Last year’s Triumph Hurdle form not working out well for Our Conor
Dessie Hughes-trained jumper Our Conor marked himself out as a future Champion Hurdle winner when hosing up by 15 lengths in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March.
Hughes knows a thing or two about readying a horse for the main event on Cheltenham Tuesday, having watched jockey Conor O’Dwyer boot home his Hardy Eustace in the race over successive seasons in the middle of the last decade.
The Curragh handler looked to have another superstar on his hands following 2013’s renewal of National Hunt racing’s showpiece week and Hughes insists that little can be read into Our Conor’s off-colour outings so far in this campaign.
He came fourth on the flat over 1m 4f at Naas back in November, but although the five-year-old was the tentative 5/2 favourite on the day it was clear that winning the race was a secondary concern, with readying the horse for a crack at the Ryanair Hurdle over Christmas the main aim.
His trainer was delighted with the five and a half length third behind fellow Champion Hurdle hopefuls Hurricane Fly and Jezki at Leopardstown, claiming the horse couldn’t be in better shape ahead of the spring spectacle, for which he is priced up as 8/1 fifth favourite.
However, despite the encouraging noises coming out of the Hughes camp, Our Conor’s impressive form in last year’s Triumph Hurdle procession has unravelled somewhat since the start of this campaign.
Paul Nicholls’ Far West, who went off at the same price as the eventual 4/1 victor in last March’s 2m 1f event and claimed a distant second place, was a beaten favourite in both of his starts this season and tanked last time out, finishing fourth out of five runners in an intermediate hurdle race at Haydock during November.
Triumph Hurdle 2013 third-place finisher Sametegal looked to be in fine fettle on his seasonal debut in October, after edging past Bayan when 7/4 favourite around Prestbury Park.
The Nicholls charge went on to push David Pipe’s Dell’ Arca all the way to the line at the same venue the following month, before finding little in third place at Kempton on King George day when he ended the Christmas Hurdle 29 lengths behind the triumphant My Tent Or Yours.
Our Conor may well turn out to be all he was cracked up to be last March and see off all-comers in the Champion Hurdle, but few will predict such an outcome with the confidence professed after what now looks like a particularly weak renewal of the Triumph last time out.
With Jezki also likely to come on considerably after his last run run and potential superstars The New One and My Tent Or Yours (plus Bona Fide legend Hurricane Fly) heading the market for Cheltenham’s Tuesday showpiece, Hughes may regret not setting his star a simpler task this spring.