Triumph Hurdle Tips: Pastor makes appeal

Mick Pastor (far left) chased home Allmankind on British debut at Cheltenham in November.
Mick Pastor (far left) chased home Allmankind on British debut at Cheltenham in November.

Following the release of entries for the Triumph Hurdle last week, Dan O'Connell has taken a look at the field and picked out his best bet at this stage...

The JCB Triumph Hurdle kicks off the fourth and final day of racing at the Cheltenham Festival, and it is always one of the most anticipated races of the week. With the entries just announced for this year's renewal, this edition is set to be no exception.

By the Friday of the famous meeting, punters are entitled to feel a little punch-drunk, exhausted by the unrelenting action. Gambles landed, bubbles burst, legends created, reputations in shatters and torn-up betting slips aplenty. The prospect of the very best four-year-old juveniles competing is just the antidote required to rouse the spirits - and rouse them we might. The Triumph Hurdle, once considered one of the trickier puzzles to solve, has become a much more appealing proposition for backers. This is mainly due to the advent of the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap. In fact, since the inaugural running of that race in 2005, 10 of the 15 winners of the Triumph Hurdle have been in the top 3 in the betting, and this has very much become a race that respects the form book. And, rather helpfully, the ante-post market this year has 3 horses way ahead of the rest. We can begin by analysing their credentials.

Aspire Tower is the leading hope for the Irish in this race as far as the betting is concerned, and he looks the least complicated to assess. An unremarkable performer for Richard Hannon on the Flat, the switch to obstacles looks set to be the making of this horse. Trained by Henry de Bromhead in County Waterford, Aspire Tower won his maiden at Punchestown with consummate ease. He then confirmed the promise of his debut exactly a month later, winning the Grade 2 Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on St Stephen's Day in an even more impressive fashion. His jumping was straight and, in the main, neat and accurate. He looked relaxed, professional and unhurried, and he had the majority of the other Irish contenders in behind him that day. He will need to bounce back from a fall at the final flight in Sunday's Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, departing when seemingly losing the battle with Ceberus at the time - who himself was collared by A Wave Of The Sea late on - but he can't be discounted here.

Unfortunately, the picture isn't quite as clear on this side of the Irish Sea, and we have two leading contenders on these shores, both of whom are typified not by their professionalism, but by their raw ability. Goshen had been a progressive sort for dual-purpose trainer Gary Moore on the Flat, winning three minor events on the spin before being switched to hurdles for a juvenile campaign. Characterised by his enormous engine, Goshen has made-all to win three times this winter, and he could hardly have looked more impressive in doing so. He does, however, have a tendency to hang right at his hurdles, which would be a major concern for any horse at the left-handed Cheltenham track. His jumping in general will need to improve if he is to be competitive here, and with there also being question marks over the form of his wins, he is best left.

Allmankind for the Skelton team is another precocious talent. He is 3/3 this term, taking in both the Triumph Juvenile Hurdle trial at Cheltenham during the November meeting and the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow at Christmas along the way. He has a very aggressive style of racing, making all from the front, racing freely and keenly. His nine-length victory over Cerberus at Chepstow looks to be a good yardstick, as Cerberus readily won a Grade 3 in Ireland in the autumn before being snapped up by JP McManus - and he's since placed in a Grade 1 contest at Leopardstown. Allmankind also has the coveted course experience, which can prove invaluable at Cheltenham. The niggling doubt with him is whether he can sustain a similar effort in a race of this depth and quality, and it's worth noting that he is unlikely to be afforded a soft lead here.

One thing all three of the main protagonists at the head of this ante-post market share in common is a desire to lead, and from the small pool of evidence we have to draw on, Aspire Tower is perhaps the most versatile in terms of tactics. It would very much appear that Goshen and Allmankind have to lead in their races, which could result in them taking each other from the off, potentially softening one another up for a horse to come from off the pace. With that in mind, several make appeal at bigger prices, particularly Mick Pastor.

Trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by JP McManus, Mick Pastor was sent off as favourite to beat Allmankind on his British debut in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham in November and he flopped considerably, finishing 40 lengths off the pace in a remote sixth place. There are any number of reasons for that disappointment, given he is a young horse acclimatising to new surroundings, but his strength in the market that day suggests that his formidable connections clearly thought highly of him. On his most recent appearance at Ludlow last month, Mick Pastor looked a lot more like the horse we expected to see at Cheltenham, travelling through the race extremely well and recording a straightforward success. Admittedly, the form of that race amounts to little, but it is the manner of his performance that caught the imagination, including his efficient jumping. He took up the running after the second last and won with any amount in hand, and with the second-most successful jockey at the Festival in history in Barry Geraghty likely to be on board, Mick Pastor makes plenty of appeal at the prices.

Fujimoto Flyer hasn’t been seen since easing to a comfortable victory in a listed fillies-only race at Auteuil in France last September, and she's since been purchased by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede in the interim. Following her acquisition, there was much discussion about where to get next with this talented filly, with trips back to France and even to America mooted, and it would be interesting if she takes up this engagement. She would have the assistance of a 6 lb sex allowance, something that could be telling when travelling up the hill, and considering that her trainer Emmet Mullins has suggested that she wants very soft ground, she could offer plenty of value at her current price of around 50/1 if the rain arrives in the Cotswolds.

It is also worth noting that last season’s winner, Pentland Hills, had not seen a hurdle until February 25th last year, just two weeks before the Festival. It is a good idea to keep track of any horse whom is entered, but hasn’t yet run in Britain or Ireland, and the Paul Nicholls-trained pair of Stratagem and the much-hyped Solo rate as particularly interesting. Willie Mullins also has a couple of french recruits from the Flat, usually such a reliable source of winners for the master trainer at Closutton. Winner of a stakes race at Chantilly, Burning Victory could be one to keep on side, while the filly Hook Up will race in the famous Rich Ricci colours, and immediately draws the eye. However, at the prices, it is Mick Pastor who makes the most appeal.

Selection

Triumph Hurdle, Cheltenham Festival, Friday 13th March 2020 - back Mick Pastor at 20/1

Triumph Hurdle
Mick Pastor silk

Mick Pastor

Represents powerful connections, and although he was well beaten on his British debut at Cheltenham in November, he looked far more promising when winning in facile fashion at Ludlow last month, and with genuine doubts about each of the market principals, he offers plenty of value at around the  20/1 mark.

Cheltenham Festival Tips
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