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Cheltenham Festival: The Ultimate Guide - 2021-03-05

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All systems go for zippy Zanahiyr

FRIDAY 1.20 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE

Tom Collins

Adagio An eight-length winner on the Flat at Clairefontaine before being gelded and switching stables from Pavel Vovcenko to David Pipe. Adagio made an instant impression for his new yard with an easy victory at Warwick (form not worked out), but didn’t have the class of Duffle Coat, a strong stayer over 2m, in a Triumph trial at Cheltenham in December. He looked the likely winner for a long way that day but couldn’t keep tabs with his Irish rival up the hill. Two victories have followed (once at this track, the other in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle) and he’s now proven in Grade 1 company. Ground versatile and proven at the track and trip, Adagio boasts strong claims. Duffle Coat Closely related to a 3m winner, Duffle Coat’s stamina is his biggest weapon and it would be no surprise if he became tapped for toe as the pace quickened in the Triumph. An early-season type with four victories from four starts, it is hard to find many negatives on the form book bar a potential lack of speed. He has been given a lengthy break since his Triumph trial success at this track and he is proven on quick ground. However, if we had a sudden downpour his chances would increase. French Aseel Experienced on the Flat when with Philippe Decouz in France, during which time he recorded a maiden success over a mile on heavy ground, he made an instant impression for trainer Ellmarie Holden with a 22-length victory at Leopardstown over Christmas. French Aseel looked exceptional that day – he sprinted clear under Denis O’regan and achieved a solid Racing Post Rating of 139. He has since moved to Willie Mullins after a private purchase and heads to Cheltenham fresh after bypassing a bunch of targets. An interesting prospect with a lofty reputation. Heross Du Seuil In the same ownership as French Aseel, this French recruit was purchased by Joe and Marie Donnelly from France after a three-length debut win in an AQPS maiden at Moulins. He received rave reviews from trainer Nicky Henderson before his debut at Kempton over Christmas but was a marked drifter just before the off. That weakness wasn’t reflected on the track as he bolted up by a double-digit margin (main challenger fell at the last) ahead of a subsequent Listed winner. His only subsequent appearance came at Warwick where he finished a distant second to a talented rival on ground said to be far too quick. Honneur D’ajonc Half-brother to four French winners and bred for trips around two miles, Honneur D’ajonc made a good start to his career when he finished a gallant second to the unbeaten Monmiral at Exeter in November. Redemption appeared his for the taking at Kempton and, despite racing keenly from the outset and forcing rider Chester Williams to go to the front, he looked like plundering the prize until a catastrophic error at the last saw him come to grief. Closely matched with Heross Du Seuil on that form. Fancied by some for the Adonis last month, he reportedly never travelled after losing a shoe early and now has plenty to prove. Nassalam Early-season juvenile who is very much in the mould of stablemate Goshen, who would have won this race last year but for unseating Jamie Moore at the last hurdle. Nassalam kickstarted his season with two wide-margin victories at Fontwell in which he barely came off the bridle and recorded an aggregate winning distance of 108 lengths. Two short-priced defeats have followed. His Finale Juvenile Hurdle reverse can be marked up given he was sent for home at the top of the long Chepstow home straight, although he had no excuses behind Monmiral last time at Haydock. Considered a top-class prospect by his connections. Quilixios Although he is unbeaten after four races like former stablemate Duffle Coat, the similarities end there. Quilixios is a scopey chaser in the making with enough speed to compete at the top level in juvenile hurdles. The Cheveley Park-owned four-year-old had no issues dispatching inferior rivals in a couple of contests in October and proved that he wasn’t just an early-season wonder when he returned from a long absence to defy favouritism in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Impressive if not breathtaking in that success, Quilixios earned a place in the Triumph field and has the ability to feature in the finish. Tritonic The clear standout in this field on Flat ability, Tritonic won twice as a juvenile and made his first start as a three-year-old at Royal Ascot when second to Highland Chief in the Golden Gates Handicap. He added a runner-up finish in Listed company and a fourth in the Old Rowley Cup before beginning his jumps career, which started with a bang at Ascot in January. Alan King is a dab hand with runners in this division and Tritonic looked a star of the future when romping home to win by a wide margin in the Adonis at Kempton. Although he will face a different challenge at Cheltenham, a repeat performance would make him a leading player. Zanahiyr A regally-bred son of King George and Eclipse winner Nathaniel, Zanahiyr took four attempts to get off the mark on the Flat for trainer Mick Halford and was immediately sold by the Aga Khan to go jumping after a wind operation last summer. Given three months to acclimatise to his new surroundings, Zanahiyr readily accounted for four rivals on his debut over 2m2f at Ballinrobe in October before oozing class when he produced a glittering turn of foot to scoot clear of a useful field at Fairyhouse. That Grade 3 contest was run at a good gallop given the conditions and the way in which he eased clear of Saint Sam proved his ability. Doubts about whether Zanahiyr could produce a similar display off a slow pace were quashed when he didn’t turn a hair at Leopardstown in the Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle. Speed figures and ratings have him as the clear standout and it is hard to disagree given the visual impression he has created on each start. VERDICT Zanahiyr appears to have every trait you need to win a Triumph Hurdle and that makes him extremely hard to oppose. His ability to settle and quicken off a fast or slow pace will stand him in good stead and it is hard to decisively say that there is a quicker horse in the line-up. Tritonic is the biggest danger if this turns into a sprint, although his inexperience over hurdles could let him down. Course form is crucial and Adagio has it in abundance. The Grade 1 winner has to make the three. 1 Zanahiyr 2 Adagio 3 Tritonic

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