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Unsurprisingly, given his connections, there was plenty of hype at Newbury in mid-December when L’ECALES ARTICLE made his debut under rules and by all accounts, it was a pretty impressive start to his racing career under Nicky Henderson.
Racing in the Joe Donnelly silks in the same maiden hurdle that Siskin ran in 12 months previously, the seven-year-old showed his rivals a clean pair of heels from the second last to win by a cosy 7 lengths and gain some fancy prices for Cheltenham Festival honours. Henderson quoted afterwards that L’ecales Article is “quite good, but is a big baby”, so while he was expected to learn plenty from that experience, it was visually very impressive.
He steps up in trip here, but given that he won his sole point-to-point over 3m by a comfortable 8 lengths, that is likely to be to his advantage than anything else. On the form book, the obvious danger is Stellar Magic, he has won both of his starts over hurdles and his win at Taunton last month looked a very solid effort too.
It’s also a bonus to his hopes that the Philip Hobbs team are firing on all cylinders once again. However, he has to give away 6lbs to L’ecales Article and that might just sway the argument in favour of the Henderson horse, in what is likely to be a fascinating duel.
There aren’t many more fascinating contests at this year’s Cheltenham festival than the Arkle Trophy and a win for Allmankind here could add more spice to that 2m spectacle on the opening day of the festival. A talented juvenile hurdler last season, when he signed off with a respectable third in the Triumph Hurdle, Dan Skelton’s five-year-old has been foot perfect in winning his two starts over fences this season.
He was hugely impressive when delivering over course and distance in November before triumphing in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase at Sandown – where he again dictated from the front and held off Hitman. The form of that race looks strong given that the runner-up was in the process of running a big race in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase before falling, while the third-placed Ga Law had won on his previous three starts en route to Sandown.
The betting suggests that SKY PIRATE is the obvious, and perhaps only, danger to Allmankind and judged on his most recent wins – particularly over course and distance at Warwick – there is every reason to believe that he’ll come out on top here. While it’s invariably difficult to compare times on different days, if ground conditions are to believed when both Sky Pirate and Allmankind won over C&D, then that speaks hugely in favour of the Jonjo O’Neill-trained runner.
While Allmankind’s winning time was some four seconds faster, he carried 18lbs less than today’s rival on much better ground and that would give Sky Pirate a huge chance of winning this duel. Throw into the argument that for the first time over fences, Allmankind won’t be getting the four-year-old allowance and he may just have to settle for second best to a very progressive horse.
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An intriguing mares contest where dual French Grade 1 winner Paul’s Saga puts her reputation on the line. However, she’s a very short proposition considering that French form is generally very hard to weigh up in these better races on this side of the English channel.
Given his domination on the mares scene, it’s quite ironic that two former Willie Mullins-trained mares are lining up here and on all known form, it’s likely that these two will be involved in the business end too. Plenty will remember Eglantine Du Seuil from her shock 50/1 success in the 2019 Mares Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but in her 10 subsequent runs since she has yet to add to her tally.
Her two most recent runs have given the impression that there’s still some quality remaining, but given that the Sullivan Bloodstock team have since sold her on, that can’t boost much confidence in her chances here. DOLCITA is the least exposed of the former Mullins pair and following just one run for Paul Nicholls, where she burst a blood vessel at Hereford, she is now having her first run for Fergal O’Brien.
She beat everything bar Concertista in last season’s Mares Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, where she had Whitehotchillifili behind her, and prior to that, she went down fighting behind Minella Melody and Colreevy in Grade 3 company at Fairyhouse. Still in the ownership of Sullivan Bloodstock, she’s worth forgiving for her latest blip and having her first run since having a wind-op, she just might be able to return to winning ways at a huge price.
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