It is looking increasingly likely that the Evan William’s trained Court Minstrel will take his chance in the Grade 3 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 15 in preference to his other engagements in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Novices Handicap Hurdle, writes Elliot Slater.
Currently a solid 10/1 Cheltenham bet in the ante-post list for the County Hurdle, the gelded son of Court Cave has done well in his first season hurdling, having last term shown plenty of talent on the level in a series of ‘bumper races’.
He picked up two wins and two places before he ran a cracker in finishing fourth behind The New One in the Grade 1 John Smith’s Champion Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race at the Aintree Festival on his final outing of the campaign.
The six-year-old made a fine start to his hurdling career when winning on his first outing over timber at Cheltenham in October, producing a smart turn of foot in the closing stages to come away from The Romford Pele and score by nearly four lengths.
On a return visit to the Prestbury track in November, Williams’ charge again ran a fine race to finish a close third to the smart Dodging Bullets in the Grade 2 Opus Energy Novices Hurdle. Last time out, he again acquitted himself well in finishing fourth to Melodic Rendezvous in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown in January.
The heavy ground at Sandown would not have suited Court Minstrel and connections appear increasingly optimistic that the drying conditions at Cheltenham will suit their charge ideally and allow him to produce his very best form in the County Hurdle, a race invariably run at a furious pace and one that could attract several interesting Irish horses.