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2016 JCB Triumph Hurdle runners - Aidan O'Brien aims to land Cheltenham Friday opener

Jon Wilde in Fri. 17th March 17 Mar 2016
  • A field of 15 will line up for the 2016 JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham
  • We've got the latest news from trainers of the leading fancies
Nick Scholfield rides Zubayr to victory in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at Kempton Park (credit:

Ivanovich Gorbatov will attempt to rekindle memories of the great Istabraq in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the opening race of Friday’s card at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

Owned by J P McManus, the trainer’s name on the racecard reads Aidan O'Brien but essentially the four-year-old is prepared by Joseph O'Brien, the recently retired multiple Classic-winning jockey.

O’Brien jnr is in the process of gaining a training licence under his own name from his father's original base in Piltown, County Kilkenny, and has made a bright start with the jumpers in his care with Ivanovich Gorbatov looking something special when he beat highly-touted Willie Mullins-trained Let's Dance at Leopardstown.

He would be a first Festival winner for O'Brien since Istabraq won the last of his three Champion Hurdles in 2000.

The Montjeu gelding was sent off 8/13 favourite for a Grade One event back at Leopardstown last month but could only finish fourth and O'Brien jnr hopes the livelier ground at Cheltenham will help.

The trainer’s son said:
“He worked at Leopardstown after racing the other day and Barry Geraghty was very happy with him. 
“Nothing came to light after his last run in the Grade One other than he didn't like the ground. He got away with it first time over hurdles and maybe we got a bit of a false sense of security from that. 
“We think he's a good horse and hopefully on the better ground at Cheltenham he'll show an improved performance. 
“The mistake he made in the back straight last time wouldn't have helped him but we think the biggest problem was the ground.”

Five years ago Paul Nicholls sent out then-unknown French import Zarkandar to win the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton Park on his British debut before following up in the Triumph Hurdle and is now treading the same path with Zubayr.

Nicholls said:
“Zubayr has improved enormously from his Kempton run and hopefully he will do a Zarkandar. He will have to jump at his best though and his inexperience will make it tough. 
“After we gelded him having bought him in the summer he fell apart all winter and I kept thinking ‘why did we buy him?’ as he looked dreadful. He has improved though and surprised me a bit when he won at Kempton. 
“He did a very good bit of work with Tommy Silver on Saturday and is potentially one of the most exciting juveniles we've had in the yard.”

Nick Scholfield retains the ride on Zubayr and Nicholls runs four others. Sam Twiston-Davies is on Connetable, Noel Fehily takes the mount on Clan Des Obeaux, Sean Bowen is aboard Frodon while Johnny Burke has his first ride for the champion trainer on Tommy Silver.

Alan King last won this race in 2007 with Katchit, who went on to win the Champion Hurdle the following year, and he fields three strong contenders.

Sceau Royal has won his last three races and Who Dares Wins won a Grade Two event by 20 lengths, and while Gibralfaro needs to put a poor run last time out behind him he is still one of the higher-rated runners.

King said:
“Sceau Royal is a horse that's got better as the season has gone on. He's in the perfect place at the moment and probably of all my team, he's the horse that's pleasing me most. I'm thrilled with him. 
“Who Dares Wins was a little bit free in front at Cheltenham and he and Paul Nicholls' horse (Clan Des Obeaux) went at it from a long way out. I just think they got racing way too early and they didn't quite get up the hill. I think he's better than he showed that day. 
“I think everyone got a little bit carried away after Gibralfaro won at Ascot. The handicapper gave him a mark of 151 and deep down I've never felt he was a 151 horse. They have subsequently dropped him and he's now rated 146. 
“I was disappointed with him at Kempton but it wasn't the greatest shock that he didn't win. 
“We are putting cheekpieces on him. He's still an entire and I'm slightly concerned he may not be focusing on what he should be, but we'll have to put up with that for the time being. 
“We'll get Cheltenham and maybe Aintree out of the way and he will be two-stone lighter after that!”

Willie Mullins runs three horses, including fillies Let’s Dance and Apple’s Jade, with Ruby Walsh on Footpad, winner of the race in which Ivanovich Gorbatov was beaten.

Mullins said:
“I like the form of Footpad's race. We dropped him in and I thought he was very good in a truly-run race. The Triumph is usually a strongly-run race and that will suit him.”

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2016 JCB Triumph Hurdle runners - Aidan O'Brien aims to land Cheltenham Friday opener

Ivanovich Gorbatov will attempt to rekindle memories of the great Istabraq in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the opening race of Friday’s card at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.

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