Originally run as The Gloucester Hurdle, which was divided into two divisions, this race’s roll of honour contains some of the most iconic names in the whole pantheon of national hunt racing, such as Saffron Tartan (1963), Buona Notte, (1963) Flyingbolt, (1964) L’Escargot, (1968) Bula, (1970) and the ill fated Golden Cygnet, (1978) to name but a few. It has always been a contest kind to the Irish, with the great Vincent O’Brien winning ten times in the fifties, a trend which has continued to the present era with Irish stables winning nine of the last fourteen renewals. Willie Mullins has been successful four times, ( including the last two runnings ) while Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson have won it twice. Rather surprisingly it is twenty three years since Henderson last hit the back of the net, so what are the prospects of his French import L’Ami Serge of ending the long Seven Barrows drought.
Having only been placed in five of his six French races, he made an immediate impact on his first appearance in this country. He trotted up in the Gerry Fielden at Newbury in November, where racing off a mark of 132 he had subsequent Betfair hurdle winner Violet Dancer (rec. 3lbs) fifteen lengths back in third. He has won his only two subsequent starts with equal authority and now boasts an R.P.R. Of 159 (only one of the last ten winners were rated higher). As all his wins have come on a soft surface reservations have been expressed about his ability to handle a faster surface. However with safety paramount, it is highly unlikely that the Festival will start on anything quicker than Gd/Sft, and besides, being by Theatrical, there is a strong possibility that he could even improve for a faster surface.
Another import from the French provinces, Douvan, trained by the all conquering Willie Mullins, has been most impressive in his two Irish runs. He won very easily on his Irish debut at Gowran Park in November (2m hvy.) beating subsequent Grade1 winner Sizing John by a dozen lengths, with the future Boyle Sports Hurdle second Modem back in fifth. He never came out of a canter in his only other race, (Grade2 Punchestown 2msft) easily accounting for Alpha Des Obeaux. While his ability to act on a possibly faster surface on Tuesday has to be taken on trust, He did demonstrate that he could cope with the hurly burly of a big field, when coming from midfield to win a sixteen runner affair at Compiegne. A very worthy favourite!
Now trained by the very competent John Ferguson, Qewy, a classy ex flat racer ( rated102) looks interesting. He showed some promise on his debut over hurdles, finishing third behind Aso and Kiama Bay ( Haydock 2m hvy) and confirmed the good impression three weeks later at Newbury, comfortably accounting for Nicky Henderson’s 138 rated Cardinal Walter by six lengths. With further progress likely, it would be no great surprise to see him involved on Tuesday.
Warren Greatrex’s Seedling has won his last three races, and on his most recent performance, certainly comes into the argument. He comfortably accounted for subsequent scorer Some Plan ( rec 4lbs ) at Cheltenham in December earning himself an R.P.R. Of 151. It is worth noting that his win at Cheltenham was acheived on the New Course, and Tuesday’s contest is staged on the Old. This can be very significant as the tighter Old Course leaves horse and pilot much less time to get organised, in contrast to the more galloping nature of the New. However Seedling handled the famous hill well last time and must be considered.
Selection : L’Ami Serge
Danger : Douvan