Can Nicholls' new approach pay off or will Cheltenham form hold sway again?
Doom Bar Anniversary 4-Y-O Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 1) | 2m1f | 4yo | ITV/RTV
This Grade 1 for juveniles looks a match between the unbeaten Monmiral, who missed Cheltenham in favour of coming straight here, and Triumph Hurdle runner-up Adagio.
So has it paid to have missed Cheltenham and go straight for this race in the past?
There have been nine runnings since the start of 2011 and seven of those were won by horses who competed at Cheltenham. Only two went to runners who waited for this race instead.
The statistics on all 91 runners in that sample also paint a favourable picture for those who went to Cheltenham. The seven winners came from 51 runners (14 per cent; -£11.97 to £1 level-stakes), compared to two winners from 40 (five per cent; -£26) for the festival absentees.
Furthermore, six of the seven winners who ran at Cheltenham competed in the Triumph Hurdle (2015 scorer All Yours ran in the Fred Winter), and all were placed in that Grade 1, including Apple’s Jade who filled the same position as Adagio when runner-up in 2016.
Previous winners All Yours and Zarkandar (2011) ran for Monmiral’s trainer Paul Nicholls at Cheltenham before coming here, while Nicholls is 0-3 with runners who missed the festival. Two of those came in the last two runnings, though, so it’s a new approach for the trainer.
Only six mares have competed in the last ten years, but L’Unique was successful in 2013 and Fiveandtwenty will receive the 7lb sex allowance from her male counterparts this time.
She has 16lb to find with Monmiral and Adagio on Racing Post Ratings, even when including the 7lb, but it is worth noting that two of the last nine winners were rated 12lb and 15lb off the top-rated, and L’Unique was one of them. So Fiveandtwenty is no forlorn hope.
Race analysis by Graeme Rodway
Time to find out who is Britain's best juvenile hurdler
Adagio has every right to brand himself the best juvenile hurdler in Britain. He is already a Grade 1 winner and took on the best of the Irish in what looked one of the hottest renewals of the Triumph, and found only the inspired combination of Henry de Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore, who teamed up with Quilixios, too good.
And yet, Monmiral could also lay claim to that crown. He has not contested a Grade 1 yet, but on official ratings he is already deemed Adagio's equal.
That is largely because at Haydock he defeated Nassalam and Elham Valley – two horses who finished tenth and third respectively in the Fred Winter – much more convincingly than Adagio did when beating both at Chepstow to claim the Finale.
One is battle-hardened then, the other full of natural ability with the potential to improve further. It is a difficult riddle for punters to try to solve and perhaps David Pipe, trainer of the Cheltenham runner-up, summed up the complexity of the debate best when he said: "If you take it literally, we beat Nassalam by two and a half lengths at Chepstow and Monmiral beat him a lot easier at Haydock, but it will be different ground and we won't mind that.
"Adagio seems in good form at home, but Monmiral goes there fresh, whereas we ran at Cheltenham.
"Ours is a tough customer who had a hard race in the Triumph. We have Paul Nicholls' horse to beat, but it should be a good race."
What they say
Dan Skelton, trainer Carlos Felix and John Locke
John Locke was always coming here and ran nicely in the Adonis. The track will suit him, he's fresh and has done loads of work, as has Carlos Felix, who was a high quality Flat horse. It's a Grade 1, so it's worth taking our chances.
Paul Nicholls, trainer of Monmiral
He's a lovely horse. The form of the Haydock race has worked out really well. This was always the aim.
Tom Palin, director of Middleham Park Racing, owners of Paros and Fiveandtwenty
Fiveandtwenty has done nothing wrong, she was a prolific winner on the Flat but has upped her game since joining Donald McCain. Brian [Hughes, jockey] schooled her this week and said she's fit to burst. We don't know where her upper limit is over hurdles, which is exciting, but on the Flat she was a battler and she should have a live each-way chance. Things didn't go to plan for Paros in the early part of his career with us, but Nicky Henderson has worked his magic and I'd be more confident of him jumping true and going in a straight line than I was ten days ago. He's got oodles of ability so I don't think we're being stupid pitching him in, but he'll be better for a summer on his back.
Reporting by Stuart Riley
Favourites have claimed three of the nine runnings since 2011 at odds of 4-6, 11-4 and 4-11, although three market leaders have also been turned over at odds of 7-4 or shorter.
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