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Key questions as Sir Erec seeks to justify banker status in Triumph Hurdle

Sir Erec: Triumph Hurdle favourite will find his way into plenty of Yankees and Lucky 15s
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1.30 Cheltenham
JCB Triumph Hurdle| 2m1f | Grade 1 | 4yo | ITV/RTV

Is Sir Erec the Irish good thing?

So, he was rated 109 on the Flat, he gave Gold Cup winner Stradivarius a mighty fright on Champions Day at Ascot, he jumps hurdles brilliantly and iswith a young man who officially trained his first Cheltenham Festival winner earlier this week. What's not to like about Sir Erec?

Perhaps that is why the son of Camelot could go off at odds-on despite facing a horse who has won his last six starts, including a Grade 1.

There was a scare for Sir Erec backers last week when Joseph O'Brien revealed the hot favourite had suffered a stone bruise, but he is happy with him now.

O'Brien said: "We're looking forward to seeing howhe gets on. He's a high-class horse and we're hoping this easier ground won't pose a problem. He should be fine on it.

"We've been happy with his progress since he got the stone bruise and it's all systems go."

Sir Erec has already put stablemate Gardens Of Babylon in his place. He was six lengths too good for him in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown last month.

"Gardens Of Babylon is in good shape and should run well too,"said O'Brien. "He's a nice horse with some good form."

Can Quel Destin keep on winning?

Winning is the best possible habit to get into, and Quel Destin can't stop it.

Since his British debut, when second to Montestrel, her has rattled off six wins and, like Sir Erec, already has a Grade 1success on his CV, by virtue of his typically tenacious victory in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas.

Quel Destin: a tough and talented performer

Trainer Paul Nicholls said: "Quel Destin has kept on improving and just keeps galloping. He’s tough and hard to go by– he’ll run well."

Nicholls is triple-handed and Pic D'Orhy has French form students purring. His other representative is Ecco.

Nichollssaid: "Pic D'Orhy is a bit of an unknown because we haven’t run him yet. He had very good form in France and will love the ground.Ecco ran okay in the Adonis but has a mountain to climb."

Is Tiger Tap Tap overpriced?

If you can forgive Tiger Tap Tap his flop at Leopardstown's Dublin Racing Festival last month, there are valid reasons for arguing he is overpriced given how close to got to Sir Erec at the same venue in December. Just a neck separated the pair, which makes his double-figure price look attractive.

"If he can come back tothat form he'll run a big race, but his run at the Dublin Racing Festival was disappointing. He was a lot further behind Sir Erec and Gardens Of Babylon there," saidjockey Ruby Walsh.

Trainer Willie Mullins, who won the race with Scolardy in 2002, is also represented by outsiders French Made and Runrized.

Could Elliott upset the applecart again?

Gordon Elliott has won the Triumph twice in the last five years and, although he does not train anything towards the top of the market, the trainer feels Coeur Sublime may be overpriced.

"Coeur Sublime might be one who has a better chance than his odds suggest," he said. "I’m happy to put a line through his last run as that was just too bad to be true.

"He seems very well and I don’t think he'll mind the soft ground, so if he gets back to the form he showed at Christmas he could reach the frame in a racein which Sir Erec is going to take some beating."

On his other runner, Authorizo, Elliott said: "He's a grand horse but he’s up against it and would probably appreciate better ground."

Henderson following familiar path

When Nicky Henderson won his first Triumph with First Bout in 1985, the horse had won at Plumpton earlier in the campaign.

Pentland Hills was a 14-length winner of the same race last month, so should we read something into that?

Henderson said: "Pentland Hills has had only one run over hurdles but he's got a lot of experience on the Flat and was very professional at Plumpton, where he jumped beautifully.

"It was a very sound performance and there's no reason why he shouldn't have a crack at this."

Adjali blotted his copybook behind Fakir D'Oudairies in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in January, but Henderson feels it would be foolish to read too much into that and discount Pentland Hill's stablemate.

"Adjali finished second at Chepstow and I think that was probably the best of the British races this season," he said.

"He's quite closely matched with the winner Quel Destin. He's in very good shape, though I think this might be one for the Irish."

Has Hannon been underestimated?

Hannon has not travelled the conventional way to the Triumph Hurdle. He's been to Down Royal, Musselburgh and Naas, and even battled with his elders along the way.

The John McConnell-trained juvenile flew home to almost snatch victory in a Grade 2 novice hurdle at Naas last month and has a rating of 139, so it might not be the best idea to rule him out entirely.

Spotlight verdict

This stiffer test, allied with the possible boost the first-time cheekpieces could give to his jumping, suggestsGardens Of Babyloncan be more of a threat today than when a 6l second to stablemateSir Erecin a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last month. However, very classy Flat recruit Sir Erec was impressive that day and is still the one they have to beat. Gardens Of Babylon is feared most but it would be no surprise to seePic D'Orhyrun a big race on his debut for Paul Nicholls, having been second in a French Grade 1 when last seen in November.Hannonis an interesting runner at big odds as there are formlines that suggest last month's Grade 2 second against older horses was a highly creditable performance.
Ben Hutton

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He’s tough and hard to go by – he’ll run well
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