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Le Rocher sets the standard for Triumph Hurdle

The ante-post market for the Triumph Hurdle has been slow to ignite this season but Le Rocher laid down his marker when running away with the trial at Cheltenham on Saturday. Trainer Nick Williams has yet to confirm that the French import will run at the festival but the indications are that he will.

He arrived at the Williams stable with two wins in France to his name from four starts. He made his debut in the Grade 1 Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdler at Chepstow in December, beating Kentucky Hayden by two and a half lengths.

The race was run on heavy ground with only five runners so it was difficult to assess just how good a performance that was. Certainly his hurdling technique left a little to be desired but he was well on top at the end of the race.

Vicenzo Mio, a 17-length winner at Kempton last month, was preferred in the market on Saturday and set out to make the running. Once again, Le Rocher was a bit sticky over a couple of his hurdles but was more impressive than at Chepstow.

Once Richard Johnson asked him to tackle the leader, he ran on with great determination and put ten lengths between himself and Kentucky Hayden. The evidence suggests that he improved for his Chepstow run and it will take a very smart juvenile to beat him.

Le Rocher is currently joint-favourite with Ivan Grozny who won at Naas last week by 12 lengths. He had previously been beaten a head by Aidan O’Brien’s Plinth at Leopardstown.

Plinth is due to return to Leopardstown on February 9th to contest the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and that could give an interesting line to the value of the Irish form. Calipto and Pearl Castle are others that hold a prominent position in the betting and they could clash at Musselburgh this weekend.

Calipto won on his debut at Newbury while Pearl Castle bolted up at Doncaster on Friday. The latter is trained by John Quinn who trained Countrywide Flame to win the Triumph Hurdle at 33-1 in 2012.