Thursday 14 December 2017

Follow Finian's rainbow to find elusive pot of gold

Julian Muscat

Dermot Weld has been tormented by a 20-year itch. Two decades have passed since the Rosewell House trainer savoured victory at the Cheltenham festival. And he has done that only once -- with Rare Holiday, a 33/1 winner of the Triumph Hurdle in 1990.

It hasn't been for the want of trying, either, since Weld is 1-70 with his festival runners to date. As ever, however, statistics can paint a false picture. Plenty of his horses have run with credit, yet any "cold trainers" list relating to the Prestbury Park festival would have him at the top.

Weld will be keen to correct the anomaly, yet that's not the basis for opposing Rite Of Passage in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle (2.05) today. For all his class, the six-year-old has run -- and won -- only twice over hurdles. And on each occasion his immediate victim has failed to advance the form.

Another unknown is the extended two miles-five furlong distance of today's race. Rite Of Passage went almost as far last time out, but that was an uncompetitive affair. The runner-up, Healys Bar, has since been well beaten, and with Giant's Causeway as his sire, Rite Of Passage is far from guaranteed to get home in a strongly-run race.

Finian's Rainbow makes more appeal. A lack of hard stamina might have undermined him most recently when, looking the likely winner, he was run down by Reve de Sivola in a competitive race over Christmas. However, bottomless ground turned that event into a slugfest. This faster surface will be much more to the selection's liking.

Nicky Henderson has always thought the world of Finian's Rainbow, which has since toyed with inferior opposition to declare his well-being. A strong traveller on the bridle, he has the requisite class to win a race of this calibre and should certainly reward each-way support.


Rite Of Passage's inexperience is less of a concern than the lack of chase miles on the clocks of the Nicky Henderson pair - Punchestowns and Long Run (only two runs over English fences) - and Diamond Harry in the RSA Chase (2.40). For that reason it has long been the intention to oppose that trio.

So much so that confidence in Weapon's Amnesty grew by the week -- until details emerged of the dirty scope recently returned by his stablemate, Solwhit, which disappointed when coming sixth in yesterday's Champion Hurdle. On the grounds that any stable rarely has a solitary case of illness, the concern is obvious.

What to do now? Having fancied Charles Byrnes' chaser for months, it would be gut-wrenching to desert him and then see him come out on top.

Besides, he deserves the vote for having so many of the qualities associated with previous winners of this stamina-sapping test. And he showed his liking for Cheltenham in March when winning at this festival last year.

With the collective English challenge longer on style than substance, a saver is also recommended on Willie Mullins' Citizen Vic, a late arrival on the scene after the defection of his stablemate, Uimhiraceathair.

While Citizen Vic's stamina is unproven, he looks the type that will have no problem staying up the hill and he is worth each-way support in a race that might cut up badly.

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