Paul Ferguson has already shared his thoughts on the chasers to focus on for your Tote Ten To Follow competition. Read his thoughts on the hurdlers who should be considered in your stable.
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Of this season’s 25 Tote Ten To Follow ‘Bonus Races’ just seven are hurdle contests, with two – the Betfair Hurdle and the County Hurdle – being handicaps.
Starting with the two-milers, and given that the Irish Champion Hurdle is a ‘Bonus Race’ as well as the Champion Hurdle itself, I would always be inclined to include at least one from each side of the Irish Sea. Reigning Champion Epatante is the obvious starting point, and after just the six starts over hurdles, she could easily be open to more improvement.
With a further 25 points available to Grade 1 winners, she could well mop up in the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle, en route to Cheltenham. I doubt we will see her much more than that – and staying the 2m4f trip of the Aintree Hurdle (another ‘Bonus Race’) wouldn’t be a given – but she looks hard to leave out, and avoiding the obvious isn’t always a good plan in this competition.
Fans of Goshen will have been encouraged by the recent WKD Hurdle success of Triumph runner-up Aspire Tower, although I was unconvinced by the juveniles last season, and would certainly favour Epatante as my ‘English’ selection.
Runner-up in the Down Royal race, Abacadabras will need to improve if he is to mix it at the top level, but we shouldn’t forget how well he travelled throughout the Supreme last year, and a proper end-to-end gallop might be what is required to bring out the best in him come next March.
Last season’s Irish Champion Hurdle was won by Honeysuckle, who could again be a big points earner, although she could find the domestic two-mile division stronger this time around, with Saint Roi another to emerge on the scene.
The County Hurdle winner bolted up on his reappearance at Tipperary and will presumably head to the Morgiana Hurdle the weekend that this competition kicks off. He looks to have the requisite pace to cope with small field events during the winter, and after just the five hurdles starts, remains open to considerable improvement.
Back to Honeysuckle briefly; I believe that she will end up in the Mares’ Hurdle once again and is likely to begin her campaign in the Grade 1 Hatton’s Grace, plus she would have the option of heading to Aintree over 2m4f, also. Versatility is often a good thing when it comes to this competition and she has that in abundance.
Finally, a potential forgotten horse in the Champion Hurdle picture is last year’s Morgiana winner Saldier, who might well return to contest the same event next weekend. Another who has only had the six starts over hurdles, his form is strong, but having seen the track just twice since April 2018, perhaps he doesn’t have the ideal profile for this competition.
As for the staying division, last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar was beaten on his recent reappearance at Wetherby, and with the uncertainty surrounding Paisley Park, it could be safer to look for a second-season hurdler to break through here, too. Prior to the Stayers’ in March, Paisley Park was dominant in this division and could easily rule the roost again, if over his heart issue.
However, it is hard to be conclusive in that regard until we see him at Newbury at the end of the month, so he is likely to divide opinion for the purpose of this competition. In fact, his inclusion (or lack of it) could prove pivotal, and if you are a ‘perm’ player, I would suggest that he is probably one to include in at least one or two of your teams.
At Newbury, he could well face both McFabulous and Thyme Hill. The former has already shown his wellbeing, by taking advantage of the extended novice ruling (due to the early conclusion of last season) to run out a very easy winner of the Persian War. Now rated 153 and looking ready for the step up in distance, he could be a major player.
Thyme Hill is rated 2lbs below him, but achieved more last season, and was twice hampered late on when fourth in what I believe to be a strong renewal of the Albert Bartlett. Latest Exhibition (2nd) and The Wolf (7th) advertised that form by winning over fences recently, and Philip Hobbs’ six-year-old looks one for any shortlist. Both horses are likely to be campaigned similarly, with Ascot and Cheltenham (Cleeve Hurdle on trials day) the obvious route to the festival.
Given that the only two ‘Bonus Races’ in this division are in England (the Stayers’ Hurdle and the equivalent contest at Aintree) you might not even want to consider an Irish representative. Benie des Dieux would be one option for those who do want that base covered, although she ran just once before the festival last season so, again, might not be an ideal candidate. It is also worth noting that the competition is over before the Punchestown Festival, something else to consider, mainly with the Willie Mullins-trained horses, who are often targeted there.
Back to the Albert Bartlett form and Gordon Elliott has confirmed that Fury Road will remain over hurdles this season, rather than go chasing. A Grade 2 winner over 2m7f as a novice, he relished the strongly run race at the festival and looks a hardy sort, who could dominate the staying division in Ireland. Although there are no ‘Bonus Races’ in this division over in Ireland, the likes of the Frank Ward Memorial and Galmoy Hurdle are likely Graded race options either side of the New Year, and there doesn’t appear the strength-in-depth as there does amongst the English stayers.
Paul Ferguson’s Tote Ten to Follow
- Chacun Pour Soi
- Minella Indo
- Fury Road
- Saint Roi