Some likely improvers if there’s better ground at this year’s Festival
A season pockmarked by blizzard and deluge has meant that races relied upon to provide festival pointers have been run on soft or heavy going. With a good ground Festival looking increasingly likely, the entries are littered with runners who should improve for faster conditions.
Before last year’s festival Donald McCain insisted that, despite winning three races on soft ground or worse, Cinders And Ashes would be a superior beast on good going and so it proved, as the then five-year-old outstayed Darlan to win the Supreme Novices Hurdle – improving 9lbs on official ratings.
Before sadly losing his life at Doncaster, Darlan gave his Festival conqueror a 12-and-half-length beating on heavy ground in Kempton’s Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. Comparison of these two performances suggests Cinders And Ashes could well improve at least that amount in the Champion Hurdle, given a track he prefers and ground he relishes.
The handicapper has offered a clue as to what faith he retains in Hunt Ball’s ability by leaving his official rating unchanged since the start of the campaign, in spite of some laboured performances on soft and heavy ground.
That 157 rating means Kieran Burke’s chaser will have to lug top weight round in the 2m4f Byrne Group Plate, but having bolted-up over course and distance under top weight in the equivalent novice race at last year’s Festival, the weight won’t inconvenience him unduly – doubly so as it’ll likely mean a portion of his foes will be running from outside the handicap.
Given Hunt Ball Split the 166-rated Burton Port and the 167-rated Medermit in Grade 1 company on good ground on his penultimate start last year, it’s seems he could potentially be 10lbs well-in should the Festival going be similar.
Gold Cup dark Horse Cape Tribulation returned from the wilderness with a good ground handicap hurdle win at the 2012 Festival. Since then he’s gone from strength-to-strength having returned to fences, turning over 2010 Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander at Cheltenham on heavy ground on his previous start.
Trainer Malcom Jefferson has previously stated “good jumping ground” is needed for his horse to be seen at its best and with only 9 career runs over fences, further improvement from this revitalised sort is hard to rule out.