Nicky Henderson‘s stable did this column a favour at Cheltenham last weekend and we’re going to nail our colours to the Upper Lambourn mast again this week in the Ladbroke Handicap Hurdle at Ascot.
Gibb River never managed a win on the Flat but has really found his niche over hurdles and the five-year-old looks the value bet at a general 8/1 in Saturday’s feature. The gelding’s only comparative failure so far under NH Rules came in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, where he found the going too quick. His record on this week’s good to soft ground is examplary, however, and includes wins at Huntingdon, Plumpton and Wincanton. He made an eye-catching reappearance when third in a Listed event at Sandown, his first run in a handicap, earlier this month and there’s every reason to believe he’ll overturn that form here with runner-up Via Galilei with Barry Geraghty taking over the reins. Gary Moore‘s charge, a general 14/1, is talented but is a hard horse to catch right as he has to held up for a late run. I’d much rather be on the side of the more straightforward Gibb River.
Henderson also runs Rajdhani Express, fifth in that Sandown race but undoubtedly better on soft ground. He’s available at a general 16/1 but all of the money this week has been for Prospect Wells. A decent sort on the level, he’s done well since arriving at Paul Nicholls‘ yard this summer, winning novice hurdles at Chepstow and Newbury and finishing second in a Grade 2 at Cheltenham in between. There’s just a chance that the handicapper has let him in lightly here but it’s unusual for the trainer to go down the handicap route so soon with a novice that may have Cheltenham pretensions and, at the general 7/2, he’s too short in the market now though Nicholls has left last week’s International Hurdle third Brampour (11/1 with Betfred, Stan James and totesport) in the race to ensure the weights don’t rise.
The latter is a four-year-old, as is Haydock second Marsh Warbler (a general 16/1), Irish challenger Sailors Warn (a general 10/1) and the prolific Abergavenny, who can be backed at 11/1 with Coral and Skybet. But that age group has a terrible record in this race having failed to provide a winner since the turn of the century. More interesting are Desert Cry (14/1 in most places), who made giant strides last season and defied a big weight on his reappearance at Haydock, and Act Of Kalanisi.
Richard Newland‘s representative can sometimes be left down by his jumping but he’s a decent performer when everything falls into place and ran a lot better than the final result suggests when third in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton. He has a decent chance at the weights in this and, at the general 16/1, makes plenty of each-way appeal behind likely winner Gibb River.