You’d do well to correctly predict at this stage where Laurina’s Cheltenham Festival target at this stage would be, but she currently heads the Arkle market at a general 8-1.
To say she’s been one of the most talked about horses over the past few seasons, it’s still somewhat of a guessing game regarding her what sort of trip she is most effective over, and whether she is a bona-fide Grade 1 horse, especially given that the Champion Hurdle, the race which was supposed to act as a clear acid test of Laurina’s ability, absolutely fell apart.
There’s till as many questions as answers about what sort of performer she is, but nevertheless, it’s easy to ou see why people might think she would show improvement for a fence; she’s a big, scopey, physical unit of a mare and regardless of whether you may or may not have considered her Champion Hurdle fourth a disappointing effort, that level of form still entitles her to be amongst the leading two-mile novice chasers, even without her showing much improvement.
She surely can’t be backed ante-post at this stage as she’s in the top five in the betting for the same number of races at Cheltenham, but in my opinion, this would be the most suitable option and I’d be keener to see her in the Arkle than in any other Festival race.
Her stablemate Klassical Dream is 9-1, but has been confirmed to be staying over hurdles and leads the betting for the Champion Hurdle, and Mullins also has another contender towards the head of the market in Melon (10-1).
The decision to send Melon over fences also looks like a good call from Mullins. Despite being a dual Champion Hurdle runner-up, Melon was lacklustre for the vast majority of last season, his Cheltenham effort a sole bright spot, and looked like horse for whom a change might bring about a degree of rejuvenation.
Arguably his three best career performances have all come at the Festival, but nevertheless, I’ve always got the impression he may fall a level or two below the very best and is still yet to win in Grade 1 company from nine attempts.
Given that Mullins even attempted to send him over three miles at the end of last campaign in order to try and spark some life back into him, I couldn’t recommend him until he fully proves he’s not a horse in decline.
The vast majority of last season’s good novice hurdlers appear to be transitioning to fences this season, and generally the shortest of them in the betting is Ballymore winner City Island (12-1). Martin Brassil’s 6yo was unbeaten over hurdles until he was handed a shock defeat by Reserve Tank at Punchestown, but had looked a top class animal in the making at Cheltenham, and Brassil was keen to emphasise that he felt his horse clearly was still feeling the exertions of his efforts at Prestbury Park when he was midfield back home in Ireland
Given that he’d generally been beating vastly inferior opposition up until the Festival, (though his win over the useful Dallas Des Pictons in his maiden hurdle has worked out quite nicely), and then clearly wasn’t himself at Punchestown, he’s a hard horse to weigh up, but on his day has show he is clearly capable of the standard needed to win an Arkle and I wouldn’t envisage him having any issues with the drop back to the minimum trip.
Reserve Tank and Champ (14-1) also feature fairly prominently in the market, but their best novice hurdling form came over further, and are therefore shorter in the betting again for the JLT and RSA.
Also at 14s are both Getaway Trump and Felix Desjy.
The pair achieved a high level of form in their novice hurdling campaigns, despite doing so in pretty dissimilar manners, with Felix Desjy making appearances at all three major spring festivals, including a win in the Grade 2 at Aintree and a second behind Klassical Dream at Punchestown, whereas Getaway Trump took much more a low-key route, winning at Ayr before putting up a huge weight-carrying performance to take the novice handicap at the final day of the season at Sandown.
Of the pair, I’d prefer Getaway Trump in terms of finding more improvement as a chaser- he’s a big, scopey sort who improved run for run last season and is a winning pointer. You get the feeling that everything he’s achieved over hurdles is a bonus and that chasing is the game he’s built for.
That’s not to say Felix Desjy, who was solid as a rock last season and held his own in classy company, won’t also be a better chaser, but his arc of improvement may already be closer to it’s peak than Getaway Trump, who was a slow burner last campaign and took a step forward with each start.
Two I’d like to give a mention to at a bigger price are the Olly Murphy pair Thomas Darby (20-1) and Brewin’upastorm (25-1).
Both talented novices, Thomas Darby looked far from the finished product for most of last season, but showed bucketloads of natural ability to work with, including when beating Elixir De Nutz at Cheltenham, as well as when producing a career best to finish second to Klassical Dream in the Supreme, whilst Brewin’upastorm, who was generally campaigned over further than this last season, including when fourth in the Ballymore and second in the Mersey, looks to have enough pace to compete at a high level over two miles.
Olly Murphy is a young trainer who I rate highly and he’s got some exciting horses to go to war with this season.