Racing Expert & Columnist
Alex Hammond Racing Blog & Tips
Last Updated: 11/12/19 8:59am
Alex Hammond thinks Pentland Hills can give Nicky Henderson a high-profile boost as she looks ahead to the International Meeting at Cheltenham.
The Champion Hurdle division is essentially there for the taking - will this weekend help us try and solve the puzzle, and can you envisage any possible left-field entries at this stage?
Well the focus at Cheltenham will be on dual Grade 1-winning juvenile hurdler Pentland Hills who makes his seasonal debut for Nicky Henderson in the International Hurdle.
He's currently 7/1 with Sky Bet for the Champion Hurdle, a race in which there is no current standout performer after some recent high profile defeats and the injury sustained by dual champion Buveur D'Air.
If Pentland Hills impresses on Saturday that 7/1 won't be available for long. His rider Nico De Boinville spoke to Sky Sports Racing earlier in the week and reported the horse to be in good form and said he's been for a racecourse gallop, which should have helped get him straight for this assignment.
He went from strength to strength last season and is unbeaten in three starts since joining his new stable and this looks like good starting point. He's a bit like his sidelined stablemate Buveur D'Air in that he's very slick over his obstacles, efficient and quick, qualities you need in a top level hurdler.
His defeat of Fakir D'Oudaries at Aintree in April stacks up well and I expect him to win on Saturday and stake his claim for Champion Hurdle honours in March.
There have been a few high profile defeats for the Henderson stable this season with the aforementioned Buveur D'Air, Altior and Might Bite on Saturday, so they'll be hoping for a bit more luck.
Colin Tizzard's Elixir De Nutz is one I like for each-way purposes if lining up Saturday, although it sounds like the big handicap at Ascot a week later is also under consideration.
I'm not sure about left-field, but if anything is to emerge from that direction, I suppose it could be lost season's Champion Bumper winner Envoi Allen, who has impressed in both his hurdling outings to date.
Trainer Gordon Elliott has said this five-year-old could be anything, but whether he'd jump him up to this level at this stage of his career remains to be seen. He's an 11/1 shot with Sky Bet for the Champion Hurdle but is still a novice so has all those options as well.
Where is the early value among the potential runners for Saturday's Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham?
The ground will obviously have a bearing on my final selection, but it if it isn't too testing at Cheltenham (is that even possible given the incessant rain we've been having?!) then Secret Investor will be at the top of my shortlist (8/1 with Sky Bet).
Harry Cobden told Sky Sports Racing on Tuesday, that the horse will "come on a ton" for his seasonal debut at Down Royal and that he's the class horse in the race.
This will be his debut in a handicap in any sphere and Paul Nicholls will be hoping a mark of 150 doesn't overestimate him.
Another horse that could make his mark should he line up on Saturday is the Warren Greatrex-trained Keeper Hill.
His trainer has said this eight-year-old is seriously talented and that he's a proper chaser. This will be just his eighth start over fences and he's already won three times over the larger obstacles. He had a back operation after his novice chase campaign and a return to fences this season should be the making of him.
He's 14/1 and looks a decent each-way pop at that price.
Keeper Hill - entered in Cheltenham feature
What else catches your eye heading into the next big meeting at National Hunt racing's headquarters?
I love Cheltenham and there are a host of smart horses amongst the entries, but we have to wait for the last race on Saturday for the runner I'm most looking forward to seeing.
I was at Chepstow in October when Queens Cave finished runner-up to a smart mare in Silver Forever in a Mares' Novices' Hurdle, belying her double figure odds. The form has been franked by the winner and Queens Cave has also won since at Exeter.
This is her first step into handicap company and with David Pipe's horses in such good form, I'm keen to have her on my side. She's 7/1 for the race with Sky Bet at the time of writing.
I was lucky enough to visit Fergal O'Brien's new yard in the Cotswolds last week to film a feature for SSR. What made it even more special is that I dug out my riding gear and rode out, which was great fun and also gave me first hand experience of his superb facilities at Ravenswell Farm.
I used to ride out for Fergal a few years ago and it was lovely to be back. The yard are flying and the last time they had runners at Cheltenham they went home with a treble.
I think the team will be celebrating again after the Grade 2 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle at 2.30 on Saturday. Champagne Well heads there having won a novice hurdle at the track in October and following that up with a decent second to the smart Thyme Hill in a Grade 2 there last month. He steps back up to three miles for this and that will suit down to the ground. He's 100/30 with Sky Bet.
I'm also going to wind the clock back 24 hours to give a shout out to one in the Grade 3 BetVictor Handicap Chase on Friday.
West Approach is bidding for compensation having unseated in the Ladbrokes Trophy when favourite a couple of weeks ago. However, I like Onefortheroadtom for Harry Fry, who is also in hot form at the moment.
He's 11/2 which looks a bit more attractive than the 7/2 about the favourite. It's surprising that he didn't win last season, but after a decent effort at Cheltenham last time out, a win shouldn't be far away.