Eight years after Zarkandar won the Betfair Hurdle for Paul Nicholls, it was another ex-French gelding which provided the champion trainer with victory in the two miles handicap at Newbury on Saturday. Pic D'Orhy was a high-class juvenile hurdler in France before being bought last winter. Unplaced in the Triumph Hurdle, the five year old fell on his reappearance at Auteuil in November and then pulled too hard over two and a half miles at Ascot last month. Dropping back in trip, the Turgeon gelding was back to form as he led close home. Viewed as a chaser in the making, it was a huge prize to pick up en route.
One can't help feeling it may have been a different outcome though had the runner-up Ciel De Neige been ridden with more restraint. Willie Mullins' five year old, who was placed in the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival, raced prominently and was asked for his effort before the second last. Left clear at the final flight when Lightly Squeezed departed, he wandered about on the run-in edging to his right. That gave an opportunity to those in behind and he was reeled in by the winner. It is hard to believe someone like Ruby Walsh or Paul Townend riding him so forcefully so early in the homestraight. Advised at 16/1 in the February Update, this was one which got away.
The card at the Berkshire track kicked off with a two miles novices' hurdle and Chantry House made it two wins from as many starts over timber with a smooth success. A winner at Cheltenham in December, the ex-pointer had been held up last month with a minor issue but he was back to his best under Barry Geraghty. Pushed out after the last, he was full value for his four and a half lengths win from a runner-up who was rated mid 120s. Entered in the Supreme and Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, I suspect the Yeats gelding will be steered towards the latter because Nicky Henderson won't be keen for him to take on stablemate Shishkin in the Festival opener.
In addition to Chantry House, L'Air Du Vent is featured in the Top 40 Prospects and he finished fifth in the same event. Colin Tizzard's gelding was returning from a break, plus he had undergone a wind operation since his last outing. Travelling and jumping strongly, he looked a big threat at the third last but lacked the pace to match Chantry House and co and could only keep on at the one pace. Having had three runs over hurdles, his opening handicap mark will be interesting and the Coastal Path gelding will benefit from a return to further.
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