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The Cheltenham Festival is just three weeks away, and our antepost tipping podcast series is in full swing as Paddy’s roster of pundits bring you their early fancies for the meeting.
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The From The Horse’s Mouth team have taken a close look at the Triumph Hurdle – the opening race on the final day – with legendary jockey Ruby Walsh, Paddy’s trader Frank Hickey and tipster Rory Delargy giving their thoughts.
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“I’d go with Pied Piper. I’m not sure it’s a great punting race at this stage and I think ground conditions might come into it to a large degree but from what I’ve seen so far I’d definitely have Pied Piper at the top of the pecking order.
“He needed headgear on the Flat for John & Thady Gosden and he did win a couple of times but both came on heavy ground so he looked like a horse that was fairly paceless. He stayed well but was in blinkers in May as a three-year-old, which I think is a negative sign.
“Pied Piper’s win in the Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle at Cheltenham in January was run in a slower time than the handicap hurdle that preceded it. You couldn’t not have been impressed with the way he done it but the form of that race isn’t enormously deep for a Grade 2. The debut form has worked out incredibly well, however, with the second, Vauban, winning the Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
“There’s a lot of horses who you wouldn’t be in love with on the Flat taking really well to hurdling and he has. His jumping hasn’t been perfect but he’s got better as he’s warmed up and his jumping late on at Cheltenham was very good. He’s got plenty of class for this, he’s got stamina and he enjoys what he’s doing which is a big plus.
“Fil Dor has experience in his favour. He’s had plenty of grounding and, although he was seemingly beaten on merit last time out, he’s going to carry his form through.
“Doctor Parnassus had the ability to win on the Flat but he just didn’t want to. He might have been transformed by hurdles but he’s not one I would trust. I think his price will drift on the day.”
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“Pied Piper bolted up at Punchestown over Christmas, with Vauban finishing half a length behind. Vauban then beat Fil Dor at Leopardstown earlier this month. Pied Piper raced at Cheltenham at the end of January and he looked like he’d learned a lot from his Punchestown win.
“If anything, Vauban was unlucky to run into Pied Piper in a maiden hurdle. Without him, he’d have been an impressive winner. Pied Piper and Vauban look like they’re the standard setters in the Triumph Hurdle.
“Can Fil Dor reverse the form? Not unless it’s run at a furious pace. There needs to be a lot of ifs to create that scenario. You’re also going to have to expect Davy Russel on Pied Piper and Paul Townend on Vauban to get sucked into that. Fil Dor needs the perfect storm.
“Il Etait Temps ran really well behind Vauban at Leopardstown and finished third. He finished strongly and it was his first run over hurdles. He’s entitled to improve.
“The one that’s possibly being overlooked and is a big price is Knight Salute, who’s done nothing wrong. He’s beaten Porticello, who won again at the weekend. I don’t think he’s done much wrong.
“It’s a toss of a coin between Vauban and Pied Piper but I’m more inclined to side with the best stayer on the new course at Cheltenham and that’s Pied Piper. He’s proven he can do that but I hope Vauban can get up that hill.
“If you made me pick one to ride, I’d go with Vauban. That race at Leopardstown has a good enough record going to Cheltenham. He looks the obvious one but it’s a competitive race.”
“The purpose of antepost punting is trying to beat the price and finding a possible angle. Il Etait Temps is interesting as he could shorten up a little but if you’re looking for one that could shorten considerably, especially considering we’re Non Runner Money Back, you’d have to take a flyer on Pleasant Man. If he wins the Adonis he goes to a single-figure price, if he gets beaten he doesn’t run.
“Pleasant Man joined Paul Nicholls from Roger Charlton, where he was rated 95 on the flat and finished 7th of 22 in the Melrose off 94. That’s one of the most competitive three-year-old staying handicaps. He also Pied Piper on debut at Haydock as a two-year-old. The worry would be Nicholls’ stable form hasn’t really turned.
“It’s difficult to see how Fil Dor reverses the form with Vauban. The race was run at a fair pace and Fil Dor was well positioned and couldn’t counter Vauban’s turn of foot. Vauban did plenty wrong, while Fil Dor did little wrong bar being a little untidy at the final flight. The only hope for Fil Dor is if the ground comes up bottomless.
“Porticello is four from five over hurdles and is versatile with regards to the ground. He’d probably want the race to turn into a proper test of stamina, however, so I wouldn’t rule him out if the ground does come up testing.
“Doctor Parnassus failed to win in 10 starts on the Flat for David O’Meara. He won at Kempton on hurdles debut but I’m not sure that was the strongest race ever, with Twilight Twist in particular running way below his best. He also won over 2m 3f at Taunton against older horses but, again, I wouldn’t be sure it was the strongest race.
“Knight Salute was half useful on the Flat, where he peaked at a rating of 91 after finishing second to Dark Lion on debut and winning a Sandown novice on his second start. He didn’t beat a rival in three starts in handicaps, however. Milton Harris picked him up for 14,000 Guineas and the trainer is having a cracking season with a 21 per cent strike rate which is phenomenal. Knight Salute is four from four over hurdles and that includes winning a Grade 2 at Cheltenham and winning another Grade 2 at Doncaster when beating Porticello and Impulsive One, who have since both won nicely. The form’s worked out. He’s got ability and you wouldn’t rule him out.”
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