Road to Cheltenham: A Gorbatov Triumph no longer such a sure thing

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Cheltenham Trials Day may have been last weekend, but the past two days have seen even more challengers emerge for the biggest prizes at the Festival.

From Bleu et Rouge bursting on to the Neptune scene at Leopardstown (8/1 from 40/1), in the process causing punters to steam into antepost favourite Yanworth (4/5 from 7/4) to Outlander and Blaklion becoming 10/1 joint-third-favourites for the RSA Chase, there were plenty of changes in the betting.

However, the biggest shake-up in the markets ahead of the Prestbury Park bonanza came in the Triumph Hurdle.

After winning his maiden at Leopardstown, Joseph O’Brien’s Ivanovich Gorbatov has been very popular in the betting for the four-year-old contest, backed from 12/1 right into 5/2 to hand the former flat jockey a first Festival win.

Such was the confidence behind him, that success in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle was assumed, the JP McManus-owned gelding was sent off as a 8/13 shot for the Grade 1.

Travelling through the race, the jolly looked to have as much as a chance as his odds suggested.

But turning out of the back-straight Barry Geraghty began to get to work on his mount, but any burst of acceleration was lacking, leaving the Willie Mullins trio of Footpad, Allbak Des Place and Let’s Dance to sweep past.

His fourth-placed finish saw his price pushed out from 5/2 to 6/1 for Cheltenham, while the winner Footpad was slashed to 12/1 and the runner-up cut to 16/1.

Challengers were to also emerge the other side of the Irish Sea as Connetable claimed the major scalp of Peace and Co at Sandown.

Victory in the Contenders’ Hurdle left trainer Paul Nicholls commenting on how the victor reminded him of former Triumph winner Zarkandar.

The race was actually the springboard to another Nicholls success in the juvenile race at the Festival, with Celestial Halo taking the contest en route to Cheltenham in 2009. This year’s winner was cut from 25/1 to 12/1 to do exactly the same.

Connetable was having just his second start for Nicholls

Connetable was having just his second start for Nicholls

The trainer was to launch another contender for the race just 24 hours later when Tommy Silver landed the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Musselburgh in good style.

Previously beaten just one length by Nicky Henderson’s Fix Le Kap who has since gone on to win by 28 lengths at Warwick, the 4/6 chance was a ready winner of the Listed contest at the Scottish venue.

Jumping left throughout, the configuration of Cheltenham could bring out more in the son of Silver Cross, who is now a 14/1 chance for Triumph Hurdle success.

Sunday’s race has been won by both Hargam and Sametegal in the past three years, two horses that have gone on to place at the Festival, while Carlito Brigante finished fourth in 2010 after winning the trial.

Two benefactors in the betting from the beaten favourites and surprise emergence of others were the Alan King duo of Sceau Royale and Gibralfaro who were cut to 7/1 and 8/1 respectively, while Nicky Henderson’s Fix Le Kap was also a mover (6/1 from 10/1).

It’s rare that one weekend can see such change in the betting for one race, but with the trio of King, Henderson and Nicholls now training seven of the top 10 in the Triumph Hurdle betting, it could be that another UK success in the Friday opener is on the cards.

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.