Ben Linfoot: Not ‘worthy
Ben Linfoot says Barry Geraghty has an easy decision to make in the Champion Hurdle while Moon Racer and Blaklion are also discussed.
Yanworth: Not jumping well enough to win the Champion Hurdle
No brainer for Geraghty
Barry Geraghty is likely set for some tough decisions in the run-up to the Cheltenham Festival. All those horses to ride in JP McManus' green and gold silks, but he can only ride one in each race. Them's the rules.
But choosing between Buveur d'Air and Yanworth in the Champion Hurdle should not be one of them. Not after another wholly unconvincing performance from the latter in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday.
It has long been a concern that Yanworth won't have the pace for the two miles on the Old Course in the Champion. Victory in the Christmas Hurdle over Kempton's sharp-enough two went a little way to easing those fears, but not by much.
After all, he had to work very hard to get on top that day and, even in this year's Home Alone 3 of a Champion Hurdle, he's going to face tougher opposition at Cheltenham than he did on Boxing Day.
He'll be facing tougher rivals than he did in the Kingwell on Saturday, too. Trainer Alan King applied the cheekpieces for the first time to sharpen up his jumping, but they might as well be whipped off again judging by a less-than-fluent round of hurdling in the sheepskin.
He got in too close to the second flight, fiddled over the third unconvincingly and he was awkward at the second last. Again, he had to really grind to see off Ch'Tibello. A display from the Champion-elect it was not.
The positives are King reported him only '90 per cent fit' and he gave weight away to his rivals and still won. A stronger pace in the Champion Hurdle would bring his stamina into play as well.
But it's his jumping that's the real concern, especially at the trip. He'll need to hurdle like a demon to win over two miles against the season's best at Cheltenham and on recent evidence that's looking unlikely.
Buveur d'Air, the general 3/1 favourite, is arguably a bad price for the Champion Hurdle himself. On the bare form it would be impossible to argue for his status as market leader.
But he's four from five over hurdles, has bundles of potential and, barring a rusty leap at the first, he hurdled slickly and quickly in the Contenders' Hurdle at Sandown, allowing him to win without Geraghty moving a muscle.
He's not short of speed, either, but it's Yanworth's deficiencies, rather than anything else, that make Buveur d'Air the obvious choice for Geraghty in the opening day feature at the Cheltenham Festival.
Moves for Moon making sense
Talking of the Champion Hurdle, there has been bits and pieces of support for David Pipe's Moon Racer again with those bookies betting 'Non Runner No Bet' over the last few days. It's easy to see why.
If you were going to pick a weak Champion Hurdle to have a go at with an inexperienced novice you'd pick this year's renewal from anything in the last 20.
And 20 isn't a number plucked out of thin air, as it's that many years since Martin Pipe won the Champion Hurdle with novice hurdler Make A Stand.
Now, the similarities with Make A Stand and Moon Racer are few and far between. For example, Make A Stand ran 11 times over hurdles before he won the Champion, while Moon Racer has had just the two starts over timber.
But Moon Racer is eight-years-old. He's had his problems as his stop-start career profile shows.
And while it's hardly striking while the iron is hot given the iron hasn't been plugged in for three months, it's fair to say if he's fit and well Moon Racer will likely never have a better chance of winning a Champion Hurdle.
From limited evidence, including a Festival win in the Champion Bumper (where Yanworth was over three lengths behind in fourth), we know he's a talented so-and-so and his reputation has grown despite him being absent from the track since November thanks to Betfair Hurdle one-two Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes.
That franking of his most recent Cheltenham form saw his official rating rise 7lb to 148 while he was stood in his box at Pond House, but the feeling is that could still be a conservative estimation of his abilities.
It's surprising he's not a solid favourite for the Sky Bet Supreme. The Willie Mullins factor and the fact he hasn't been seen recently just about explains that. But the carrot of the Champion Hurdle could be another reason.
I'm sure there are still cards to be played in the Champion Hurdle. It remains to be seen if Willie Mullins was bluffing when giving what seemed the broadest hint he wouldn't be producing another supplementary ace at the six-day stage.
But if that really is the case, it wouldn't be a surprise if it were Moon Racer that proved to be the joker in the pack.
Blaklion to roar loudest at Aintree
The Grand National Trial at Haydock produced the winner of the main event in 2012 when Neptune Collonges went on to win at Aintree having finished runner-up to Giles Cross in mid-February.
And, while all the ante-post National money has been for Saturday's winner Vieux Lion Rouge in the past few days, it's Nigel Twiston-Davies' runner-up Blaklion that's on my radar for the big one as he bids to 'do a Neptune'.
The vagaries of Phil Smith's approach to handicapping the Grand National have been much discussed in the last week, and another quirk of his system will see Blaklion receive a 3lb pull at the weights with Vieux Lion Rouge at Aintree despite there being no penalties.
That's because Smith applied 3lb to Vieux Lion Rouge's National mark on top of his true rating, presumably because of the 'Aintree factor' thanks to his Becher Chase win earlier in the campaign.
It's a small difference, but one that could help Blaklion reverse the form on April 8. There wasn't much between the pair here, with Willy Twiston-Davies finally accepting his fate in the last 50 yards, and it certainly didn't look like Blaklion was wilting for stamina as he battled on gamely on the run for home.
Unlike the winner, he doesn't have form over the Aintree fences to further back up his claims. But he jumped beautifully on Saturday, shaping like they would cause no fear, and Twiston-Davies has had plenty of successes over the famous birch down the years thanks to the likes of Earth Summit, Bindaree, Hello Bud, Baby Run and Little Josh.
Clearly, he knows the sort of horse it takes to triumph in Liverpool. So when he says 'we will win the National and forget about being second today' it might be worth sitting up and taking notice – especially when that horse is a well-handicapped Grade One winner still available at 25/1.
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