Reports11 February 2024

'They've always thought plenty of him' - Darragh O'Keeffe impressed as Hiddenvalley Lake makes big splash

Hiddenvalley Lake and Darragh O'Keeffe) surge clear in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan.
Hiddenvalley Lake and Darragh O'Keeffe surge clear in the Boyne Hurdle at NavanCredit: Patrick McCann

The Boyne Hurdle is so many things to so many different types of horses these days. The 2024 event saw Hiddenvalley Lake, who is not actually in anything at Cheltenham next month, get his confidence restored after a most unpleasant experience on his chasing debut on his last visit to the track in December. Eyes were peeled as to what was happening in behind as well, though.

Last year's shock Stayers' Hurdle winner Sire Du Berlais didn't show much, which is hardly a surprise given he doesn't bother putting on any make-up or brushing his hair until March at the earliest. Chances are you will see a more attractive version in just over four weeks' time. 

In recent years, the Boyne Hurdle has become a backstage audition for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase for some. Tiger Roll came here for his final piece of fine-tuning for a few years and actually won it at 25-1 in 2019, and this year it was Galvin and Delta Work who were putting their finishing touches to their preparation for the main stage at Cheltenham. 

Delta Work was sixth in this last year and it didn't stop him winning at Cheltenham. He filled the same position this time around so Gordon Elliott won't be too bothered. He would have been thrilled with the performance of Galvin, too. He surely hated the heavy ground, but stayed on into fourth and was beaten only five lengths. Both are big players next month in their preferred discipline these days. 

William Hill cut Galvin to 5-1 (from 11-2), while the same firm pushed Delta Work out to 5-1 (from 4) in his quest for a hat-trick in the race.

The biggest danger there is 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, and it was his stablemate Hiddenvalley Lake who stayed on best to grab the spoils in this Grade 2. He's not entered in the Stayers' Hurdle, a race his owner Brian Acheson of Robcour currently has the favourite and second favourite for, but he could be a big player in the Grade 1 3m hurdles at Aintree and Punchestown if he does swerve Cheltenham. He would go there a fresh horse, and a talented one too. 

Winning jockey Darragh O'Keeffe, deputising for the suspended Rachael Blackmore, said: "In fairness, they've always thought plenty of him and I actually thought myself he had a big chance in the Albert Bartlett last year. It just didn't happen for him that day, but it's great to have him back.

"He was a bit fresh but, overall, that will do his confidence the world of good."

Henry de Bromhead wasn't in attendance at Navan but his assistant Robbie Power was impressed. 

"He loves heavy ground and Darragh said the further he went the better he jumped," said Power. "When they stepped on the pace he jumped better up the straight.

"We knew he'd stay well over that trip and that ground probably suited him. It's great to get that and we'll see where we go next. He stays three miles and we'll have a look at all the big festivals coming up and see what the options are. He's a fresh horse, he's only had two runs and that's his first completed run this season."

There was no repeat success for last year's winner Blazing Khal, who drifted all the way out to 4-1 from 5-2 before the off and was pulled up before the second-last. He was examined afterwards and found to be clinically abnormal. 

It was Hiddenvalley Lake who made the big splash in this year's Boyne Hurdle. The seven-year-old is back and he could have a big say at some of the spring festivals.

Analysis: 'Robcour should supplement Hiddenvalley Lake to bolster strong Stayers' team'

Several thoughts crossed the mind as Hiddenvalley Lake won the Boyne Hurdle.

In order, they were: If they had got him qualified for the Pertemps off a mark of 139, the British handicapper couldn't have added enough weight to stop him winning. Owners Robcour could put on a decent Stayers' Hurdle by themselves. Was that Galvin in fourth?

Let's deal with them in order. Hiddenvalley Lake will no longer be the best-handicapped horse in training as he'll go up at least 10lb for this. Handicaps can be won off marks in the 150s, Navan rival Sire Du Berlais has done it. But as he proved, you have to be a Grade 1 horse to do it and you have to expect that's where Hiddenvalley Lake will end up next.

With just six starts to his name, there's every chance there is further improvement to come. While there are plenty of reasons not to run him at Cheltenham – his only bad run last season came at the course and he would need to be supplemented at a cost of £13,000 for a Stayers' Hurdle his owners already have the first two in the betting for (Teahupoo and Irish Point) – I would because Robbie Power said afterwards some cut is key and you're more likely to get that at Cheltenham than Aintree or Punchestown.

The cheaper option is to stick to Grade 2 company at Fairyhouse and wait until next season to step into Grade 1 company or return to the novice chasing ranks. 

But, if he is going back over fences, that is all the more reason to have a pop at a Grade 1 at Cheltenham. Between the three Robcour runners they should pick up more than enough prize-money to cover the fee.

Finally a mention for Galvin, who considerably outperformed Cross Country rival Delta Work. Delta Work was beaten over 13 lengths in this last year and nearly 16 this year, so there's no reason he can't replicate his Cross Country win of last season, but Galvin only has two and a half lengths to find, led over the final obstacle last year, is a year younger than his rival and ran a blinder here. He could reverse the form.
Stuart Riley

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