Old pals Zanahiyr and Quilixios could go head-to-head at Cheltenham

Debate over which Grade 1 winner is superior may be settled at JCB Triumph Hurdle

Friday's JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham could come down to a head-to-head between old friends.

Zanahiyr and Quilixios were stable companions until just a few weeks ago, appearing to give Gordon Elliott a firm grip on the juvenile hurdle division.

However, Cheveley Park Stud's decision to remove their horses from Cullentra on the back of Elliott's licence suspension now sees Quilixios under the care of the in-form Henry De Bromhead.

Both unbeaten, and both Grade 1 winners, the matter of which is superior prompted lively debate even when they were under the same roof.

Now they provide the prospect of an intriguing clash in a race which also sees a prime local hope in Tritonic.

Alan King’s runner was the best of these on the flat but he faces a formidable challenge against the best of the Irish.

Which of them is specifically the best may divide opinion but if Zanahiyr is in the same form he was at Fairyhouse in November, when crushing Saint Sam to the tune of 14 lengths, he should prove hard to beat.

He wasn’t quite as impressive at Christmas but that was off a slow pace and he ultimately won with authority.

Healthiest

Numerically at least, Friday's other Grade 1, the Albert Bartlett, has proved to be the healthiest of the week's top novice hurdles with 17 due to run.

Denise Foster has both Torygraph and Fakiera running for her while Willie Mullins is also doubly represented.

His No 1 appears to be Stattler who had Fakiera behind him when third to Gaillard Du Mesnil at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Stattler tried to dominate from the front that day and just lost the runner-up spot in the final strides.

Gaillard Du Mesnil hardly left the form down on Wednesday behind the exceptional Bob Olinger in the Ballymore and this stamina test should play to Stattler's strengths.

Less certain is how he will relish quicker ground, whereas Fakiera has at least got some form on it.

The festival's new race, the Mrs Paddy Power Mares Chase, is dominated by the visitors including four from the Mullins camp alone.

It looks significant, though, that Jessica Harrington is pitching her 2019 Grand National runner-up Magic Of Light into this.

Versatile

The oldest in the race comes out ahead of her rivals on official figures, is a superb jumper and is notably versatile, including in terms of ground.

Last year’s shock 66-1 winner It Came To Pass defends his title in the Hunters Chase which this year is confined to professional riders.

Richie McLernon takes over from Maxine O’Sullivan on the 2020 winner who once again has to overcome the challenge of Billaway.

What difference the absence of amateur riders has on the race remains to be seen, but it allows Sean Bowen maintain the partnership with Bob And Co who he won on at Haydock last time.

Ground conditions will be a lot quicker here but a 146 rating puts Bob And Co right in the mix.

Saturday's Imperial Cup winner Langer Dan is chasing a £50,000 bonus in the concluding Martin Pipe Hurdle and could still be ahead of the handicapper to land the spoils.

Cheltenham: 1.20 Zanahiyr (Nap), 1.55 Cayd Boy, 2.30 Fakiera, 3.05 A Plus Tard, 3.40 Bob And Co, 4.15 Magic Of Light, 4.50 Langer Dan

Nap and Double – Zanahiyr & Fakiera

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column

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