Is this the year for a Wiltshire Triumph Hurdle winner?
The last winner of the Triumph Hurdle trained in Wiltshire was Katchit in 2007. And as most trainers will testify, it's rare enough to have a single juvenile good enough to line up for this most prestigious of Grade Is at the Festival. But this year, one Wiltshire stable has London bus syndrome. A whole clutch of juveniles have been winning for Sutton Veny's Milton Harris, helping him to a personal best in volume of winners and earnings, with the best part of four months still to run.
Granted, not all your youngsters who win turn from the ugly duckling into a graceful swan. Some are destined for lower grade targets. But from a batch of five, two have shown outstanding form to merit entries, due at the end of this month, for the Triumph, and a shot at the liveried trophy in that distinctive yellow of the manufacturing giant JCB.
Knight Salute, unbeaten winner to date of 4 juvenile contests, including the Summit Juvenile at Doncaster in December, leads the stable's earnings tallywag, but last Saturday's Kempton winner Silver Shade adds a second quality string to the Harris bow.
Knight Salute, impeccably bred from a Derby winner in Sir Percy, started modestly enough with an 8l win in a Sedgefield Juvenile at the end of September, graduating to a Grade II at Cheltenham's November fixture. Were he to herald from a more fashionable stable, his odds would be half the 25/1 commonly offered around him. Knight Salute continues his preparation in the Adonis Hurdle back at Kempton on February 26.
By contrast, Silver Shade is a bigger animal altogether, and less precocious. Saturday's 1 3/4l victory over Cuban Cigar, a rare runner over the sticks from Richard Hannon, was workmanlike, although that may have as much to do with the state of the ground, but he's well regarded, and his education is likely to continue at Cheltenham on January 29 in a similar race. At 40/1 he too is an interesting candidate.
The Triumph is not the race people remember of yesteryear. Once a bustling 30 runner cavalry charge, the addition of the Fred Winter (aka Boodles) Juvenile Handicap has syphoned off a great many runners, and it wouldn't be unusual to have a single figure field, a trait that is replicated with all 3 other Grade I novice hurdles. And whilst there will doubtless be a strong challenge from Ireland, don't rule out an upset from south-east of Warminster.
Add to these two other winning juveniles in Dr T J Eckleburg, Romeo's Bond, and Aliomaana, and Harris' summer purchases are looking pretty shrewd. Expect more from this age group before we reach the end of April.