This year's renewal of the JCB Triumph Hurdle looks one of the most open races at this year's Cheltenham Festival with no horse trading in single figures on the Betair market.
Normally such a trappy looking race would be a punting minefield but I consider one horse to hold outstanding claims at current odds.
Carlito Brigante is the horse in question and while his flat exploits seem to fall some way short of the standard expected of a top class hurdler, there are reasons to believe he's going to be a revelation over timber. He's already done the rounds in his short career, starting off with David Wachman for whom he won a 3yo handicap at Leopardstown before becoming a trifle disappointing. He subsequently joined the small yard of Clare McMahon and made a quick return on her £17,000 investment when winning a decent maiden hurdle at Musselburgh; the son of Haafhd was sold on shortly afterwards to Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud for £40,000, on the recommendation of Jason Maguire, who rode him at the Scottish venue. The deal seemed like a decent bit of business for all concerned, especially in view of his subsequent run over Christmas!
Current handler Gordon Elliot only had the horse in his yard for three weeks when he surprised a strong field in the Grade 2 Inforthenight.ie Juvenile Hurdle on Leopardstown's St Stephen's Day card. His Betfair SP of 85 suggests that he wasn't expected that day but in beating hotpot Alaivan easily by 11l he put up a very smart performance, a notion backed up by the eclipse of the trio of Cross Appeal, Mosstown and Action Master, who had previously filled the first three places in Fairyhouse's Winter Festival Hurdle. The evidence of the clock is also compelling - a time of 3min 58.4sec on yielding ground is nothing short of stunning and there is absolutely no hint of a fluke about the win, and yet Alaivan is still trading at a shorter price in several books. In my opinion, Carlito Brigante deserves to be treated as Ireland's leading Triumph Hurdle contender and should be vying for favouritism at the very least.
Carlito Brigante looks very likely to return to Musselburgh for the new Triumph Hurdle trial at the track's February fixture and it's unlikely that he will meet anything of his calibre there. Expect his price to contract sharply after that, or indeed if Alaivan franks the form in the interim. The biggest concern is if the wet winter continues as there is little doubt that he will prove a better horse on good ground. At the current price, that is easily overlooked and there will be ample opportunity to take corrective action should we see very soft ground come March 19th. I
Recommendation: Back Carlito Brigante to win the Triumph Hurdle @ 14.0
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