Friday, November 22, 2013

The Coral Hurdle



The Coral Hurdle

By Stephen Dwyer



It has always been a serious race. Dawn Run won it, Morley Street, Baracouda, Hardy Eustace too and in recent years Overturn and Silviniaco Conti. Though a Grade 2, it is not treated as such and this year’s renewal is awash with class. Though both Zaynar and Silviniaco Conti won the Coral Hurdle as four year olds, it pays to side with experience. Nicky Henderson’s Rolling Star, the only four year old in the field, was last year’s Triumph Hurdle favourite, before finishing sixth to Our Conor. He was subsequent favourite in the Grade 1 4yo Juvenile Hurdle at the Aintree festival but could only manage one place better when fifth to L’Unique. The impression given on both starts is that Rolling Star is more of a 2m4f horse and his future lies over fences. The Ascot trip will play to his strengths but he may not have necessary class to beat the market principles. Having won the race three times since 2008, Nicky Henderson does have place prospects with Rolling Star and he did win on his seasonal debut last year in a Triumph Hurdle trial.

Currently rated 167, Zarkandar is the highest rated hurdler in the field. He is a half-brother to the unbeaten Zarkava and winner of eight of his eleven hurdle races. Already a Triumph Hurdle winner, Zarkandar won three Grade 2 races last season before finishing fourth in the Champion Hurdle to Hurricane Fly. Connections maintain that he is at his best with cut in the ground but it was blinkers swhich proved a real revelation when he beat the brilliant The New One in a showcase finish in the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f. It is worth noting that Zarkandar wore blinkers when racing in France and Paul Nicholls admitted after the Aintree race that he was a different animal with blinkers applied. Interestingly he also said “I definitely don´t see him as a Champion Hurdle horse next season. He´s going to be a three-miler.” At his brilliant best though, he is a tough nut to crack and whatever happens at Ascot Zarkandar remains a class act to follow all season long.

Despite the class of Zarkandar and the potential that Rolling Star clearly has, the race may go to the Irish for the first time since Hardy Eustace in 2007. There has only been one Irish runner in a Coral Hurdle since 2007, when Sabrina Harty ran the 100/1 chance Bull Flyer who was well beaten in the 2008 renewal. Given the amount of valuable prizes on offer in the Irish racing calendar, Ascot is not a target for many of Irish trainers, but Willie Mullins thinks differently. 

Annie Power is one of the most exciting hurdling prospects in the Mullin’s yard. Outside of Hurricane Fly and Quevega, Annie Power has the potential to join those exalted two and have an absolutely stellar career. Just a 5yo, she is unbeaten in all of her seven starts. I have heard good word that Annie Power bypassed the Morgiana Hurdle because she would have beaten Hurricane Fly. Given that Hurricane Fly was clearly not fully match fit on the day, there may have been some substance to these rumours.

A dual bumper winner for Jim Bolger before being acquired by Rich Ricci and the Mullins team, Annie Power has done nothing but improve since sent over hurdles. She put Don Cossack and Defy Logic (rated 142 and 148 over hurdles respectively) to the sword in a Grade 2 hurdle at Naas. The mare then ended last season with a facile twelve length victory in the Grade 1 Mares race at Fairyhouse. Willie Mullins is on record as saying that “She could be anything.” after that race, and he could be right.

Annie Power receives a hefty 11lbs from Zarkandar in the Coral Hurdle. This is a serious amount of weight to give to such a classy mare. On plain ratings, Annie Power is 155 and Zarkandar 167 and the betting shows are 11/10 for the Mullins mare and 11/8 for Zarkandar. That she is so short in the betting reflects her chances.

She should take some beating.