Francome waxes lyrical over Poet in Tolworth Hurdle

THE Tolworth Hurdle doesn’t tend to get racing fans as excited as other Grade Ones. Its post-Christmas slot may not do it any favours, but there is no escaping it is always a high-quality race. Down the years it has been won by budding stars who have gone on to win a novice hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, including Monsignor.

Last year the beast that is Captain Conan ploughed through the mud to win. In fact, the last five runnings of the race (now officially the 32red Hurdle) have been a Paul Nicholls-Nicky Henderson carve-up. Henderson is strongly represented tomorrow with Barry Geraghty’s choice Royal Boy and Golden Hoof. Royal Boy really took the eye in one of the most informative novice hurdles so far this season at Cheltenham in December when he was edged out by Melodic Rendezvous, who already had a run under his belt. The pair reoppose tomorrow and the benefit of the Cheltenham experience should see Royal Boy reverse the form. Golden Hoof hosed up over course and distance a few weeks ago and could be anything.

Nicholls has decided not to run his two entries For Two and Caid Du Berlais but elsewhere Court Minstrel from the Evan Williams yard is a strong contender judged on his third to Dodging Bullets and River Maigue. That form is the strongest in the race but he is unproven on anything worse than good to soft, and the trainer is uncertain whether he will handle the testing conditions.

One who should handle the ground is Charlie Longsdon’s Pendra, who is very much an unknown quantity. He is unbeaten although the form is nothing to write home about.

That leaves outsider La Reve and the John Francome-owned Poet, who made a nice winning debut at Newbury. Poet won two Group Threes on the flat and the “Greatest Jockey”, who has also been schooling him, has been bullish about his chances, even hinting at a possible Champion Hurdle tilt. He would certainly be a popular winner and there would be a certain irony about the former Channel 4 racing pundit being interviewed on, er, Channel 4 Racing in the winner’s enclosure.

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