The first thing I’ll say about this race is that it can pay to look outside the box, it hasn’t been very kind to favourite backers in recent times with the last four winners coming at 33/1, 14/1, 11/1 and 16/1. You also don’t want to be looking for the lightly raced ‘sexy’ horses that are all the rage with everyone talking up there potential, 6 of the last 13 winners of this contest were actually second season hurdlers which is an interesting statistic considering this is a race confined to novices.
I’m going to jump straight into it with my selection for the race which is Poetic Rhythm who seems to tick a number of boxes coming into this gruelling contest, he’s a second season novice so that’s not a bad starting point! A reason this race throws up some unexpected winners is because young, inexperienced horses won’t have experienced anything like this race before, going a real good gallop over a distance many of them haven’t tackled before is a real shock to the system. Poetic Rhythm has experience in abundance which will stand him in good stead, he gained his first (along with his trainers first) Grade 1 success in the Challow Hurdle on desperate ground in December where he wore down Mulcahys Hill, based on that I don’t think stepping up to 3 miles will be a problem for him as he’s also a point to point winner. He’s got solid form around Cheltenham where he won a Listed Bumper and he ran a close third behind On The Blind Side and Momella when carrying a penalty which is form that has been franked by both rivals since. He competed in the Neptune last season but was severely hampered by the tragic fall of Consul De Thaix so you can’t take Poetic Rhythm’s finishing position literally there. What I like most about this horse is his attitude, he wears his heart on his sleeve and gives his all every time he goes onto a racecourse which is precisely what you need in a race of this nature. He’s had a nice break from the Challow and will be fresh and ready to go, I can see him running a big race.
Nicky Henderson saddles the top two in the market with the first of those being the unbeaten Santini who showed stamina was very much his strong suit when wearing down Black Op at Cheltenham on trials day. That was a very promising performance and I’m sure a further step up in trip will bring out more in him but he is a big, raw horse and with his relative inexperience I feel this race may be coming a little soon in his career given the nature of it. He beat stablemate Chef Des Obeaux on his hurdling debut who has since gone on to register a hat-trick of victories. The latter two efforts have come at around 3 miles which appears to have been the making of Chef Des Obeaux, winning by 19 lengths and 15 lengths respectively staying on in resolute fashion. His latest win was against stronger rivals than his previous pair of successes but something that would worry me about that would be that it came on heavy ground at Haydock which is notoriously testing and for me there is a big question mark as to whether that has left a mark on him.The make-up of this contest should suit him but given how tough the Haydock conditions can be on a horse that is a concern that’s in the back of my mind.
Duc Des Genievres is an interesting contender given that his appearances this campaign have been over 2m4f and then a further drop back to 2m. In both contests he travelled pretty well before seemingly getting outpaced and staying on late so his run style so far suggests that 3 miles could be right up his street. Both of his runs have been in Grade 1 company which is intriguing in itself given he’s now only had three starts in his life so connections must think a fair bit of him. Next Destination is another possible runner for Mullins although for the majority of the season his target has been named as the Ballymore, but we know how often they can change their minds in that part of the world! He’s unbeaten over obstacles and was a staying on fourth in last season Champion Bumper so he”s got a decent piece of festival form to his name which is a plus, he’s done his winning over two and a half miles so far which has looked just right for him, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it! I’d give him a solid chance if he were to run here and no doubt he’d be the pick of the Mullins contingent but I would think the stable will have enough runners in here without him.
Calett Mad would be another runner falling under the ‘plenty of experience’ category with the six year old already having had 15 runs under rules. He was campaigned over fences last season by Nigel Twiston-Davies and was running a good race in the National Hunt Chase at this meeting but I’m not entirely sure he stayed the trip that day and he weakened late on to finish ninth. Back over hurdles this season he’s been a tad hit and miss with three wins and a pair of disappointing efforts, including when behind Poetic Rhythm here in a Grade 2. He’s battle-hardened and I wouldn’t put you off him, but out of the two I’d rather be on Poetic Rhythm’s side all day.
A Grade 2 winner at the start of the year, Mr Whipped was looking like a strong candidate for this contest until he lost out to Kim Bailey’s Red River at Musselburgh subsequently and I’d side with the latter to confirm that form given how well he stayed on from after the last. The former ties in closely with Paisley Park and Gowiththeflow who fought out the finish at Doncaster last month but I feel all these would need to find a good deal of improvement from somewhere to be involved.
Vinndication and Black Op would be interesting if taking their chance but I think both of their most likely engagements will be the Ballymore given the likely conditions. Chris’s Dream absolutely hacked up on his first start for Henry De Bromhead by a whopping 64 lengths, the ground was very heavy that day and I just don’t think that form can be taken literally. He may well be very good and he might be worth at risk at 12/1, but my colours are already nailed down.
In case you hadn’t already noticed I’m pretty keen on Poetic Rhythm running a big race and with 14/1 available I think he’s a more than reasonable price. I just have doubts about the lack of experience for Santini and I’d rather have his stablemate Chef Des Obeaux out of the two at the head of the market. Next Destination would have to be feared if turning up here.