Porlock Bay holds off whilst Harris hails Knight Salute for Cheltenham success
Porlock Bay will swerve Cheltenham and aim for a showdown with Cousin Pascal at Aintree, writes Carl Evans for Pointotopoint.co.uk. Last year's winner has scoped dirty and will not be ready to defend his crown on Friday March 18th.
The Aintree race is building to be a peach of a contest, but the abdication of leading fancies in favour of Aintree would appear to be an even stronger trend among Rules trainers, and poses the question whether there is a shift of the balance of power going on between the two leading National Hunt racecourses in Britain. For years, Cheltenham has been an undisputed leader, a racecourse where if you didn't run, you were the loser. In recent weeks, the migration of horses aiming for Aintree has, on occasion, seemed quite marked. Thirty years after the Jockey Club saved Liverpool from disappearing from the UK calendar, perhaps at last, it is exerting its influence to stronger effect than HQ in the Cotswolds.
One man resolutely aiming for Cheltenham is Sutton Veny's Milton Harris, whose Knight Salute notched a fifth consecutive victory in the Adonis Hurdle on Saturday last. This is a horse that keeps on improving, and the JCB Triumph Hurdle has long been a target.
The Triumph is a very different race to 20 years ago, and has not been well served by the introduction of the Fred Winter, a handicap infamously called a cheats' charter by now retired Jim Old, trainer of Collier Bay. Over those two decades, a one-time maximum field of 30 has shrunk to single figures, which has allowed class horses to prevail without encountering traffic problems, but which has also made the race less of a spectacle.
Red hot favourite is Vauban, trained at Closutton for Rich Ricci, a team which is no stranger to Cheltenham success. Also in the British camp is Porticello, winner of the Coral Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow over Christmas, who showed his wellbeing by winning at Haydock last month for trainer Gary Moore. Knight Salute registers as a leading candidate at 12/1, and by dint of his largely unfashionable stable, the moniker of "plucky Brit".
The Foxhunter and Triumph Hurdle could hardly be two more different races. However, each is well regarded to produce a British - trained winner, in itself, a novelty by today's standards.