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The Triumph Hurdle promises to be one of most exciting races at Cheltenham Festival with no clear favourite for the crown.
The race has produced great winners in the past. Tiger Roll won the event in 2014 has gone on to great success at Cheltenham and at the Grand National.
There will be horses determined to emulate the success of Tiger Roll in the Triumph Hurdle and their respective careers.
In a refreshing turn of events, no trainer has dominated the race unlike other meets at the Festival. The meet has been won by four different trainers in the last four years and it could be five if the race follows the predictions of the bookmakers.
Joseph O’Brien’s charge Sir Erec is the favourite for the Triumph Hurdle, although did have a fitness scare last week. The horse has only recently turned to jumps after starting out his career in the flat and could make an immediate impact at Cheltenham Festival.
Joseph O’Brien took control of Sir Erec at the end of the flat season. His father Aidan had trained the horse in his maiden flat campaign, winning the Curragh Home Of Champions Maiden and the Martin Molony Stakes. He competed in the British Champions Long Distance Cup at the end of the season, placing in a respectable third, although off the pace of Stradivarius. The decision was made to declare the bay colt for a career in jumps racing rather than the flat. He made his bow at a Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown in December.
Sir Erec made an instant impact on the racecourse, putting forward a fine performance to record a victory in his first appearance. Mark Walsh in the saddle guided his charge into a rhythm and he was able to edge his way into the lead before closing out the win by a tight margin ahead of Tiger Tap Tap. O’Brien’s charge followed up his maiden victory with a stronger outing in the Juvenile Hurdle. Walsh again guided the bay colt over the hurdles with ease and he had the pace down the stretch to canter away from the rest of the field. His injury is a concern, but if he’s healthy, Sir Erec will be a formidable contender at Cheltenham Festival.
Joseph O’Brien has another quality competitor in the field, with one more race under his belt over hurdles, although Gardens of Babylon is another convert from the flat. He finished off the pace in two flat events under Aidan O’Brien and made the switch to jumps racing at the end of last year. The Irish-bred horse triumphed in his first outing in a Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown. He was a 7/1 outsider for the race, but Mark Walsh in the saddle put the horse into an excellent rhythm and he was able to claim the victory by half-a-length ahead of Surin.
His rival got the better of him at the Irish Racing Hurdle at Fairyhouse in January. On this occasion Surin had the pace down the stretch to edge out Gardens of Babylon on the line to win by a nose. Sir Erec’s arrival on the scene in the Juvenile Hurdle made life even tougher as he finished six lengths off the pace of his stable-mate. It would be a surprise to see him match the speed of Sir Erec at Cheltenham Festival.
Paul Nicholls’ charge has the form entering Cheltenham Festival, enjoying an incredibly strong campaign in the National Hunt. The French-bred horse has won five of his six races this term, triumphing in his last five meetings on the bounce. His term began with a disappointing outing at the Champion Hats Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow where he was the favourite for the race, but finished one-a-and-a-half lengths off the pace behind 20/1 shout Montestrel.
However, Quel Destin bounced back a week later with a dominant performance to win the Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton Park by 12 lengths. He carried that momentum into Cheltenham racecourse in the Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle. The French-bred horse tussled with Cracker Factory down the stretch, but he had the pace when it mattered the most to close out the win.
Another Alan King charge pressured Quel Destin at the bet365 Summit Juvenile Hurdle, although once again he had speed on the line to win by a neck. Sam Twiston-Davies maintained the success in the saddle, using the speed of Nicholls’ charge to beat Adjali by a neck in the Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle. Last time out, he was in control of the race in the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, easing to a victory by four lengths ahead of the field at Haydock Park. Look out for Quel Destin on the line.
The French-bred horse is the wildcard at the event, having never raced in the United Kingdom or Ireland. All seven of his meets have been in France and have all been at Auteuil. Pic D’Orhy transferred into Nicholls’ yard at the end of January, moving out of Francois Nicolle’s possession. He began his autumn campaign with a victory at the Prix des Platanes, beating out his nearest rival Matfog by half-a-length.
Pic D’Orhy suffered a setback in his next outing when he unseated jockey Thomas Gueguen in the Prix Kargal – ending the first chase event of his career prematurely. The French-bred horse returned to hurdles and just beaten out on the line by a neck at the Prix Georges de Talhouet-Roy by race favourite Beaumec De Houelle. His rival got the better of him once again – this time by a wider margin at the Prix Cambaceres. Nicholls’ charge has not raced since and his lack of familiarity with conditions raises doubts about his pedigree for Cheltenham Festival.
Sir Erec has taken all the headlines ahead of the event. He has the raw potential and has performed brilliantly in the first two races of his career over hurdles. However, his injury and lack of experience are a concern. Quel Destin has been in impressive form of late and has been unhindered by fitness problems.
Gardens of Babylon does not have the pace to trouble the leading duo, while there is too much uncertainty over Pic D’Orhy in new territory. The battle will be between Sir Erec and Quel Destin, but given the form of the latter and injury worries of O’Brien’s charge, take Quel Destin for the win at odds of 6/1 7.00 +600 6.00 6.00 -0.17 with Bet365.