This is a wide open renewal, with four or five of the main Triumph Hurdle protagonists likely to take each other on again.
Grumeti will probably head the market, not least because he is a horse who has received more than his fair share of hype in his short career. He has an obvious profile for this race in that he came to win the Triumph Hurdle at the last flight before weakening into third place on the run to the line. This simple logic may well pay dividends because Grumeti probably will be more suited to Aintree than Cheltenham at this stage of his development.
On the other hand, the Triumph winner Countrywide Flame will be opposed by most on the grounds that he was outpaced at Cheltenham before outstaying his rivals up the hill in a manner that suggests he may struggle for pace at Aintree. Similar concerns have been raised regarding previous Triumph Hurdle winners bidding to follow up at Aintree. Detroit City springs to mind, as does last year’s winner Zarkandar; furthermore, Walkon finished second at Cheltenham in 2009, after which there were many doubters that questioned his ability to improve on that placing over the minimum trip at Aintree.
Sadlers Risk was thought to need the Cheltenham hill to be seen at his best; subsequently, he will probably be a bigger price than he should be if lining up at Aintree. Pearl Swan is another contender that may well be less well suited to this course in comparison to last time out in the Triumph. He was badly outpaced that day before staying on well and looking dangerous until falling at the last flight.
The Nicky Henderson horse Lyvius missed the Festival in favour of a confidence-boosting win at Warwick. His trainer felt that he would not be ready for Cheltenham and will be hoping that his patience is rewarded here. Certainly, Lyvius looks an improver and, although he does not have the form in the book in comparison to some of his rivals, he still has to be on the shortlist. Dodging Bullets has raced only twice over hurdles for champion trainer Paul Nicholls; he has looked green on both starts and showed improved form last time out in comparison to his debut run. Along with Grumeti he is the likeliest to improve for racing round Aintree after struggling to get home up the Cheltenham hill.
The performances of stayers like Detroit City in this race suggest that this course is more testing than a lot of people think. Horses like Countrywide Flame and Sadler’s Risk could easily go off bigger than they should due to this bias in most punters’ thinking. With this in mind, we need to keep a close eye on the market and take advantage of any over-reactions in the betting for a contest which remains wide open. At this stage, my personal preference lies with Dodging Bullets and Grumeti; however, this is definitely a race where we should allow the market to dictate our financial investments.