One of the leading novice hurdlers from last season Yanworth will begin his latest campaign live on Sky Racing on Saturday night when he lines up in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle. The six-year-old represents Alan King, who has hit a good run of form with 4 winners from his last 10 runners, and legendary owner J P McManus. A superb novice campaign saw two Grade 2 successes, including at this track in the Supreme Trial Novices’ Hurdle and an unbeaten run only came to an end when finding just Yorkhill too strong at the Cheltenham Festival. That was the first time he’d raced on good ground and with the forecast set as good to soft at Ascot a return to cut would be ideal. His early races this season will decide the destination he works towards at next year’s Festival with both the Champion and World Hurdle options at this stage.
Saturday’s contest has produced a fascinating clash with the Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar who was travelling so strongly a length and a half down when unseating at Aintree’s final flight on his seasonal reappearance. The nine-year-old has enjoyed a stellar career in Britain where he first came to prominence winning the 2011 Triumph Hurdle and since added three Grade 2 and three Grade 1 wins including the 2013 Aintree Hurdle. He’s consistently run well at the very top level and over time has been stepped up in distance with a notable fourth in the 2014 and third in the 2015 World Hurdle, where a dreadful mistake at the second last cost him any chance of challenging Cole Harden. However he has only raced three times since and his Aintree reappearance was his first for nearly a year and a half.
Amongst the entries Neil King’s Lil Rockerfeller and last year’s second Court Minstrel add further interest. Lil Rockerfeller was a rapid improver last season and was bravely supplemented for the Champion Hurdle but found things happening too quickly over two miles at that level when finishing seventh. The five-year-old made a really pleasing reappearance when third in a Wetherby Grade 2, putting in a typically gutsy performance despite having to give weight to the first two. The Evan Williams-trained Court Minstrel had previously won the Silver Trophy at Chepstow before finishing second here and while his form later tailed off he made a good return to action when second to Hargam in a Listed Kempton contest and would greatly benefit from a strong pace. The nine-year-old has often struggled in the later winter months and this is very much his time of year.
Other notables include the Philip Hobbs-trained Welsh Champion Hurdle winner Garde La Victoire and Irish raider Petit Mouchoir.
It’s another intriguing renewal in a race that has thrown up some great winners in recent years including Faugheen (2014) and Annie Power (2013) and Yanworth is an obvious candidate to boost his Festival credentials, however Court Minstrel (providing he chooses this preferred option over an Haydock entry) should provide some each-way value.