LEADING SECTIONAL RATINGS (as of 05/02/2020)
The JCB Triumph Hurdle is often one of the more unpredictable events at the Cheltenham Festival, but one thing that is odds on this year is that it will be well-run. The front three in the market have all accomplished plenty and have done it by going hard from the front and by (so far) keeping going.
Something will have to give, and that something could conceivably be all of those three under-performing.
Pick of them is arguably ASPIRE TOWER, a winner by 13 lengths and 18 lengths at Punchestown and Leopardstown, but a faller when likely to win the Spring Juvenile Hurdle only narrowly at Leopardstown recently.
That first Leopardstown win, over Christmas, was an extraordinary affair in which Aspire Tower thrashed WOLF PRINCE and A WAVE OF THE SEA in a race in which his finishing speed (speed at finish as % of average race speed) was 93% and his rivals’ were all under 90%.
It involved a pace collapse late on, in other words, and Aspire Tower proved easily the best-equipped to cope. In a more conventionally run affair last time (around 99% finishing speed), Aspire Tower might have held on by only a length or two from the same two rivals (but in the opposite order).
Nonetheless, Aspire Tower is a formidable hurdler under certain circumstances. His debut win came by a wide margin also, and he has made the running on each of his hurdling appearances.
So, too, has ALLMANKIND, who set off like a crazed mustang (plodded home in 90.6% finishing speed) on his debut at Warwick against negligible opposition, but was then a bit more controlled at Cheltenham (100.1%) and Chepstow (102.1%), winning all three.
His defeat of BOTOX HAS by two and a half lengths at Cheltenham reads well, and his defeat of CERBERUS (who looked like benefiting most from Aspire Tower’s fall last time, only to empty on the run-in) by nine lengths at Chepstow reads even better.
But Allmankind – spoken of as a Derby candidate until his headstrong tendencies got the better of him on the flat – has not been headed over hurdles and it must be wondered what will happen when he is.
GOSHEN has been headed, and it did not faze him, but he is another hurdler who runs with the choke out.
He has won by wide margins at Fontwell, Sandown (89.0% finishing speed) and Ascot (95.7% FS), but has tended to jump to his right late on. An 11-length defeat of 123-rated NORDANO, plus six lengths on top for being eased, last time is useful stuff, but not exactly off the scale.
There have been suggestions that this year’s Triumph Hurdle will feature a small field, with anything rated around 140 or less having the Juvenile Handicap on Wednesday as a realistic alternative.
Be that as it may, the die is likely to be cast regarding how the Triumph will be run. Something – most likely Allmankind – will set off quickly, and something else – perhaps Aspire Tower or Goshen – will take over if he flags. It is additionally possible to see Goshen’s jumping being a problem late on.
Is there anything of sufficient quality to pick up the pieces if those three cut each other’s throats? I think there is.
MICK PASTOR has not exactly been renowned for his relaxed nature since coming to Britain – indeed, he pulled too hard behind Allmankind when favourite at Cheltenham – but he is likely to be ridden in contrasting style, and it worked much better with a tongue strap thrown in at Ludlow last time, when he beat PREFONTAINE with loads to spare by six and a half lengths.
That was a race in which the leaders overdid things – race finishing speed of just 93.7% on a pancake-flat track – and Mick Pastor took over smoothly when it mattered, two out.
A win over a 127-rated rival at Ludlow would not, in itself, be enough to recommend a horse for the Triumph Hurdle, even such an easy one, but Mick Pastor has one other bit of form in the book that is relevant, and that is his debut victory at Auteuil in May.
On that occasion, he beat Nirvana du Berlais by six lengths, and that colt went onto win the French equivalent of the Triumph Hurdle by 14 lengths in November. In a well-beaten third on that earlier occasion was Le Lude, who has plenty of form in the 130 region over jumps in France.
Mick Pastor is probably a smart performer – if you ignore his one dismal showing at Cheltenham – and he could well be suited by a no-holds-barred contest in which he settles and is produced late in the piece. Taking non-runner, no bet, is insurance against the outside chance that connections opt for the Boodles (Fred Winter) instead.
The Triumph is the right race for him. All we need now is for the other smart individuals to be true to type and set things up for him.
Verdict: MICK PASTOR each-way (non-runner, no bet)