"His form remains a stone below Champion Hurdle class and his supporters are taking a giant leap of faith in making him a 6/4 favourite to win the Unibet Hurdle on Saturday."
Kevin Blake talks about Pentland Hills
We take this opportunity to address the negative and somewhat silly comments of journalist Kevin Blake who, on this occasion, has got things totally wrong regarding the chances of Pentland Hills, not just in the Champion Hurdle but in tomorrow's Unibet Hurdle at Haydock. Our piece is less about a difference of opinion but more about language and facts. We look at his main points, his article in full can be found here: KEVIN BLAKE talks about PENTLAND HILLS
Giant leap of faith
Blake said: "His form remains a stone below Champion Hurdle class and his supporters are taking a giant leap of faith in making him a 6/4 favourite to win the Unibet Hurdle on Saturday."
The process has started
We accept that rated 153 he will have to improve a stone from last year to win the Champion Hurdle because the winner of that race will need a rating of 162-165 but that process has already started. It is our opinion his defeat/run in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham proved he had kicked on from last season with every chance of hitting the requisite numbers. Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville confirmed those comments at Cheltenham, and with respects to Kevin Blake, they might be better judges especially given the latest signals coming out of Seven Barrows.
Looking for context
Before the Internationale Hurdle at Cheltenham we knew Call Me Lord (160) had a fitness edge over his next door neighbour which must have been worth a few pounds, was rated 7lbs higher yet received 3lbs from him for a 10lbs differential and this looked the best time for that one to beat Pentland Hills. Effectively, Pentland Hills was 12 or 13lbs wrong against Call Me Lord so a big ask. This applied to a lesser extent to those who finished in front of him and although the form of second place Ballyandy negatively impacts the form, we look for context.
Blake has Pentland Hills in the 'could be the one' folder and that is fair enough but he then described his reappearance in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham as a stuttering return. He came to win his race on the bridle at the last, having horses rated 155-160 beaten, whilst giving them weight and a significant fitness edge, he blew up simply because he needed the run.
Came back like a bull
Pentland Hills came back to Seven Barrows late looking like a bull and was the last to come into his coat, the trainer was so concerned he even installed lights in his stable in an effort to bring him on. Given the facts, calling the run stuttering is foolish. Blake did accept he might have been too fresh on his seasonal appearance and raced too freely which of course was true.
So far we have a giant leap of faith, stuttering and now he uses the word insinuation. Curiously he said there is an insinuation that he will be significantly better with that run under his belt? Insinuation (an unpleasant hint or suggestion of something bad) seems such a strange thing to say. He is bound to come on for the run given the above and the fact he had raced just three times in his career over hurdles at that point. One imagines the vast majority of horses running better after a run back from a break, there is no insinuation it is a fact.
His language continued in the same vein: "The manner in which he went from contesting the lead to weakening so notably in the final 100 yards to be beaten by five lengths was concerning. He didn't fade, he capitulated at the end of a race that wasn't a strong test of conditioning or stamina." Capitulated? Did he watch the race. He did not contest the lead he took the lead and once his winning chance had gone Nico de Boinville looked after him and downed tools, in the final analysis the five lengths distance meant absolutely nothing! Nico told our representative Ryan Bliss on the way back to the stables that Pentland Hills took a real blow supporting all the points made so far but there's more.
Worryingly weak under pressure
Blake said: "His form remains a stone below Champion Hurdle form" it is not a stone, but of course the champion juvenile has to run well tomorrow to be in contention against his elders but that is likely to happen. He continued: "Not only does he have to prove he's up to the level required to win a race like this, he is unproven on the testing ground that will prevail at Haydock. A worryingly weak effort under pressure might not be a coincidence." From three runs in just 38 days last season he proved himself to be a dual-Grade 1 winner and tomorrow is a Grade 2 so he has already proven to us, given a fitter horse, he is up to the level required! Regarding his weak effort comment he ran 2½m of the 2m1f distance travelling on top of all the runners up the hill at Cheltenham, was the last horse off the bridle and jumped the last in the lead first time up after coming back heavy, pulling hard and giving weight. A weak effort - surely not!
Grade 1 level
By the way the bookmakers only offer 7/1 second favourite about him winning the Champion Hurdle which suggests to us he is up to Grade 1 class. Of course not only I but Nicky Henderson, Nico de Boinville and all the bookmakers could be wrong and Kevin Blake right.
The ground is an interesting point and a lot of misinformation has been said about his optimum ground. The Racing Horse has always disagreed with the consensus within Owners Group and take this opportunity to offer some facts regarding this matter.
Breeding suggests no fears regarding ground
Pentland Hills won both his Grade 1s on good to soft but the ground was nearer soft than good. His sire is Motivator (Montjeu) was 3-3 on soft ground and did not win on good to firm showing where his preferences were. The German bred dam Elle Galante won one of her two races on soft ground and had other form on very soft ground. The half-brother to Pentland Hills is the 9yo Camlann who is a hardy sort winning 7 times from 43 runs. His sole win on the Flat was on soft ground (17 runs) and though he has won three times on good ground he has also won three times on yielding to soft, soft to heavy and heavy so far with his National Hunt career. What we are saying is the testing ground should not frighten us and the suggestion based on the facts point to soft ground being optimum.
Because he is such a good hurdler a case can be make for better ground helping his action but vivid in our memory is the last leap at Cheltenham last time (soft ground) just before he hit the wall, he cleared it with aplomb!
We readily accept the surface at Haydock will be testing and our horse has to beat horses proven on it, but they have not won two Grade 1s and have the scope of Pentland Hills. If we set aside one run he enjoyed a faultless juvenile campaign proving his resilience when winning three times in 38 days at completely different tracks. His hardiness is not in question.
Guide to the strength of juvenile form
Worth reminding ourselves of the very good fractions he ran on his hurdling debut. He then scored in the manner of a high-class individual and analysing his achievements on the clock shocked us as he managed to run identical numbers to those posted by older horse handicap winner Ch'tibello in the County Hurdle, which is always a good guide to the strength of juvenile form!
Nico de Boinville has a remarkable 45% strike rate on hurdling favourites and in a tactical race those figures are encouraging! Nico told us: "He was obviously something of a late-season revelation last term, and to do what he did in the Triumph Hurdle – and win pretty comfortably, too – after just one Plumpton win was pretty extraordinary. And then he went to Aintree and showed us he can battle for victory, too. I think everyone saw how well he travelled into the race on his reappearance in the International at Cheltenham last month before getting tired, so he clearly ran a lot better than his final position would suggest. Hopefully, that would have sharpened him up a good deal, and we have certainly been very happy with him since. I schooled him on Thursday morning and he felt great. It will be hard work in this ground, which will be comfortably the worst he has ever encountered I imagine, so that is an unknown, but the race has obviously cut up a fair bit."
A quick look of the trends are interesting
The New One Unibet Hurdle (Registered As The Champion Hurdle Trial Hurdle) (Grade 2) (1m7f144y)
14/14: Won at least twice over hurdles in the UK before (100%)
14/14: Favourites placed in the top 3 (100%)
12/14: Ran within the last 5 weeks (86%)
12/14: From the top 3 in the betting (86%)
11/14: Finished in the top three in their last race (79%)
11/14: Ran in season’s Champion Hurdle (79%)
11/14: Priced 9/4 or shorter (79%)
11/14: Won at least 3 times over hurdles previously (79%)
11/14: Officially Rated 150 or higher (79%)
11/14: French (3) or Irish (8) bred (79%)
10/14: Ran at Cheltenham (4) or Kempton (6) last time out (71%)
..8/14: Aged 7yo or younger (57%)
..8/14: Winning Favourites (57%)
..4/14: Placed in top 4 in season’s Champion Hurdle (0 winners) (29%)
..3/14: Won their last race (21%)
..1/14: Won that season’s World Hurdle (7%)
Pentland Hills meets 11 of the 12 top trends - does not suggest a leap of faith to me, but then I do not work for a certain Joseph Patrick O'Brien who has the current second favourite Darasso. That one meets very few of the trends.
Either Kevin Blake or The Racing Horse could be guilty of bias, and with respects our account looks more factual. We have gone in maximum stakes and if we have got this wrong it is going to hurt. Do appreciate tomorrow is not first prize and connections will race accordingly.
The Racing Horse notes the 3yo colt Ispahan makes his debut at Kempton next Wednesday for David Simcock and we wish him well. This colt is a half-brother to our Pentland Hills and the third foal out of the mare Elle Galante. I wonder...