Known as the Schweppes Hurdle since it’s inception in 1963 until 1986, it’s early years were dominated by the legendary Captain Ryan Price, and his equally famous jockey Josh Gifford, who won four of the first five runnings.
Historically weight has been a serious issue, with only ten contestants since 1980 managing to carry more than 11st. While Persian War lumped 11st13lbs in 1970 to victory, only Make a Stand, ( 1997 ) the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner, and Copeland ( 2002 ) have managed to win carrying 11st7lbs.
However it is worth noting that two of the last three winners,Zarkandar ( 2012 ) and My Tent Or Yours, (2013 ) did break the 11st barrier. Age has also been significant with eight of the last ten renewals going to a 5yo or 6yo. Gary Moore has been the most successful trainer over the past ten runnings, with two wins, Heathcote 2007, and Wingman 2008. Messrs Twiston-Davies, Henderson , Nicholls, Quinn, and O’Neill, have hit the target once, and the Irish have collected twice. Good recent form is important with four of the last six winners having won their previous race. The other two were placed.
Top weight Sign of a Victory, from the Henderson yard, looked a world beater, when cruising home at Ascot in November of a mark of 139, but then flopped in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, trailing in 31L behind the brilliant Faugheen. While excuses can be made, (first run for eight weeks) it is difficult to envisage him being the first since the great Persian War, to carry top weight to victory on Saturday. Hendersons second string Vasco de Ronceray looked a progressive type when winning easily at Haydock in November off a mark of 135. Raised to a mark of 143 on Saturday he is set to carry a challenging looking 11st 6lbs, but in the care of N Henderson, is worth a second look.
The winner of his last three races, and trained by the Welsh maestro Evan Williams, the 7yo On Tour, is definitely of interest. A winner of a small handicap at Stratford in October ( 2ml 3f ) off a mark of 122, he had no trouble defying a 9lbs rise at Haydock ( 2ml 4f ) in a much better race four weeks later. Raised another 7lbs for Saturday, giving him a racing weight of 11st 1lb he looks well handicapped. His ability to stay beyond Saturday’s distance is a further plus. One for the shortlist!
The Paul Nicholls trained 5yo Calipto, is favourite at the time of writing, but to date has been dissappointing. There have been valid excuses, as in the Triumph Hurdle, he did seem to be travelling best of all, when his stirrup leather broke at the second last, and he finished fourth, 8 3/4L behind Tiger Roll. Despite starting favourite at Aintree three weeks later, he finished third, 4L behind the Triumph 3rd Guitar Pete. He again failed on his reappearance, beaten 1/2L by Tiger Roll, from whom he was receiving 8lbs. Diagnosed with a breathing problem, he has had surgery, so it remains to be seen if this solves the problem, and elicits some improvement. The jury is out!
Winner of last year’ss Adonis Hurdle at Kempton Park, the Harry Fry trained 5yo Activial, has many of the requisite credentials for this. He ran a fine race in the highly competitive 18 runner Ladbroke at Ascot before Christmas, where despite stumbling, and losing his momentum at the second last, he got himself together, and only went down by a couple of lengths. He has been raised another 6lbs for Saturday, giving him a weighty looking 11st 6lbs to shoulder, but coming from this yard, must be seriously considered.
Dan Skelton’s lightly raced 7yo Fascino Rustico was in the process of running a very promising race of a mark of 126 at Ayr last April, only to tip over at the second last. Not seen again until January this year, he has won both his races, novice’s hurdles, at Bangor and Newcastle, with his head in his chest. Confidence fully restored, now racing off 135, it would be no surprise to see him involved on Saturday.
David pipe’s pair of 8yo’s Balgarry and Swing Bowler are worth a second look. Having only his second run for nearly 34 months, Balgarry ran with great credit to finish a good second in a cl2 Sandown handicap off a mark of 132, four weeks ago. Raised just 5lbs for Saturday, this very lightly raced animal has plenty more improvement in him, and looks well handicapped on 11st. Having finished third to My Tent Or Yours in 2013 and fifth to Splash of Ginge last year, Pipes very useful mare is clearly well equipped for the demands of the race, and with a nice racing weight of 10st 12lbs is considered.
If getting a run,( needs a few to drop out above him in the handicap at the time of writing ) Garry Moore’s Violet Dancer, who was second in a Lingfield A.W. handicap two weeks ago, would be worth a second look.
Selection: On Tour.