Tolworth form key to Cheltenham
Ian Ogg looks ahead to Saturday's Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown Park and the race's impact on the Cheltenham Festival.
Kayf Grace (r) can advertise her Cheltenham credentials
There have been 15 runnings of the 32Red Tolworth since the turn of the millenium and three of those winners have gone on to win later in the season at the Cheltenham Festival.
Given the many diverse routes available and the fact that Ireland have been responsible for 10 winners of the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle and eight of the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle in this period, the tally reads well enough.
It compares favourably with last week's Challow Hurdle at Newbury which has thrown up just the one Festival winner in Wichita Lineman with Denman, Diamond Harry, Coolnagorna, Brewster, Reve De Sivola and Barters Hill among those who came up short by varying degrees.
The three Tolworth Hurdle winners to go on to win at Cheltenham were Monsignor (2000) in the (then) Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle, Noland (2006) in the Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Yorkhill (2016) in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
In other words, Saturday's race could be considered a vastly underrated Festival trial.
Here, I take a look at the 11 entries for this year's renewal:
Ballyhill (Tolworth: 16/1)
Easy winner on hurdling debut and duly followed up over two miles five furlong at Ludlow. Stepped up in class and down in trip subsequently and struggled to make much of an impression and may benefit from a stiffer test of stamina. Hard to see him making an impression here or in novice company at the Festival.
Yard won this four times between 2003 and 2008, including with Supreme winner Noland. Stepped up considerably on previous efforts to win the Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Ascot from a useful field. Learning all the time with connections blaming themselves for his Haydock defeat and trainer has spoken in glowing terms of the five-year-old for all that he has already mentioned next season's Arkle.
Celestial Path (Tolworth: 16/1)
Group One placed on the Flat as a juvenile and finished fifth in the 2000 Guineas before missing the majority of the rest of his Classic season. Never really recaptured those heights but was by no means performing badly on the level. Interesting recruit to hurdling but this would be a tough introduction.
Chalonnial (Tolworth: 9/1)
Failed to cope with the conditions in a Listed bumper at Limerick in April but ran out a comfy winner either side of that contest. Decent yard should know where they stand in this division so interesting he's been given an entry at this level and he's a half-brother to the useful Activial who won a Grade Two novice for this handler. Described as 'very good' by Noel Fehily after his hurdling bow but this is a marked step up and a relatively quick return.
French bumper winner stepped up significantly on the form of his maiden hurdle victory with a visually taking performance at Aintree last time. The runner-up did nothing for that form at Cheltenham and the fourth, fifth and sixth have all been soundly beaten since as well but as they say, he can only beat what's in front of him and he did that well. Reportedly shows nothing at home but saving your best for the track is no bad trait.
Changed hands for £250,000 after winning his point (runner-up won an Exeter bumper on debut for David Pipe on New Year's Day) and fuelled the excitement with a very impressive defeat of a well-regarded stablemate of Chalonnial at Hereford on his hurdling debut. That form has yet to be tested but this five-year-old looked out of the top drawer that day and it will be disappointing if he doesn't run a big race.
Trainer Nicky Henderson has won four of the last six renewals of this race. Hugely impressive winner of a decent bumper on his Rules debut from the top-class Tea For Two but presumably been difficult to train since and failed to justify decent market support on his first run for over two years at Cheltenham last month. Possible he will leave that form behind but he has plenty to prove.
Global Stage (Tolworth: 20/1)
Half-brother to the talented Out Sam who overcame jumping problems (fell twice) to win his fourth start between the flags. Promising start to his Rules career suggests he has a bright future but unlikely to get competitive here.
Man From Mars (Tolworth: 80/1)
No realistic chance in this company or in the novice races at Cheltenham.
Rated as high as 107 on the Flat and finished sixth to Gleneagles in the Irish 2000 Guineas. Joined a top NH yard and made a promising introduction at Kempton (Ballyhill behind). Entitled to improve for that experience but probably needs to take a significant leap forwards to trouble the best of these.
Leading performer in mares' bumpers, winning the Grade Two at the Aintree Grand National meeting. Long odds-on for her hurdling debut at Bangor in a traditionally decent race (previous winners include Cheltenham Festival scorers Whiteoak and Son Of Flicka plus Backspin and Ma Du Fou) and runner-up franked the form when chasing home Coo Star Sivola in a Listed race at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Exciting prospect.
There have been five winning favourites in the last 10 runnings of the Tolworth and it's hard to argue with the ante-post positions; if the three market leaders all line up then we should be in store for a cracking contest. Paul Nicholls has already described Capitaine as 'smart' but I'd want to see more evidence before looking to get him onside for Cheltenham while Finian's Oscar has all the options and thus is a difficult ante-post proposition.
Kayf Grace, on the other hand, has just the one target and she's a tempting wager as a result. The horse she beat at Aintree, Willie Mullins' Augusta Kate, is ahead of her in the ante-post market for Cheltenham which is in no small part down to her trainer.
Kayf Grace won at Aintree on merit and the pair both won their sole starts over hurdles with ease but Kayf Grace seems certain to be kept to the minimum (the distance the Cheltenham race is run over) whereas Augusta Kate made her debut over two miles seven.
Their respective market positions aside, Nicky Henderson's mare looks a smart prospect and a big run on Saturday can only result in the layers shortening her price.
- Prices are all with Sky Bet and correct at the time of publication
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