Jessica Harrington has yet to train a Cheltenham Festival winner this season but should get on the board with the seemingly well-handicapped Citizenship in the Vincent O’Brien Handicap Hurdle, whose odds have shortened to 7/1 with William Hill this morning.
Ireland have won this race five times in the last nine years and two of those, who were trained by Willie Mullins, both won the valuable Boylesports.com Handicap Hurdle ran at Leopardstown in January.
That is the path that Harrington’s six-year-old has taken this season as he won that race in the fashion of a horse, who is very much in the upgrade. Turning for home, jockey Robbie Power was second last of the 29 runners and seemingly going no-where.
But the ground the horse made up in the final three furlongs was simply sensational, cutting his way around the outside of some real progressive horses and forging his way to the front to win by an easy one and a half lengths.
Harrington said after that race: “I’d actually given up when he turned out the back. I said he’s never going to get into it. And then he started picking up.
Rob said he’s never won a race in which everything has gone so wrong.” Strong words from the usually reserved trainer.
You would think he is much better than that run suggests as he was so far off the pace early and the handicapper has only rose him 15lbs in the weights from 113. The former Gordon Elliot inmate looks to have all the credentials to go right to the top of National Hunt racing and off a mark of 133 he could be at least a stone well-in.
Additionally, six of the last seven winners were rated between 128 and 135 and only five of the 28 runners hold that tag this season, with one of them being Citizenship.
The 7/1 available each-way with Skybet, who are paying the first six past the post rather than the usual four, could be the best value of the entire Festival.