Champion Hurdle hopefuls contest the Grade 2 International Hurdle over an extended 2m at Cheltenham on Saturday (15:05), and Elixir De Nutz looks a value punt.
Trained by Colin Tizzard, this five-year-old is one of two in this year’s renewal for owner Terry Warner.
After winning his sole start in a French bumper before joining Philip Hobbs’ stable, Elixir De Nutz failed to sparkle in two outings for that yard.
Since moving to Dorset handler Tizzard, however, he has progressed at a rate of knots.
After chasing home Supreme Novices’ Hurdle second Thomas Darby on reappearance here last October, Elixir De Nutz then beat the third horse home in that Festival race next time up.
The son of Al Namix made all to land the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, finding plenty for pressure approaching the final furlong for a 1 1/4 lengths victory over Itchy Feet.
He then made it two from four around Cheltenham defying a penalty with another front-running display.
Grade 1 winner as a novice
Elixir De Nutz bested subsequent Listed winner Jarveys Plate when keeping on strongly and scoring by 1 3/4 lengths.
Connections then pitched him in at the highest level for the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown where he jumped well and was really game to hold Grand Sancy by half-a-length.
As the runner-up went on to land the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, the form has a solid look to it.
Elixir De Nutz was thus fancied for the Supreme at the Festival here in March, but a minor setback curtailed his campaign.
Connections keep him hurdling and ante post odds of 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle are sure to be slashed if he performs well here.
Harry Cobden, who is two from three aboard Elixir De Nutz, is back in the saddle too. With further improvement assured, he looks a value play at the odds on offer.
Elixir De Nutz is 7/1 with William Hill for a winning return in the International Hurdle and to enhance his Festival claims.
Pentland Hills a clear International Hurdle danger
Seven Barrows trainer Nicky Henderson has won this race more than anyone, and four of his five successes have come since 2008.
He is double-handed in this year’s renewal with Triumph Hurdle hero Pentland Hills the clear pick.
This dual Grade 1 winner is still unexposed and unbeaten in three starts over the obstacles.
A Flat convert formerly in the care of Chris Wall, Pentland Hills bolted up by 14 lengths on his National Hunt debut at Plumpton in February.
Henderson pitched him straight into the Triumph at the Cheltenham Festival where he took full advantage of ill-fated hot favourite Sir Erec breaking down.
Pentland Hills ran out a three-length winner over Coeur Sublime, who has since landed the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal at a canter.
He also defeated subsequent Grade 1 novice chaser Fakir D’Oudairies in the Anniversary Juvenile Hurdle at Aintree during the Grand National meeting.
Pentland Hills had to tough it out on Merseyside, holding the Joseph O’Brien trained Irish raider by a neck.
That is strong form and Henderson has a major hand for the Champion Hurdle in his stables despite a freak injury to Buveur D’Air.
Although four-year-olds have won the International Hurdle three times since 2006, it can be tough for them in open company.
Pentland Hills could still be anything, though, and emerge as Seven Barrows’ biggest hope of further Festival glory. Odds of 2/1 with Ladbrokes in this reflect that, so he is opposed on price alone.
Call Me Lord is the other Henderson inmate in the nine-runner field, but has only ever raced right-handed.
Although officially the best horse in the race off a BHA rating of 160, the lack of any attempt to run anticlockwise is a major concern.
Greatwood pair look each-way value
Two horses that placed in the Greatwood Hurdle, a Grade 3 handicap held here during the November Meeting, are ones to consider each-way.
Gumball is the other horse owned by Warner in the field and trained by Hobbs.
Although zero from four around Cheltenham, this five-year-old ran a huge race in defeat in the Greatwood last month when rallying but held a neck by Harambe.
Including conditional jockey Ben Jones’ 5lb claim, he was giving 5lb to the winner and previously landed a Listed affair at Ascot.
Gumball has also won three times on the Flat in 2019 and is clearly in good heart.
With champion jockey Richard Johnson now back on board and off a career high mark of 152, his claims of hitting the frame are bigger than odds of 25/1 with Boylesports suggest here.
Monsieur Lecoq was just a neck behind Gumball in the Greatwood and, although Lizzie Kelly cannot use her 3lb claim in the International Hurdle, he still comes out slightly better at the weights.
There is very little to choose between the pair, though. The Jane Williams trained five-year-old represents a family that does well with its runners at Cheltenham
Monsieur Lecoq is the Welsh Champion Hurdle winner after just holding former Ffos La feature victor Le Prezien by a short-head. He was only chinned close home in the Greatwood and beaten half-a-length by Harambe.
As Monsieur Lecoq and Gumball were both raised 5lb for their efforts in that last month, but race terms don’t penalise the former for his Ffos Las success, he is another to consider each-way at 12/1 with BetVictor for the International Hurdle.