With the January jumping calendar ravaged by snow and frost opportunities to see the principals add substance to their claims have been thin on the ground, trainers playing roulette with the fixture list in search of prep runs for their charges. Add to that the fact that the worth of last year’s Champion Hurdle form seems to be getting knocked about and one is left with a race that is very difficult to fathom.
The weekend of the 29th of January saw races traditionally regarded as fair trials for Cheltenham’s Tuesday showpiece go ahead at Haydock and Leopardstown and served to offer form lines (some comprehensive, some more tenuous) which unite many of the horses at the business end of the ante-post markets for the race yielding for two horses who have particularly bold claims.
After an unspectacular fourth of four in Saturday’s Haydock race that also featured Medermit and Punjabi, a yardstick of sorts has finally arrived in the steady shape of Cape Tribulation, who’s form is intertwined with the runners we’ll be looking at. Over an up and down career he seems to have fared best over distances of 2 miles 4 furlongs and upwards. Hopefully observing how the leading contenders for Champion Hurdle glory fared against him this season will allow us to gain a better handle on where they all stand in the pecking order.
Binocular – The Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle at the end of November saw several Champion Hurdle prospects line up. Binocular made a poor showing when finishing 5th, 7 lengths behind Go Native and 1 and a half adrift of Solwhit. He got a lot closer to that day’s victor when the two re-opposed in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, going down by only a length and a quarter.
Go Native –. He had already had a warm-up run before his Fighting Fifth success and beat a woefully under par Binocular and a Solwhit who was in need of his first run of the season. He beat Cape Tribulation (4th) by 6 and quarter lengths in the Christmas Hurdle in Kempton’s Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle over the 2 mile Champion Hurdle trip.
Zaynar – Not remotely pushed when recording an unspectacular win from Cape Tribulation by 6 Lengths in a longer 2 mile 4 furlong race at Cheltenham in December. It seems that Nicky Henderson is keeping him firmly away from the other leading lights between now and the festival so we are left with Cape Tribulation as the only link to the other players. CT trailed the winner by the same distance in both his race race with Zaynar (2m4f) and Go Native (2m).
Punjabi – Came home 2 lengths in front of Cape Tribulation when himself a 4 length 2nd to Medermit in the sportingbet.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock on Saturday.
Celestial Halo – Finished 3 Lengths up on Medermit in the Boylesports International that was won by Khyber Kim in December. He had no answer when under pressure beaten 9 lengths into fourth by Solwhit at Leopardstown over the weekend though the heavy ground may have also been partially to blame.
Solwhit – Clearly needed the run when beaten 3 and a half lengths by Go Native in The Fighting Fifth and responded by recording 2 victories in Ireland since then. His victory in Leopardstown at the weekend left Celestial Halo trailing in his wake on the heavy ground, some 9 lengths behind.
Khyber Kim – Has beaten Medermit into 3rd twice over Champion Hurdle course and distance this season. In the second of those races he came from last to first in a taking manner passing Celestial Halo on his way to the line.
Medermit – Another solid form yardstick, Medermit announced himself in the Champion Hurdle Picture on Saturday beating reigning champ Punjabi by 4 lengths on Saturday. He has been a not too distant third twice behind Khyber Kim over Cheltenham C and D.
Confusion reigns! Cape Tribulation has taught us precious little, though to me it seems that as yardstick he shows Zaynar in a better light due to racing against him at what seems more like his ideal distance of 2 miles 4 furlongs. If sharing Paul Nicholls’ view we rule out Celestial Halo’s recent bad run in Ireland as a blip, then I keep coming back to to one horse... Nigel Twiston Davies’s massively improved Khyber Kym.
Having two wins at Cheltenham over the Champion Hurdle Trip already under his belt beating last year’s runner up and twice beating Medermit who has himself beaten the current champion in reasonable fitness I feel he has the pick of the form.
Zaynar and particularly Solwhit are two others who have sound claims but each has an unknown undermining them.
Q.Will Solwhit transfer his Irish form to England, and more particularly Cheltenham’s singular test of stamina?
Q. Does Zaynar have the turn of foot to withstand on-rushing hold-up types such as Khyber Kym and Go Native
over the final furlong of 2 mile trip which just might not be his optimum trip?
I reckon the form has worked out very well for Khyber Kym, so I will back him out Polish Ecstasy’s biscuit budget and sit back to dream of another madcap, last to first burst to Cheltenham glory.