Leading JCB Triumph Hurdle candidate Marsh Warbler will not run again before the big race itself on March 18 but will instead travel to Southwell to have a racecourse gallop on the Fibresand ahead of a bid to provide trainer Brian Ellison with a major Cheltenham winner.
The four-year-old has proved a revelation since switching codes having been no more than a fair handicapper on the level at his best, but having been on a downward spiral that saw him bought out of a Leicester seller in October to join Ellison’s north-eastern yard. The Barathea gelding has surely surprised even his most optimistic of owners and taken particularly well to hurdling, winning three of his four outings so far including a famous Grade 1 success at Chepstow when lowering the colours of the highly regarded pair of Sam Lord and Smad Place in landing the Coral Future Champions Finale Juvenile Hurdle in very testing ground at the Welsh track.
The ground is indeed the key to success for the appropriately named Marsh Warbler. He loves the mud, and whilst he is still a capable performer on a better surface – he won on debut as a two-year-old on ‘good to firm ground – his chance is considerably enhanced when conditions are testing and his undoubted stamina and guts come into play and anyone looking at the Cheltenham betting should remember this.
The testing Fibresand surface at Southwell is therefore an ideal place to take the horse for his pre-Cheltenham workout and the Ellison team will be keeping fingers crossed that he comes through the gallop without a problem, before concentrating on the task in hand in the Triumph Hurdle.
On soft ground the current ante-post 14/1 shot would have a massive chance so connections will doubtless be praying for rain in the Cotswolds in the week leading up to the Cheltenham Festival that begins on March 15.