The 15:15 at Haydock this Saturday turned out to be a fascinating race however with only four runners going to post, the pre-race vibe could certainly have been described as tempered with slight disappointment at such a poor turnout for a Grade 2 contest. The race however, was far from it. With Pentland Hills seemingly cruising after two out it looked to most viewers that the race was in the bag, yet the tenacious Sam Twiston-Davies and Ballyandy had other ideas. Nico De Boinville pushed the button on Pentland just after the last and he pulled a length clear up the run-in, only to tie up at the finish and be beaten on the nod in ruthless fashion by the rallying Ballyandy. First things first, let’s give a large hand to team Twiston-Davies. Nigel for persevering this horse at what, to start with, seemed too short a trip to see him at his best. And, of course, Sam for producing a fabulous ride to get this horse back up on the line, after looking all but out of the race up the run-in.
The question now is, can Pentland Hills seriously still be a Champion Hurdle contender after that performance? In my honest opinion, yes, I think he could. However, I feel the ground would need to be at least good-to-soft to see him mount a serious challenge. He is clearly a horse with plenty of ability, and you could argue that Nico went for him up the run-in too early, given the length of it from the last hurdle to the winning post. Whichever way you see it, Pentland Hills will need to improve a fair amount on that run to be a true Champion Hurdle contender, and if the ground at the festival is similar to conditions now, then he’s not a betting proposition to me. He clearly likes Cheltenham so that is a plus, but at his current odds of around 8/1 I’ll be staying away until knowing the true ground conditions for the festival meeting.
On the subject of the winners chances, again I will not be investing my money. I see Ballyandy is readily available at 40/1 in places, maybe underestimating his chances a little, but I think that the race this past Saturday was very much seen as his ‘Champion Hurdle’ and perhaps rightly so considering the race was named after former stable mate The New One. The yard will be going to the festival with hope rather than expectation.
Darassso was very disappointing and it seems you need a leap of faith to be backing him now, he really was a flop given the amount of money he saw and the reputation he had pre-race.
The obvious one to take out of the race however was Cornerstone Lad. He surprised me to be honest, as he did a few fellow onlookers. He is such an admirable horse who is really improving at a rate of knots given that performance. With all the penalties, giving every runner weight (gave the winner 6lbs) he put up a remarkable performance to be beaten in only the last hundred yards or so. With his front-running style, if he could get an easy lead in the festival race then he could go well for a long way given the form of his last two starts. He is available at around 50/1, and I hope the yard choose to give it a shot because in my eyes he’s earned it. The Fighting Fifth result was clearly no fluke.
Written by Daniel Harrold