The Coral Cup: Looking ahead

First run in 1993, the Coral Cup quickly established itself as one of the most competitive handicap hurdles on the entire calendar. That first running went to Olympian, the first horse to achieve the Imperial Cup/Cheltenham Festival handicap bonus. Other notable winners of the race include Big Strand in 1997 who came from another county to land the race, Ilnamar in 2002 who went onto Grade One glory at Aintree and Xenophon in 2003, a major gamble from Ireland.

The market this year is headed by the trio of Aux Ptits Soins, Activial and Call The Cops at 8/1 however, the latter can be dismissed already as he has the Pertemps Final as his main target. Aux Ptits Soins has very little hurdling experience having only raced over them twice in France, winning his last start at Auteuil in September. It’s hard to know how well handicapped he is based on a lack of a run in this country but he has been highly spoken of by both trainer and jockeys from the yard. 8/1 is too short to take any risk, even if he is extremely well handicapped.

Activial has some excellent handicap form which gives him strong claims. Arguably, he could have won the Ladbroke were it not for him overjumping at the second last behind Bayan before getting slightly behind in an odd renewal of the Betfair Hurdle when third again to Violet Dancer. The step up in trip here would look to help his claims but he has looked to want softer ground which doesn’t look likely.

Other leading contenders include Tea For Two and On Tour. The former has strong novice form and bolted up in the Lanzarote at Kempton. One thing that may tempt connections to run here rather than a novice contest is the fact that regular rider Lizzie Kelly can claim her seven pound allowance as opposed to riding off levels in either the Neptune or the Albert Bartlett. If he lines up here, he would go close as would On Tour who wasn’t given the finest ride last time out in the Betfair Hurdle where he was given far too much to do and made a forward move far too quickly even though he stays further. He is still well handicapped and the step back up in distance will be of benefit.

One that potentially has slipped under the radar slightly is the Philip Hobbs trained GARDE LA VICTOIRE, who holds entries in both this and the County Hurdle but the former looking an ideal target. Hobbs has a good record in the race having won it twice with What’s Up Boys in that famous finish in 2000 where he flew home to deny Native Dara and Monkerhostin in 2004.

He has been crying out for decent ground since his Aintree run back in October but even then, he still won the Greatwood at Cheltenham’s Paddy Power meeting on bad ground before a solid effort in the Ladbroke when only beaten seven lengths by Bayan. He was then too keen at Ascot the time after when unplaced behind Baradari before grinding it out in the Contenders Hurdle when beating a promising novice in Jollyallan.

Whilst he has a relatively high mark of 154, it’s worth remembering that the last two winners also carried big weights in Medinas and Whisper plus with definite improvement to come on better ground and for the step back up in trip, 25/1 looks a fair price.

The other that could be value at 16/1 is LAC FONTANA. Last year’s County Hurdle winner went onto Grade One success at Aintree when beating Splash Of Ginge and didn’t disgrace himself on his return to action when third behind the dominant Faugheen at Ascot. He was a bitter disappointment on his last start in December behind Rock On Ruby but he can be forgiven as he never went a yard on that occasion. With Sean Bowen confirmed to ride, he would only run off a mark five pounds higher than his win at the Festival last year and has the capability to go very close again.