unfinished business back over hurdles when beating subsequent Kingwell Hurdle winner Song For Someone readily at Ascot last month.
The standard-setter on form and official ratings he would be giving this field weight in a handicap; but he likely has more to offer over hurdles and he ought to prove a tough nut to crack with stamina for this trip assured.
Relatively lightly-raced but capable of strong form as he showed when winning the 2018 Lanzarote Handicap where he was something of a ratings blot on that occasion. He wasn’t at his best in his next few outings but bounced back to winning form with a defeat of the admirable Wicklow Brave in last season’s Coral Cup before acquitting himself well back in Graded company at Aintree where he finished fourth behind If The Cap Fits.
Nicky Henderson’s King’s Theatre gelding ran well for third on his reappearance in the Relkeel Hurdle behind Summerville Boy; but he looked stretched by the trip on the stiff Cheltenham track when failing to beat a rival home in the Cleeve Huhrdle next time.
He’ll be more at home back at this shorter trip and if he turns out here at the top of his game then he’s dangerous to discount with his best form putting him in the mix.
Fourth in the 2018 County Hurdle, Seamus Mullins’ charge has been plying his trade over fences in the past couple of seasons.
The Pivotal gelding has shown up well in a couple of starts this term over the larger obstacles at Carlisle and Newbury respectively; but he was disappointing when last seen beating only one home in the Castleford Chase at Wetherby and he faces a stiff task returning to hurdles at this level.
His last start over hurdles saw him denied only by Silver Streak in the 2018 Swinton Hurdle, but this demands more and he has a stone to find with Thomas Dary so clearly faces an uphill task here back over the smaller obstacles.
Has proven himself to be a smart operator over hurdles, winning twice last term before finding only Malaya too strong in the Imperial Cup where he was racing from out of the weights.
The Diamond Boy gelding then ran well in defeat behind Ch’tibello in the Coral Cup and he returned from seven months off to win on his return at Ffos Las back in October.
Jane Williams’ charge has since acquitted himself well in defeat although he faced an impossible task in the Irish Champion Hurdle on his latest outing and this is a shade more manageable. However, he hasn’t shaped as if he wants more of a test of stamina so might not be suited by this extra half-mile and he has to prove he gets this far as well as find a shade more on the balance of his form.
NATIONAL SPIRIT HURDLE TIPS – BIG-RACE VERDICT
THOMAS DARBY (6/5, William Hill) got back on the winning trail when returned to the smaller obstacles at Ascot last month and the Benficial gelding can stamp his ticket to the Champion Hurdle with victory in this Grade Two contest.
Olly Murphy’s charge was a very progressive sort as a novice, winning twice over timber prior to chasing home Klassical Dream in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Switched to chasing this campaign he wasn’t always the most fluent over the larger obstacles in his two starts at Warwick and Kempton respectively; but he took full advantage of the return to hurdles when beating Song For Someone in a Grade Three contest last time.
Subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner Pic D’Orhy was well beaten that day and the selection likely has more to offer over hurdles. He sets the standard on form and would be conceding weight to this field in a handicap so could prove tough to beat with a repeat of that Ascot performance.