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Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle Race (Grade 3)
County Hurdle Betting Tips
The Cheltenham County Hurdle, colloquially known as the ‘Vincent O’Brien’, is a Grade 3 race that sees a large field of runners tackle eight fences on their two mile one furlong trip.
Our original tip for the County Hurdle was Mick Jazz but as he was announced as a Non Runner due to lameness at 10.15am, our tip is now Winter Escape. Trained by Alan King, he won all three of his starts last season in increasingly competitive races. The last of those came in the Grade 2 Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle at Kempton, beating a field of 5. Second that day was rated 140, while third went on to run well in the Supreme Novices’ at the Festrival and then ran well in the Welsh Champion Hurdle off a mark of 140.
That form makes his mark today of 140 look very fair, despite a poor run on his only start of the season. That came here at Cheltenham over just over two miles on Soft ground, and with all his wins last season coming on Good to Soft that could well have been the problem. He ran well for a long way that day before weakening, and the improved ground here should suit him well. Alan King is a top trainer who has already had three third places at the Festival this year and we’re confident that he will have Winter Escape in top order for this race.
The key trends for the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle are as follows:
- 9 of the last 10 winners were sent off 10/1 bigger, including a 50/1 winner in 2008
- 9 of the last 10 winners were in their 1st or 2nd season of hurdling
- 8 of the last 10 winners were aged either 5 or 6 years old
- 7 of the last 10 winners had previous Cheltenham experience
- 7 of the last 10 winners were Irish trained
- Only 5 of the last 10 winners placed last time out and just 2 of them were winners
- 2 of the last 10 winners had already had a run in the month of March
A 2017 win for Willie Mullins would see him join Paul Nicholls as joint leading all time trainer for the County Hurdle, with four wins apiece – both have three wins in the last 11 years, while Paul Nicholls also trained Sporazene in 2004. The jockey of Sporazene, Ruby Walsh, has ridden three winners in the last 11 years and is the leading all time jockey with four wins, so expect the Mullins/Walsh combo to be very strong in the market, given their respective records in this race.
Trends Analysis: A minefield of a race in recent years, as is to be expect from a big field handicap with a large purse. The trends strongly suggest siding with lightly raced, unexposed horses, especially if they have previous Cheltenham experience. Do not be put off by horses who have already run earlier in March, especially with Cheltenham starting so late in the month this year, or by horses who ran poorly on their last start before the County Hurdle.
Performing admirably last season with a ninth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival (which could have been a place if he had not blundered badly at the second last) and fourth in a Grade 1 at Aintree a month later, North Hill Harvey returned this season when winning the Greatwood Hurdle. That form has been franked by the runner-up Modus who won the Lanzarote Hurdle, and this six-year-old is likely to come on leaps and bounds from that success on seasonal reappearance. His current mark of 147 does not look harsh on him and Dan Skelton won this race last season with a similar type, though he will need softer ground to show his best.
Coming into the race off a featherweight, Golden Spear cannot be ignored for the incredibly shrew Tony Martin. Smart on the flat trainer including a fifth in the 2016 Cesarewitch, he is also a winnner over hurdles and returned to timber this season when fourth in a Grade 3 at Ascot in December. He stayed on well that day after being well backed, but hit top gear too late in the day to be a threat. On his latest start in the Coral.ie Hurdle at Leopardstown he was a good third, again held up out the back before running on strongly to snatch third despite some trouble in running. He remains on the same mark for this race and judging by those two runs, he was likely campaigned to run well but not elevate his handicap mark too much. He remains with potential in this sphere and a weight of 9st 13lb is likely to see him very dangerous. He has the ground he desires and will likely have the assistance of Davy Russell. Has to be respected.
One who has been well backed is Gordon Elliott’s Mick Jazz and it’s not hard to see why. He has been performing well this season and returned from eleven months off in October when winning well at Clonmel. He improved on that effort significantly when second to Labaik in a Grade 3 at Navan in November, which obviously now is a very strong piece of form. He was far from disgraced when third in a Grade A handicap at Fairyhouse in December when third after being hampered and made amends when winning a listed race at Punchestown when beating Cilaos Emery (another who ran well in the Supreme). A mark of 142 demands more as it’s 8lb above his last winning mark but he has been highly progressive this season and he remains with potential in this sphere. Looks likely to run a big race and has to be respected.
As with most handicaps, JP McManus has a battalion entered and Winter Escape looks to have a good chance in this. A winner of all three of his starts last season, including his penultimate start when winning the Dovecote Hurdle at Kempton in fine style, he returned this season when disappointing in the Greatwood Hurdle here in November. It looks very likely that the soft ground didn’t suit him that day and he was also entitled to need the run in such a competitive handicap. He has been dropped 2lb in the handicap and now with race fitness under his belt he looks a very interesting proposition in this for Alan King. He remains with huge amounts of potential and could potentially be well treated if back to the form of his Dovecote win at Kempton. Likely to be in with a shout and has to be respected.
Following on from Peace And Co, it seems only right to talk about Ivanovich Gorbatov, who won the Triumph in 2016. He has also failed to meet expectations since that brilliant win over C&D, unable to win in seven starts that have proceeded it. Granted, he has been racing in Grade 1 company, but he has been soundly beaten on nearly every occasion, with his latest third in the Irish Champion Hurdle another low for Joseph O’Brien’s five year old. He finished thirty-seven lengths behind Footpad that day and understandably, he now drops into handicap company. A mark of 148 on the best of his form is certainly not harsh and he’s certain to find this much easier than his Grade 1 assignments. Conditions will be to suit and he has no real excuses in this, so he does need considering.
Four time Vincent O’Brien winner Ruby Walsh is not the only Walsh to have taken home the trophy; his sister Katie won aboard Thousand Stars back in 2010 when a three pound claimer. Blowing Wind claimed the title when the short priced favourite in 1998, four years prior to his success in what was the Mildmay Challenge Cup. Perhaps the most spectacular ever victor was American Trilogy in 2009, hacking up 11 lengths clear of second, despite being only five years old.