14.05 Cheltenham: Alaivan holds all the aces in County Hurdle
The County Hurdle is one of the most competitive handicaps of the meeting, but it’s hard to get away from the obvious claims of the JP McManus-owned Alaivan.
The gelding was a smart hurdler at his best when trained in Ireland by Edward O’Grady, finishing third to Soldatino in the 2010 running of the Triumph Hurdle over course and distance.
He also finished an excellent 2 1/2 length sixth of 26 behind Final Approach in this contest in 2011 off a rating of 144 and now races off a 12lb lower mark of 132.
That gives him a massive chance at the weights and he has shaped as if coming back to his best in his last two runs.
Now in the care of Jonjo O’Neill, the eight-year-old stayed on well to finish runner-up to Quick Decision t Wincanton and then ran a stormer to finish sixth of 20 to Splash Of Ginge in the Betfair Hurdle.
He stayed on in eye-catching fashion to be beaten just 5 1/2 lengths in the latter and has managed to sneak in this at the foot of the weights.
With Maurice Lineham in the saddle taking another 5lb off his back, he has to go close if building on his latest run.
Two others worthy of consideration are Gordon Elliott’s Flaxen Flare and Ben Case’s Deep Trouble.
The former won the Fred Winter at last year’s Festival and has been in good form this season. He ran really well to finish fourth in the Greatwood at this track behind Dell’ Arca and posted a solid effort last time out when runner-up to the progressive Gilgamboa in a valuable ultra-competitive handicap hurdle at Leopardstown.
The gelding now has a career-high mark of 149 to contend with, but his solid form at Prestbury Park makes him worthy of the utmost respect.
Deep Trouble finished runner-up to Quick Jack in a competitive class 3 contest at this track before putting in a career-best performance when landing a 13-runner class 1 listed handicap hurdle at Sandown.
He then looked unlucky not to follow-up at Kempton when beaten a head by Lyvius before running a bit below par last time out when 13th of 20 in the Betfair Hurdle.
The handicapper has since dropped him 2lb and it would be no surprise to see him bounce back in a race which should be run to suit.