State Man was an unusual winner in that he had never run in a handicap hurdle before, and only had one win from three runs over hurdles.
Whilst not a strong trends pick, he had to be respected because his profile was almost identical to that of Saint Roi, who won for State Man's trainer and jockey in 2020.
Fourth West Cork was the strongest trends pick amongst the top four. Trained by top race trainer Dan Skelton, he was ideally rated at 141 and had won only three hurdle races, including one decent handicap. He'd also been placed at Grade 2 level and arrived fresh, having not run since December.
Second First Street also ticked a lot of boxes, having finished third last time out in key trial, the Betfair Hurdle. Trained by Nicky Henderson, he'd only won one handicap hurdle, and three hurdle races overall, and had a rating of just 142.
Third had claims, being trained in Ireland and having only won one maiden hurdle, but the lack of a handicap hurdle outing was off-putting for this runner, given the lack of wins and over-exposure. He'd run in seven hurdle races, including many Graded events.
This handicap hurdle is notoriously tricky, but here are a few that fit the bill on trends and are worth taking a closer look at ahead of the release of entries.
Representing top race trainer Willie Mullins, Winter Fog cantered home on debut for his new yard in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.
That was the nine-year-old's first handicap hurdle win at the fifth time of asking, though he had been second in a 3m handicap hurdle at the same meeting a year previously, and went straight to Cheltenham following that to be fourth in the Pertemps Final.
He ticks all the experience and exposure trends, and hails from the most dominate yard, the only catch is that his Irish handicap mark is no 148, which is very high and getting outside the normal realm for County Hurdle winners.
From the same stable, JP McManus-owned Hercule Du Seuil, Brazil and Icare Allen fit the experience and exposure trends too, with last year's Triumph Hurdle fourth Icare Allen best fitting the trends and entered in key trial, the Betfair Hurdle on February 11.
Brazil also has more experience than Hercule Du Seuil, but is marked down on trends as former Cheltenham winners tend to be too exposed to win the County Hurdle. He won last year's Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle.
McManus could have another County ace up his sleeve in Filey Bay, trained by Emmet Mullins to win two handicap hurdles in Britain this season, his first with Mullins.
He's unbeaten in two runs for his new stable, which he joined as a maiden. His Irish handicap rating is now 131, which is a bit low to get into the County Hurdle, where the bottom weight is normally around 135.
To rectify that, and in a boost to him being a trends pick, he is entered in key trial, the Betfair Hurdle.
Another to note from Ireland is Path d'Oroux from the Gavin Cromwell yard. The six-year-old is two from four over hurdles, getting off the mark last time out over 2m at Navan in impressive fashion. He's now rated 138 in Ireland, which is very attractive ahead of the County Hurdle.
Trainers based in Britain do have a poor recent record in the race, but it could be worth noting Gin Coco. Traine Harry Fry has raced the seven-year-old very lightly since getting him early last year, including sending him out to finish second in his only handicap hurdle outings at the Punchestown Festival and Cheltenham's valuable November meeting.
He is a two-time novice hurdle winner outside that and looks to have more up his sleeve. He fits all the key trends and is rated just 135 in Britain currently, with a Betfair Hurdle entry pending.
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