Elixir is a big danger to the Rathhill show
CONSIDERING that 15 runners were left in today’s Grade 1 Tolworth Novices’ Hurdle at the five-day stage, it is slightly disappointing that just six will take their chance in the race, though this is a common theme, and there hasn’t been a field size bigger than six in any of the past five renewals.
Indeed, just five took their chance in this last year, and this afternoon’s contest has plenty to live up to in comparison, considering that the first two, Summerville Boy and Kalashnikov, went on to finish first and second again in a closer finish to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham. In the meantime, Kalashnikov had gone on to win the Betfair Hurdle.
Each of the “top four” British yards are due to be represented in this, and the one who sets the standard on Timeform ratings is Elixir de Nutz for Colin Tizzard, who won this race two years ago with Finian’s Oscar.
Elixir de Nutz has done well in three starts since joining Tizzard from Philip Hobbs over the summer, making a solid debut for the yard when second in a novice contest at Cheltenham in Ocrober, before winning twice in the Cotswolds since, including the Grade 2 Supreme Trial in November.
He backed that effort up when winning at a lower level at the same track the following month, and while he would likely need more with this step up into a top level contest for the first time, he’s building a positive profile for the season, and has leading claims.
Another leading player on Timeform ratings is Paul Nicholls’ Grand Sancy, one of two runners for the yard. He has a different profile to most of these, being a second-season novice with plenty of experience. A three-time winner this autumn since undergoing a breathing operation, Grand Sancy landed a listed novice at Haydock in November and ran his best race last time when fourth in handicap company under conditional rider Lorcan Williams in the competitive Exchange Trophy at Ascot just before Christmas. He lacks the same potential as some of these but has solid claims.
Nicholls has won this race four times in the past, though not since Breedsbreeze was successful back in 2008, and he is also due to send Southfield Stone.
He has considerably less experience compared to Grand Sancy, but like his stablemate, he has done nothing but improve during the first half of the season, completing a course hattrick at Taunton in December, a run which encompassed a bumper win and two successes in novice hurdles. Those three starts all came in minor company, meaning that this represents a big step up in grade, and while he has hinted he can make an impact at higher levels, he would need to improve again to have a serious chance.
However, the most interesting prospect comes from the Nicky Henderson yard, in the form of Rathhill, who has a large P attached to his Timeform rating. Closely related to the top-class chaser Bellshill, Rathhill made a highly promising start to his hurdling career when winning a maiden at Newbury last month; going on the bridle for a long way, with Barry Geraghty waiting for a while before asking him for maximum effort, before asserting. As such he was value for more than the winning margin of one and a half lengths, and he looks a really useful prospect in this sphere.
Considering that there is almost certainly more to come, and Nicky Henderson’s record in the Tolworth – he has won this five times in total, and four times since 2011– Rathhill is a worthy favourite for this, and will be very difficult to beat.
Representing Dan Skelton is Idee de Garde, who switched from Nicky Richards after winning a bumper in good style at Ayr in January, having changed owners. He was unable to repeat the trick on his first start over timber at Newbury last month, finishing second and losing his unbeaten record, though that was still a promising run considering that he wasn’t ideally placed in the race that day, staying on well in the latter stages.
Completing the field is the Fergal O’Brien-trained Mercy Mercy Me, who has some course form to his name, having finished third in the Grade 2 Winter Novices’ Hurdle over just short of two and a half miles last month. He has made a promising start to his hurdling career in two starts without winning, and while he remains with potential yet, he is already giving out signals that he could prove to be a better chaser than a hurdler.
In conclusion, it is an ominous sign that Rathhill is the only one from Nicky Henderson’s four intended runners at the five-day stage to take his chance, after a highly impressive hurdling debut at Newbury last month.
He was value for more than the winning margin that day, sweeping through on the bridle before waiting to make his effort, and it’s likely that there’s plenty more to come from him yet. Elixir de Nuit is a big danger after sealing a double at Cheltenham towards the end of last year and is respected, while the vastly more-experienced Grand Sancy is another to consider.
Sets the standard: Elixir De Nutz
Worth considering: Grand Sancy