August is far too early to be looking at the Antepost markets for the Cheltenham festival and if you read the opening post in this series, you will know my feelings on the whole circus that revolves around those 4 days in March. However, these markets are formed earlier and earlier each year and when it comes to the Novice races it must be a real headache for the odds compilers when so many of the runners have huge question marks next to their names. The Triumph hurdle must be especially difficult as it is hard to say with confidence which horses will even get an entry at this stage, let alone run in the race. Having said all of that, if I was an odds compiler and I had to form a market for the 2024 Triumph hurdle, this horse would be my Antepost favorite and I will make my case below.
3-year-old Gelding who has joined Willie Mullins for the Donnellys
No Risk At All x Stacicaya (Saint Des Saints)
Bred by Mme Laura Lemiere
3rd Foal, Dam unrated half-sister to 3 winners including G1 winning Juvenile hurdler L'Unique (Alan King, peak OR 149, Grand-Dam 4-time winner over obstacles in France.
Salvator Mundi finished 2nd on his only start for David Cottin in the Listed Prix Wild Monarch at Auteuil in April. Having settled in mid-division in the early stages, he made good headway under Felix De Giles to be within 2-lengths of the lead as they jumped the last in the back straight. Coming wide off the home bend, he briefly led between the final 2 hurdles along the stands rail, before being outstayed by the eventual winner Sir Gino (who we will come to later in this series). The time figure was 6.44s above the standard which considering the tacky ground (an official reading of Collant 4,2) rates amongst the best times of the 3-year-old hurdles in the Spring season. I have Salvator Mundi running to a rating of 69.2 on this occasion. For some context, although they ran on different days, I have Jigme running to a rating of just 23 for his debut over the same course and distance in March on similar going when he was 10-seconds slower.
The form of this race has worked out well, with the 4th, 8th and 9th all winning races subsequently as well as Les Mots Bleus who failed to complete on the day. Perhaps more significantly, each of the horses who completed and have run subsequently now have a rating equivalent to 119 or more which would suggest this was an above average renewal of this newcomers race.
If you were to just watch the closing stages of the Prix Wild Monarch, you would be forgiven for thinking that Sir Gino was by far the better horse as he travelled all over Salvator Mundi in the closing stages. He is a nice horse and I look forward to discussing his move to Nicky Henderson in the near future, but I have no doubt that he had an easier time of things by racing on the front end and given the amount of ground that Salvator Mundi had to make up earlier in the race, it was no surprise to see him outstayed on the run to the line. Had they raced side-by-side, I have no doubt in my mind that the result would have been reversed.
Why would I make him the favourite? He has joined Willie Mullins and will race in Ireland. It's that simple. The Irish, and in particular Willie Mullins, have dominated the Juvenile division in recent years primarily because they recruit the best French horses, but it is also because the Irish program for Juvenile hurdlers is more competitive. The likes of Vauban and Lossiemouth have arrived at Cheltenham battle-hardened from competitive races at the Dublin Racing Festival and sometimes at Christmas too. British Juveniles simply don't have the same opportunity and the Triumph hurdle trials at Cheltenham and Doncaster aren't in the same league. With so much promise shown on debut in what looks to be the best 3-year-old debutantes race of the year so far, he will have learned so much by passing horses from mid-division and I am so excited to see what he will do once Willie Mullins has had time to work his magic.