Pentland Hills emerged from virtual anonymity to develop into the best juvenile hurdler of the 2018-19 season in the space of just five weeks.
A ready winner of a Plumpton maiden in February, he followed a 20/1 success in the Triumph with a battling victory in the Anniversary Hurdle at Aintree. He’s a hugely promising horse who obviously has a massive reputation, in light of his achievements on the track as well as the yard from which he hailed.
Current quotes are far too short however, for a number of reasons outlined below. His participation in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham on Saturday features alongside another 6 races on ITV, including contests from Doncaster.
It’s all well and good winning races at the highest level, but if the horse doesn’t beat any serious opposition, then it’s best not to overestimate that form. Pentland Hills’ victories at the spring Festivals paint a mixed picture.
His Triumph victory was made all the easier by Sir Erec going wrong early on. The colt looked miles ahead of his fellow juvenile hurdlers, and a clear passage would have seen him surely win.
Coeur Sublime, who finished second, gives the form a strong look after winning a Grade Two by fifteen-lengths on his return. The same applies to the eighth French Made, who was no match for Pentland Hills but landed a Grade Two next time out.
The third won a novice event in May but has been beaten three times since. The 66/1 fourth has beaten just two rivals home in two runs this term, behind Quel Destin who struggled in a Graded handicap subsequently.
Aintree’s form is similarly confusing. Fakir D’oudairies, beaten a neck, has since won the Drinmore. He was a little fortuitous there, but it’s still high class form. The six-lengths third has been beaten three times since and the fourth was a poor favourite in a handicap in November however.
The four-year-old has an official rating of 153, the same mark as Elixir De Nutz. He is rated inferior to three of his rivals; a pound below Le Patriote, four below Ch’tibello and seven pounds below stablemate Call Me Lord.
Whilst he is rated higher than three of his other rivals, he has to concede weight to two of these. As a result, he is a pound wrong with Ballyandy and faces Monsieur Lecoq on effectively the same mark. The only rival over whom he has a weight advantage is the outsider Gumball. Australian raider Big Blue is an unknown.
The handicapper, by giving him a mark of 153, has factored in a level of improvement. His best RPR over hurdles last term was 148 when winning the Triumph. Whilst there’s room for further progression, he is – in handicap terms – weighted up to his very current best.
As a result, on peak RPRs, he comes out eighth lowest rated. Call Me Lord, to whom he has to give three pounds, has sixteen pounds in hand over him on this metric.
Ratings are of course only one piece of the puzzle. Pentland Hills has considerably more scope than the most of his rivals after just three starts over timber. Having said that, that improvement is very much assumed at the current prices. If he simply runs to his current best, he’ll come up a long way short.
The second favourite is Ch’tibello. The Skeltons’ eight-year-old returned to winning ways following a mid season wind op when landing the County Hurdle over course and distance.
He followed that decisive victory with a career best performance when finishing third in the Aintree Hurdle. He was beaten less than two-lengths by Supasundae and Buveur D’Air. That’s the strongest piece of form on offer.
Pentland Hills’ stablemate Call Me Lord was sent off 7/2 favourite for the Long Walk Hurdle last year having won a Grade Two at Sandown by sixteen lengths previously. He was a disappointing seventh on that day, but has shaped more positively in two runs in 2019.
He finished third over two-miles under top weight in the Imperial Cup. Absent for 259 days, he was beaten just half-a-length by If The Cap Fits, worn down by a stronger stayer. Now race fit, current price makes him an attractive bet against the jolly.
Colin Tizzard’s Elixir De Nutz has a similar profile to the favourite. He’s raced just four times for his new yard, landing the Tolworth in January. A non-runner in the Supreme, he’s rated the same as Pentland Hills and is available at over three times the price.
Pentland Hills’ two Grade One successes are the most eye-catching pieces of form in the race. Time and time again however, we have seen that the juvenile form really isn’t up too much.
The form figures for the last eight Triumph Hurdle winners’ subsequent starts read 5426732, with Zarkandar the last to follow Triumph success with a win the next time out back in 2011.
Now, Pentland Hills has gone against the curve by scoring at Aintree subsequently admittedly. However, he won’t be the first to move into open company with a huge reputation. Defi Du Seuil was sent off 10/11 for the Ascot Hurdle in which he trailed home in fourth. Stablemate Peace And Co failed to beat a rival home in the International Hurdle in 2015 for which he was odds on.
Farclas failed to score in six subsequent runs over hurdles, as did the 2015 victor Peace And Co. Defi Du Seuil was beaten in his next two starts and Ivanovich Gorbatov went three years without further success.
Even the highly talented Tiger Roll only won one of his next ten starts over timber. You have to go back to 2012 with Countrywide Flame to find the last Triumph Hurdle winner to follow up in open company.
Pentland Hills may well win this doing hand stands. There’s no doubt that he has the capacity for further improvement. Additionally, he could hardly do more than he did last term, winning all three starts including two Grade Ones.
At the prices however, he has to be opposed. Triumph Hurdle winners have a poor record in their first runs in open company. Furthermore, he has plenty to find with a fair few of these judged on ratings.
The one for me is Call Me Lord. He’s the highest rated and is unpenalised. His recent return is very respectable and he has no issue with the drop back to two-miles.
His SPs for his last four starts have been 6/4, 7/2, 3/1 and 6/4. A winner of one of those starts, the only time he’s ran below form is in a Grade One over three-miles. Available at a slightly bigger price today, the bookies appear to greatly underestimate his claims in favour of his stablemate.