Vincent O’Brien Handicap Hurdle
A race that has been dominated by the Irish in recent years, can Britain strike back in 2014?
What happened in 2013?
Run in additional conditions, the performance of Ted Veale, on ground that wouldn’t have suited, was very taking as he travelled like a classy horse to land a bit of a punt for his connections at 10/1.
You rarely see a horse travel with so much talent in a competitive 28-runner handicap but the winner, off a mark of 134, was so far ahead of the handicapper it turned the race into a one hors event.
Held up at the back of the field by jockey Bryan Cooper, who was riding his second winner of the day, Ted Veale slowly cut his way through the field to join long-time leader Tennis Cap with two to jump.
It was clear as the two Irish runners approached the last that Cooper had a ton of horse under him as he had barely moved a muscle. After pinging the last obstacle Cooper released the handbrake and although the horse struggled to really quicken away on the ground, he still had enough class to repel the game runner-up.
On good ground this season, he just might be able to make a name for himself at the top-level.
2014 Major Players
Like all Festival handicaps, it almost impossible to have a confident prediction about who will line up on the day. Please feel free to return here nearer the race for a lowdown on all the big challengers.
Betting advice: strong race trends
Look no further than the Emerald Isle for the winner of this notoriously difficult handicap that is always run at a frenetic pace. By winning seven of the last 11 renewals from just a 25% representation, it’s fair to say that Ireland have a very strong hold on this race.
They also have a sensational record with placed horses too, following on from 2012 where they were responsible for three of the first four past the post, Ted Veale led home an Irish 1-2.
Some have muted that the Irish horses are being leniently treated by the UK’s handicappers in comparison to the local runners as the statistic suggests that they do have an edge in this department.
When Irish winners are in town, jockey Ruby Walsh won’t be too far away from the winner’s enclosure. The fast run, tactical nature of this race is hugely suited to the style of Walsh’s riding and it’s no surprise to see that he’s won four of the last 11 renewals of this helter-skelter handicap.
There is no better man on the circuit to give a horse a perfectly timed hold up ride over hurdles at the Festival.
Along with the negative trend towards UK runners, this also isn’t a race for highly rated hurdlers at the top of the weights.
Only one horse rated more than 145 has won since 1998 and the last eight winner were all rated in the 130’s, giving the impression it’s best to latch onto a potential improver.
It’s best to keep an eye on the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury – the UK’s premier two mile handicap away from Cheltenham. This lucrative prize has been won by a horse that had run at Newbury in four of the last 10 years, which is a very healthy strike rate.
The other important two mile handicap to watch is the Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown. Ted Veale became the fifth Irish winner of this race in the last seven Irish successes to have had his prep race at Leopardstown.
Ante post tip
Bookmakers have yet to price up this market as there is little point in doing so as its nigh-on impossible to plan which horses will undertake this challenge. February will be the time to start plotting a punting angle on this race.