The inaugural running of the Kingwell in 1971 was won by that fabulous hurdler Bula who went on to win that year’s, and the 1972 Champion Hurdle. The race has continued to be fair guide to “The Champion” with 4 winners, Lanzarote, Alderbrook,
Hors La Loi and most recently Katchit in 2008 landing both prizes. While at first glance Saturday’s field looks a little unlikely to be harbouring a future Cheltenham hero, I’m not so sure. In what looks a very open year it’s not impossible, and one whose Champion aspirations should not be underestimated is Nicky Henderson’s
The ex French 5yo won one of his two starts, a minor 3yo affair in the provinces, when trained in France by racing legend, Guillame Macaire, but arriving at Seven Barrows at the end of 2018, Nicky threw him in at the deep end for his first race, Kempton’s Grade2 Adonis Juvenile Hurdle, and connections must have been delighted with the way he drew right away from a useful field after the last for a facile 9L victory.
He demonstrated emphatically that there was no fluke about it 70 days later when stepped up to Grade1 level in Punchestown’s Champion 4yo Hurdle, he registered another impressive win, beating the talented Fakir D’oudairies by 2 1/2L. As the runner up had previously run Pentland Hills, (a 5/1 shot for next months Champion Hurdle) to a hard fought neck in Aintree’s Grade1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle, this has to be seen as a pretty outstanding performance. Put away for the season after Punchestown, he made his seasonal debut in The Elite Hurdle over Saturday’s course and distance in November, and while he won, (from last year’s Kingwell winner, Grand Sancy) the performance could best be described as workmanlike. Connections must have been hoping for better 47 days later when he was sent off the 2/1JF with his well backed stable companion, Epatante, for Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, but must have been bitterly disappointed, as he raced far too keenly, and was beaten before 2 out, where he was pulled up. Undoubtedly a bit of a shocker, but one poor run doesn’t make him a bad horse, and a repeat of his Punchestown effort would make him something of a good thing on Saturday.
Alan King has won the race 4 times, and it would be a terrific feat of training if the
Barbury Castle handler could make it 5 with his 2018 winner, Elgin. Off the track for 704 days, (582 flat) the last time he jumped a Hurdle in public was when finishing 5/11 in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, but in his previous race had beaten Saturday’s opponent Ch’tibello, (rec 4lbs) by 2 1/2L in Saturday’s feature. Elgin meets the Skelton runner,
(has improved since) on 8lbs better terms at the weekend, and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him involved at the business end.
Having finished runner up twice, (2017, 2018) the 9yo Ch’tibello, certainly deserves a change of luck, and last year’s impressive County Hurdle winner shows no signs of deteriorating. He was only 1 1/2L behind the 157 rated Call Me Lord (rec4lbs) on his seasonal debut in December, and the race probably came too soon when finishing 5/10 in the Christmas Hurdle only 12 days later.
The son of Sageburg has had a nice 51 days break, (goes well fresh) and Saturday’s renewal could easily prove to be a case of third time lucky.
Ditcheat handler, Paul Nicholls, has won the race three times, and will be hoping that either Quel Destin, or Diego Du Charmil can emulate his 2019 winner, Grand Sancy. The 8yo Diego Du Charmil, having enjoyed mixed fortunes (3/12) over fences, reverts to hurdling for the first time in nearly 3 years. A talented hurdler, he won the 2016 Fred Winter at the Festival off a mark of 133 and a Musselburgh Class1 Handicap off 140 in February 2017 but Saturday’s race looks a very big ask and Paul’s best chance of landing a 4th win looks to lie with the 5yo Quel Destin. Very experienced for his age, he is a winner of 8 of his 15 starts over hurdles, and all ground seems to come alike to the tough son of Muhtahir. He positively revelled in the Sandown mud when coming home 3L clear of Call Me Lord (gave 3lbs) a fortnight ago, and with two Grade2 wins on Good, and a Grade1 on Soft, to his credit, the Ditcheat contender is clearly a very versatile animal and I’m sure there is plenty more to come from this Uber tough animal.
Colin Tizzard’s 6yo, Master Debonair, rather unusually for an animal bred to jump, spent his first 18 months contesting NH flat races where he won 2 of his 5 starts including a Cheltenham Class1, but since he’s had a Hurdle put in front of him his career has really blossomed, and is probably a little unlucky not to have a 100% record in his 3 races over timber. He has won his last two with his head in his chest and was particularly impressive last time, when, despite being a little “novicy” he beat the 142 rated Ribble Valley, (rec 3lbs) by 8L In Ascot’s Grade2 Supreme Trial Novices Hurdle
(2m Heavy Dec 20). By the 4 times Ascot Gold Cup winning stallion Yeats, out of the useful race mare, Swincome Flame (rated135) who was best at 2 1/2 miles, ( third to the mighty Quevega in the 2 1/2 miles David Nicholson at the 2013 festival) Colin Tizzard’s highly promising charge will probably need further in time, but he has been pretty convincing over two miles to date.
Selection : Fusil Raffles