Simonsig return puts the cherry on top in tasty Aintree contest
With the six runners of the Betfred Hurdle boasting 15 Graded wins between them, the quality of the Class 2 contest is undoubted, but the Aintree contest has far more to it than that.
Last seen hinting that he could be the next big thing when winning the 2013 Arkle Simonsig is a horse that has yet to truly show just how good he could be.
The break of 970 days through various minor ailments suggest that it would be a maverick-like training performance for Nicky Henderson to get the grey back on track with a win.
While chasing was his game when last seen, only Fingal Bay got the best of him over hurdles, in a season that culminated in him winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
His break may be a concern for anyone wanting to part with their money to back the likely favourite on Merseyside, but the fact that Barry Geraghty has chosen to ride him over 2013 Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth (more to come on him later) and that he won his last two seasonal reappearances by an aggregate distance of 60 lengths.
Return in the form that he has done and the son of Fair Mix will be tough to beat.
A crack at the King George could be on the cards if he shows something special in Liverpool and with Kempton a track in which he blitzed the useful Hinterland by 35 lengths in the Wayward Lad Novices Chase three years ago, he would be expected to make a bold show of things.
His accomplice from Seven Barrows, Bobs Worth, is a horse who was on the downgrade when last seen, folding tamely in the Bet365 Gold Cup in April.
The four-time Grade 1 winner is likely to be the outsider of five for the 2m4f contest and based on last season’s form it is easy to see why.
That Sandown run followed laboured showings in the Gold Cup and the Lexus Chase in which he was pulled up and finished eighth of nine respectively.
Henderson’s 10-year-old’s chase mark has dropped 21lbs since the 2014 Gold Cup in those three runs, an indication of the poor performances he has been putting in.
This trip is likely to be short of his optimum, having not run over such a sharp trip since his hurdling debut back in 2010.
The smaller obstacles could well see him discover his zest for racing though, having gone unbeaten in his season over hurdles, disposing of the likes of Sire De Grugy, Rock on Ruby and Cue Card.
The only horse likely to be a similar price in the contest is Rebecca Curtis’ Royal Boy who is back after nearly two years off.
The eight-year-old has a fair bit to find on ratings, but with just five runs under rules, including a Grade 1 victory over Josses Hill there is likely to be more improving forthcoming, whether that is first time out remains to be seen though.
The quintet is completed by a pair of youngsters from John Ferguson’s yard.
Commissioned was fourth in the grade 1 four-year-old hurdle at Aintree last year, and while he has four wins over obstacles to his name he was found lacking when upped to Listed and Graded level last term.
Instead the big danger to Simonsig, and probably the horse that can be most relied upon in this contest is Purple Bay.
A winner of the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on this weekend 12 months ago, the six-year-old has to give 4lbs to his four opponents, but could be primed to take advantage of any rustiness of his foes.
Last seen chasing home Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle the Dubawi gelding has returned from break with plenty of gusto in the past.
Including that victory in the West Country, his record when returning from a break of three months or more reads 122.
His handler is flying at the moment with 11 of his 19 runners in the past fortnight at least making the places.
Purple Bay probably will need a career best to get anywhere near if the jolly returns in a similar standard to that of when he was last seen, but he was certainly an improving type last season.
Whatever the outcome on Saturday, we will learn an awful lot more about what the 2015-16 campaign holds for some formerly top-class horses.
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