Named after the great Fred Winter’s Champion Hurdle winner, and Kempton specialist, Lanzarote, who was a two times winner of the track’s premier hurdle race, “The Christmas”. He finished his hurdling career with a remarkable twenty wins from thirty three starts. He went on to become a top class chaser and was strongly fancied to win the 1977 Gold Cup and become the first horse to complete the Champion Hurdle, and Cheltenham’s premier race double. It wasn’t to be alas, as he was fatally injured in the race and we had to wait another nine years for the mare, Dawn Run to bring off that elusive double. The “Lanzarote” was run over 2m from its inception in 1978 until 2007 when the distance was extended to 2m5f, since when, some quite strong trends have emerged. The eight renewals we have had since 2007 have only been won on two occasions by animals with form at the distance, the other six have been bagged by animals improving for the step up in trip. Weight has been a significant factor and again only two have defied a burden of 11st or more. Age has been extremely relevant with youth having the best of the argument, particularly six year olds, who have collected on five occasions. Inexperience has been no bar to success with three of the last four winners having had only three previous runs over timber. The last eight renewals have also been quite punter friendly, with 9/1 being the longest S.P. returned, (Verasi 2007). So what of this years contest?
Paul Nicholls has won the race twice since 2007, and is represented this year by the 5yo Ibis Du Rheu, whose half brother Saphir Du Rheu, also in the care of the master of Ditcheat, won this two years ago. This lightly raced horse will be having only his sixth hurdle race, and only his third since joining the Nicholl’s Academy. A winner of a valuable 3yo hurdle at Enghien in 2014 he was campaigned at around 2m on his first two races in this country, but it wasn’t until stepping up in trip last time that he really showed his true potential. On soft ground at Newbury over 2m3f at the end of November, having been held up, he stayed on really well, gradually closing, but unable to quite get past the winner, Royal Guardsman. He did however have that good yardstick, Ma Filleule, 2 1/2L back in third. Bound to be well suited by Saturday’s extra two furlongs, he races off a generous looking mark of 135, giving him a nice racing weight of 10st8lbs, (his half brother won with 11st7lbs) and must be one for the shortlist.
Nicky Henderson’s 5yo Bivouac is another who seemed to be well suited by the step up in trip last time, when comfortably accounting for Ruacana and Lil Rockerfeller at Huntingdon over 2m 3 1/2f on soft ground nine weeks ago of a mark of 134. As Lil Rockerfeller won a Class1 handicap at Sandown next time out off a 2lbs higher mark the form looks rock solid, making the Henderson horse look reasonably treated off a mark of 141. Already a course winner, Bivouac is three from four going right handed and does seem to have plenty in his favour at the weekend.l
Harry Fry runs the 8yo, Unowhatimeanharry, who, having won his last three races heads the market. He looked a real staying type last time over three miles at Cheltenham (soft) where taking it up at the second last, he stayed on stoutly, and was driven right out to win by 1 1/2L and 9L from Final Nudge and West Approach. His terrific trainer has obviously found the secret to this horse and my only concern would be his ability to handle Kemptons sharp right handed track. All eight previous winners had a clockwise win on their C.V. but the Fry animal, despite five attempts going right handed has failed to hit the back of the net.
Irish trainer Alan Fleming who is having such a good season at home, sends over his 6yo Blue Hell, and he looked a serious tool when winning a highly competitive (115-133) handicap at right handed Fairyhouse seven weeks ago of a mark of 124. He was always travelling well on the soft/heavy ground, took it up before the last and won comfortably by three lengths from the favourite Diamond King. He has been raised an eye watering 17lbs, and the Fairyhouse race was over two miles, so there have to be doubts. However he did win twice in the French Provinces as a three year old over hurdles, and his dam is by Fairy King, giving plenty of encouragement that the step up in trip won’t be a problem. He did impress at Fairyhouse so is one to keep on the right side of.
Selection : Ibis Du Rheu.
E.W. : Bivouac.