Little to cling on to when opposing Peace and Co at Cheltenham

Triumph Hurdle winner Peace and Co is set to make his much-awaited return to the track in the International Hurdle on Saturday, and while he looks the class act, there are a couple of reasons to oppose Nicky Henderson’s four-year-old.

Rated 159, the son of Falco should, on form, have too much for his likely opposition with two wins from two outings at Prestbury Park.

The French-bred gelding is four from four so far over hurdles, and while he is a very strong travelling sort, is probably yet to show his full capabilities.

In truth, he is probably the only British challenger to a Willie Mullins assault on the Champion Hurdle come March.

But if you do wish to oppose the Even money favourite on his seasonal reappearance, there are a pair of stats to cling on to in the Cheltenham Grade 2.

You have to go back to the 1980s for the last horse to win this race (or the Bula Hurdle as it was then) after having fewer than six runs over obstacles.

Furthermore 10 of the last 11 victors had run in the previous 35 days, suggesting a prep run is a prerequisite.

The jolly comes into the race without an outing since the Cheltenham Festival, on the back of just four starts.

In truth, there isn’t an awful lot in the race to take him on with with too much conviction, but the stats speak for themselves.

Trying to narrow down the field using those two pointers leaves just three potential opponents in Old Guard, Melodic Rendezvous and Purple Bay.

If we are taking the trends angle in the race, the latter can be omitted from our calculations with the last 22 winners finishing in the first three on their most recent start.

John Ferguson’s horse has been beaten 25+ lengths on both outings this term, most recently finishing fourth in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

Paul Nicholls’ Old Guard is one that is climbing through the ranks, and is likely to get closer to the favourite than his 25 length defeat in the Triumph Hurdle.

The Greatwood Hurdle winner has seen his official rating go up 12lbs for that success, and now is just 2lbs shy of Peace and Co.

Whether that rise in his mark is justified will be put to the test, with talented claimer Harry Cobden taking 10lbs off his back that day.

He’s clearly going in the right direction, and if continuing on the upward curve, is one that meets the trends and could catch the market leader cold.

Old Guard has been a real improver in his last few runs

Old Guard has been a real improver in his last few runs

If it’s a proven candidate, rather than a young contender, that you are looking for then Melodic Rendezvous could be the each-way play.

Jeremy Scott’s charge was a course and distance at this meeting in a Novice Hurdle three years ago and has gone on to win three Grade 2s and a Grade 1 in the time since.

He’s probably not the same horse he once was, but the nine-year-old is as big as 14/1 here, and with the potential for one or two dropping out, could be one to take a chance on to make the frame.

He needs to recapture the form of yesteryear, but with the fitness of a couple of the market leaders taken on trust, and others yet to prove they are of the required quality, could go well.

Melodic Rendezvous could be an each-way play

Melodic Rendezvous could be an each-way play

The form says Peace and Co is a nailed on winner, but the stats say there are reasons to look elsewhere, so many will see this as the perfect opportunity to take on the favourite as action returns to the home of jumps racing.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.