Grandouet giving Nicky Henderson grounds for optimism ahead of International Hurdle outing, says Alex Hammond
Alex Hammond says it might be worth taking a chance on Grandouet in the International Hurdle.
Last Updated: 14/12/12 4:11pm
Some of the leading Champion Hurdle-hopes take their next step on the road to Cheltenham on Saturday in the International Hurdle. It looks to be a three-horse race and Sky Bet have the Paul Nicholls trained Zarakandar as their 6/5 favourite.
He won the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on his reappearance when his stablemate Prospect Wells was sent off favourite and that run was his prep for this. He is untried on this ground which would be a concern.
The reigning Champion hurdler Rock on Ruby is 15/8 next best, but I'm concerned that he missed the Fighting Fifth Hurdle as the ground was too testing and it looks to have gone against him once again.
I spoke to his trainer Harry Fry earlier in the week and he is looking forward to running the horse, but his main target is to defend his crown in March.
Grandouet (9/4) will improve for this outing according to trainer Nicky Henderson. He has form in France on testing ground, but not since coming to the UK. Although this run will bring him on, it's almost worth taking a chance on him given conditions and likely prices.
His form when we last saw him was excellent and he beat Overturn in this race 12 months ago which was his last start. He was third to Zarkandar in the Triumph in 2011, but missed the Champion Hurdle last March due to injury which has kept him off the track for some time. It should be a decent contest.
The Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup
This looks a very competitive heat and ante-post supporters of Unioniste were able to breathe a sigh of relief when he just scraped into the Grade 3 Handicap Chase as first reserve. He races from out of the handicap, but when you take into account Harry Derham's 5lb claim he is only 1lb 'wrong'.
The four-year-old is having just his fourth start over fences and this is his handicap debut for the Nicholls team. He looks well treated on the face of it having finished third to Dynaste and Fingal Bay at Cheltenham last time out and he runs here off a mark of just 137. This is just his third start in the UK as he began his career in France.
He is only four, though, and doesn't have a great deal of experience, so it will be impressive if he were to win this. He is 9/2 joint favourite along with Paddy Power Gold Cup runner up Walkon. The rain has come in time for him as the softer the better for the Alan King trained runner so he should relish this ground.
Cristal Bonus is a 6/1 shot also for Paul Nicholls, Ruby Walsh rides this one and is another unexposed horse. The rain and softer ground is really up his street and I think he can run a huge race. Notus de la Tour (8/1) also looks unexposed for David Pipe and Tom Scudamore. This is his first run since falling in the Byrne Group Plate at the festival back in March and this could be season he excels over fences.
Nadiya de la Vega is another 8/1 shot and represents Nicky Henderson and AP McCoy. She has been running well with a win on her first run back at this track and a decent third in the Paddy Power last time out. Astracad is also 8/1 for Nigel Twiston-Davies who has his team in good form (he won the Becher Chase last weekend). He needs to jump a bit better than he did last time out though. Quantitiveeasing is 14/1 to repeat his win in this race last year. He has a bit to prove off an 8lb higher mark.
So, in conclusion, this testing ground is sure to make this a real test and a lot of it hinges on whether Unioniste is as well handicapped as he appears. I think it can go to one of the other Nicholls runners though as the ground has come right for Cristal Bonus.
The Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle
This has attracted just the three runners as last year's winner Oscar Whisky seems to have scared off most of the opposition in this two-and-a-half mile contest. He won on heavy ground last time out and should win again for Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty. If only there was a two-and-a-half mile Grade 1 Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival, because he would be nailed on for it.
There is also a decent card at Doncaster and I like the look of another Nicky Henderson runner in the Summit Juvenile Hurdle. Vasco du Ronceray was beaten into second at Cheltenham last time out after really impressing at Hereford on his hurdle debut. He is currently 20/1 with Sky Bet for the Triumph Hurdle in March and looks a smart prospect.
Court by Surprise is another to be on the right side of in the closing three-mile Handicap Chase on Town Moor. Emma Lavelle saddled a nice winner at Sandown last week and her horses are running well.
This horse finished third on his reappearance at Fakenham at the end of October and that run should have put him right for this. He is a horse who looks to have benefitted from a breathing operation during the summer and he should go well here. He looks progressive.
Moving on 24 hours and the Navan Novice Hurdle is the feature on Sunday. Don Cossack will be a hotpot for this Grade 1. Gordon Elliott's five-year-old is a leading contender for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham festival and comes into this race having won his last four starts, three bumpers and on his hurdle debut at this track in maiden company last time out.
He won a bumper over 2m3f so the step up to 2m4f should suit him well here. The heavy ground won't hinder him either and the old saying that anything he does over hurdles is a bonus applies to this chasing type.
Grandouet in the International Hurdle @ 9/4 with Sky Bet
Cristal Bonus in the Charity Challenge Gold Cup @ 6/1 with Sky Bet
Oscar Whisky in the Relkeel Hurdle
Vasco du Ronceray in the Summit Juvenile Hurdle
Court by Surprise in the 3 mile Handicap Chase
Don Cossack in the Navan Novice Hurdle