Kempton takes centre stage on Saturday and there are a couple of appealing betting propositions that Betfair customers can use to build their free bet pot for the Cheltenham Festival in less than three weeks.
Go Loupi in the Close Brothers
The first race of interest is the Close Brothers Adonis Juvenile Hurdle (14:25). While it's relevance as a Triumph Hurdle trial has waned in the last decade or so, this year's renewal will primarily be seen as an opportunity for the Alan King-trained Tritonic to advertise his credentials for that race.
The son of Sea The Moon was a highly-rated recruit from the Flat, with his official rating of 99 in that sphere being right up there with the highest of any horse to go juvenile hurdling this season. Sent off as the 5/4 favourite for his hurdling debut at Ascot last month, he jumped just adequately and briefly looked in trouble after the fourth-last flight before his stamina came more and more into the equation in the closing stages.
He ultimately got up to beat Casa Loupi by a length and undoubtedly many will feel that he can only improve. However, my preference is for Casa Loupi to make a bold bid to reverse that form.
Trained by Gary Moore, Casa Loupi is rated 30lb lower than Tritonic on the Flat, but he arguably showed a greater aptitude for hurdling on what was also his first start over obstacles at Ascot that day. Having set out in front, Jamie Moore spent the first half of the race seeking to educate Casa Loupi by asking him to shorten into his hurdles which he duly did with impressive nimbleness.
It was from hallway onwards that Moore began to allow and ask Casa Loupi to have more of a cut at his hurdles and he relished that opportunity, exhibiting a low and quick technique that soon saw him open up an advantage on his pursuers. Indeed, it looked at though he might have slipped the field halfway up the straight, but Tritonic was able to claw him back up the stiff Ascot finish.
So, why will it be different this time? Well, Kempton is a notably different track to Ascot in that it is more speed favouring. The ground it also a factor, as it was soft at Ascot and will likely be good at Kempton. These two factors are likely to place more of an emphasis on speed than was the case at Ascot and given Tritonic only just got on top of Casa Loupi in the dying strides at Ascot, Casa Loupi might just have too much pace for him around Kempton. There is a significant differential between them at the prices and Casa Loupi is the bet.
Gentleman catches the eye
The other race of interest is the Dovecote Novices' Hurdle (15:00) and the one I'm focusing on is the Emmet Mullins-trained Cape Gentleman. The son of Champs Elysees quickly proved to be a profitable acquisition from France for Mullins, as he won the Irish Cesarewitch on just his second start for him back in October. Switched to hurdling, Cape Gentleman made a winning start over obstacles in a maiden hurdle over two-and-a-half miles at Punchestown, but the bare result only tells half the story.
Brian Hayes had his hands full with Cape Gentleman from the outset as he took a strong hold in behind the leaders. His jumping was so sharp that Hayes had to exert heavy restraint on him to stop him pulling and jumping his way to the front on a number of occasions. Once he eventually hit the front at the second-last flight, he picked up well for hands-and-heels riding to win in style.
For me, it was a performance that screamed that a drop in trip would suit as it was clear that there wasn't nearly enough pace in front of him to satisfy him over two-and-a-half miles.
Thus, it was a surprise to see him upped in trip for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors "50k Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff" Novice Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Unsurprisingly, he proved to be a very difficult ride for Hayes over the longer trip, racing too freely despite a very quiet ride and ultimately being pulled up.
While it will take a vast transformation to go from being pulled up just three weeks ago to winning a Grade 2 novice hurdle such as this, the drop back to a fast two miles could well prove to be the key. He is likely to be much happier at the gallop that will be set in this race and it wouldn't at all surprise to see him produce a much-improved effort and go very close.