The 25th February was to be somewhat of a watershed in terms of the Triumph, not least with the antepost favourite Minsk making his debut at Fairyhouse. Winner of the Irish Cesarewitch for John Oxx and rated 106 on the flat, this Grade 2 was run at no pace with the horse jumping noticeably slowly and ultimately finishing second although the first three all finished in a heap. Initially connections said he would still line up at Cheltenham before he was then ruled out the following day suffering with an infection.
Here at Kempton two of the leading contenders in Sadlers Risk and Gumeti lined up in the Adonis and Dovecote respectively.
Sadlers Risk had won over course and distance in January by 17 lengths although the form of that race hasn’t been advertised since with no winners coming out, although the 4th beaten 28 lengths, Sonoran Sands has finished a half length second to a Pipe favourite. His jumping was quite novicey on debut but rated up to 100 on the flat finishing 3 1/2 lengths behind Irish Derby winner Treasure Beach and King George winner Nathaniel his superior engine saw him power clear. As a 2 year old he had also beaten subsequent Voltigeur winner Sea Moon.
Going off at 11/10 in the Adonis he was keen early behind the leaders as he had been on debut but in mitigation he had generally made the running for Mark Johnston on the flat.
A handicap winner in the French provinces, Babymix sprung a 14/1 surprise on his British debut turning over 4/7F Hinterland, albeit in receipt of 7lb before finishing last at Cheltenham on Trials Day being far too keen throughout. Strong in the market at Kempton he settled well with the leader and with Sadlers Risk coming under pressure off the home bend it was no surprise to see him come home the winner despite Sadlers Risk really picking up after the last as Babymix was idling and giving 5lb.
There is no doubt Sadlers RIsk’s jumping has room for improvement, although he did put in a couple of decent leaps down the back at Kempton while with plenty of stamina in the pedigree the hill at Cheltenham is likely to hold no fears, while he could well be better suited to a more aggressive ride.
The Hobbs yard has also been fairly quiet in February while Supreme winner Menorah was beaten in his trial. I have a feeling there is more improvement in Sadlers Risk to come so the pushing out to 10/1 may be an overreaction. Similarly Captain Chris was beaten in the Scilly Isles by Medermit before reversing form in the Arkle.
Grumeti certainly looks a worthy favourite. Unlucky not to be 4/4 over hurdles as he would surely have won at Newbury (although was handed the Cheltenham race in the Stewards room) he has jumped well from the start of his career, defeating two older horses on his debut who have subsequently won (runner up Ted Spread beaten 14 lengths took a handicap off 120 next time). The run in the Dovecote saw a defeat of another 4 yr old, the jumping debutant Dodging Bullets who could be more of interest at Aintree but further advertised Dubawi as a sire of hurdlers.
In a bid to supplement Celestial Halo and Zarkandar’s win in the race, Paul Nicholl’s team is spearheaded by Pearl Swan along with the possible’s of Ranjaan, Dildar and Hinterland. The last name was the race’s early favourite but a defeat by Baby Mix and then a handicap off 141 probably mark him more likely as a Fred Winter type. Pearl Swan is the likely strongest contender being relatively weak in the market on his Taunton debut before winning by 4 lengths from a subsequent winner and again was unfancied when losing the Triumph trial at Cheltenham in the Stewards room to Grumeti. He looks a strong stayer on running style and despite not getting his head in front from 5 flat starts showed a good attitude at Cheltenham. Dildar must rate unlikely to now head to the festival after his fall in the Adonis as he was held in third at the time.
The interesting one may be €200k purchase Ranjaan as his defeat of Third Intention (albeit receiving a stone including the 4 yr old allowance) reads well after that one’s National Spirit win, while the third Devil To Pay beaten 15 lengths was just touched off next time. He also comes from an Aga Khan family and the former green and red silks runners have accounted for no fewer than 4 winners in the last 15 years and 3 of the last 6 being Zarkandar, Zaynar, Katchit and Made in Japan, it would also have given the placed Mourad and the 2010 second and third Barizan and Alavian.
This leads nicely to the horse I feel is the strongest Irish challenger and a standout 20/1 with Ladbrokes, the Dalakhani gelding Darroun. A beaten favourite on debut finishing second to Shadow Catcher on heavy ground he beat subsequent Grade 1 winner Hisaabaat on his next start (had Shadow Catcher in second). Not seen since, the third and fourth from his debut run have since won (the only finishers in the same proximity) while as well as Hisaabaat going onto Grade 1 success the third from his debut won next time out. A likely improver for better ground at Cheltenham being by Dalakhani he seems to have been overlooked and if favoured by Ruby over Pearl Swan his price would no doubt at least half.
Despite his defeat in the Adonis I feel Cheltenham will suit Sadlers Risk more than Kempton and with it being likely his trainer will have left him short of his peak there, while Baby Mix perhaps has less improvement to come , given connections will have wanted him somewhere near to his peak at Kempton to show them if he was still what they thought following the Cheltenham defeat. Grumeti is an undoubted worthy favourite but having had 4 runs and described as a mature 4 year old does he have as much improvement as Sadler Risk at twice the price.
With the better ground likely to suit and improvement for a stronger pace, the 20/1 available about Daroun is far too big and probably more a reflection he hasn’t featured in some of the more recent ‘sexy’ trials and he would be a definite second choice at the prices.