The Cashel Man looks decent value at 5/1 with Paddy Power to provide trainer Nicky Henderson with back-to-back success in the feature race at Newbury on Saturday, the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle (15:00).
Champ landed the spoils 12 months ago for the Seven Barrows handler, before going on to finish a fine second at the Cheltenham Festival and then rounding off the campaign with an easy success in another Grade 1 at the Aintree Grand National meeting.
In The Cashel Man, Henderson has a seven-year-old who was a useful performer on the level who shaped with stacks of promise in four starts starts over the obstacles last season when looking far from the finished article.
After finding only useful stable companion Pym a neck too strong on hurdles debut at Kempton, the son of High Chaparral ran below expectations went sent off even-money favourite and beaten seven lengths into second by Ardlethen at Uttoxeter.
The Cashel Man then showed that running to be all wrong when going down all guns blazing to Reserve Tank at Kempton.
After reluctantly taking up the lead in the four-runner line-up, he was shaken-up to go clear after the fourth last.
Impressive return over course and distance
He then edged right after the last and appeared to lose concentration before getting caught on the post to be beaten just a neck.
As the winner went on to land Grade 1 contests at sandown and the Punchestown Festival, it was a really solid effort given how the race panned out.
The Cashel Man went on to open his account with a facile eight-length success in a minor contest at Ffos Las in July, and looked like a stronger individual when making an impressive return to action over this course and distance last month.
He made all and drew clear three from home, before staying on strongly to win unchallenged by 10 lengths.
It was a most taking display which suggested he could now be the real deal and needed keeping firmly onside.
This obviously represents a big step up in class, but The Cashel Man looks well worth a crack at this level and could well get an uncontested lead.
If that proves to be the case, then he could prove difficult to peg back at a track which clearly plays to his strengths.
Thyme Hill sets Challow Novices’ Hurdle standard
The betting is headed by Thyme Hill, a top class bumper performer who has won both his starts over hurdles this season in the style of a top notch prospect.
This Philip Hobbs trained five-year-old, who finished a fine third to Envoi Allen in a red-hot renewal of the Champion Bumper at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, showed real battling qualities to beat Colin Tizzard’s well-regarded Fiddlerontheroof – a winner since – in the Grade 2 Persian War at Chepstow back in October.
It was a most taking introduction. Thyme Hill has since landed another Grade 2 at Cheltenham when beating a useful yardstick in Champagne Well by three lengths.
The son of Kayf Tara was slick at the obstacles and, after taking up the running at the second last, found plenty when pressed on the run-in to assert in the final 150 yards and win going away at the line.
There was simply nothing not to like about the way in which Thyme Hill got the job done and it has earned him an official rating of 147.
That is the highest in the five-runner Challow Novices’ Hurdle line-up and puts him 4lb clear of The Cashel Man.
It makes him very much the one to beat and Thyme Hill brings the strongest form into the contest.
There’s no doubt that he is a very exciting prospect who is sure to win plenty more races. On paper, Thyme Hill looks a worthy favourite for this.
However, Hobbs hasn’t exactly been firing on all cylinders of late, so – at odds of evens with William Hill – his stable star looks plenty short enough and worth taking on.
Eclair Surf has bags of untapped potential
If there is to be an upset, then Emma Lavelle trained Eclair Surf could well be the one to cause it.
This five-year-old came good at the second time of asking in a 3m Irish point when strolling to a 30-length success in a decent time.
He was then purchased for a hefty sum by Tim Syder and Dominic Burke, who have had some very useful horses in the past, and could not have been more impressive when making a winning debut for Lavelle in an 11-runner novice hurdle at Exeter last month.
Eclair Surf put in a terrific round of jumping to make all and draw clear from the second last, scoring very easily by 3 1/2 lengths from Kozier.
The strapping son of Califet won with any amount in hand without having to be asked any serious sort of question.
Despite the runner-up being well-beaten since, it was visually a very stunning performance by Eclair Surf and one which suggested he had a huge engine.
He looks sure to come on a bundle for that experience and Lavelle has made no secret to the high regard in which he is held.
The fact that she is pitching Eclair Surf straight into Grade 1 company speaks volumes. He has bags of untapped potential and definitely falls into the “could be anything” category.
It would thus be folly to underestimate his chances in this, and Eclair Surf can be backed at a best-price 14/1 with Betfair for the Challow Novices’ Hurdle.