Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle
|Grade 2, Cheltenham 15:05
2m 4f 56yds, Class 1
|Friday 1st January 2016|
1 Camping Ground 10/1
2 Lil Rockerfeller 20/1
3 Cole Harden 4/1
8 ran Distances: 11l, 9l, 1¼l
TIME 5m 15.70s (slow by 28.70s)
Top Notch, Cole Harden and Bobs Worth well beaten in heavy ground. Camping Ground very impressive on his return to hurdles.
But having unseated his rider on his seasonal reappearance in Huntingdon's Peterborough Chase last month, Walford decided to switch his charge back to the smaller obstacles for this Grade Two contest and the plan came off in spectacular fashion.
The 10-1 shot travelled beautifully throughout in hands of dual Grand National-winning jockey Leighton Aspell and took over the lead from last season's World Hurdle hero Cole Harden heading down the back straight.
It was clear running down the hill Camping Ground was still full of running and he rounded the turn for home in total command.
Aspell kept his mount up to his work after skipping over the final flight and he pulled further clear, passing the post 11 lengths clear of Lil Rockerfeller in second.
Cole Harden was nine lengths further back in third, just ahead of heavily-backed favourite Top Notch and long-absent mare Aurore D'Estruval.
"This is the first time I've sat on him. He had to step up on what he'd shown, but he relished conditions," said Aspell.
"In the ground, and over this trip, it's the first time he's had the opportunity to show his true ability in this country.
"Robert was very positive and certainly confident he would run a big race, but you're dipping your toes in deeper water.
"Robert is a very good trainer and knows what he has on his hands."
BetVictor make Camping Ground a 14-1 chance for the World Hurdle in March and Walford confirmed the stayers' crown as a target.
He said: "We've always thought he was very good and he's never disappointed us.
"He was fourth in the Imperial Cup with top weight and apart from last time, which was a bit of a blip, he's done nothing wrong.
"We consider him a chaser, but we'll probably stay over hurdles this year. If he's in good form we'll probably run him in the Cleeve Hurdle and then go for the World Hurdle, as long as he's all right.
"I actually rode him in France and he's a special horse. He's fast and he stays.
"We've got some lovely horses, but we've had a bit of a cold spell, so today was a bit of a boost."
Trainer Neil King was thrilled with the performance of the 20-1 runner-up Lil Rockerfeller, saying: "He's run a terrific race and I'm over the moon with him.
"At the end of the day, while some of them might not have run up to their best form, you had a Gold Cup winner (Bobs Worth), a World Hurdle winner, a Coral Cup winner (Whisper) and a second in a Triumph Hurdle (Top Notch) all behind him.
"He'll definitely have an entry in the World Hurdle and where he goes between now and then, I'm not sure, but we might come back here for the Cleeve.
"However, he has plenty of options and he's an exciting horse."
Cole Harden's trainer Warren Greatrex was not too despondent and confirmed his stable star will now head straight to the Festival to defend his crown.
"He hated the ground, but he jumped better than ever today and was still there turning for home," said Greatrex.
"Of all the fancied runners, he's run the best and has given weight to the first and second who both loved the ground.
"I've got 10 weeks to get him right and I'll make sure he's better than last season. It's all about the World Hurdle at the end of the day."
Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2)
£40,000 added, 4yo plus, 2m 4f 56yds, Class 1
Going: Heavy (Soft in places)
|Pos||D||Horse SP||Jockey Weight||Trainer||Age|
|1st||Camping Ground (FR) 10/1||L P Aspell
|2nd||11||Lil Rockerfeller (USA) 20/1||Trevor Whelan
|N B King||5|
|3rd||9||Cole Harden (IRE) 4/1||G Sheehan
|4th||1¼||Aurore D'estruval (FR) 20/1||Sean Bowen
|Miss R Curtis||6|
|5th||nse||Top Notch (FR) 13/8f||D Bass
|N J Henderson||5|
|6th||28||Bobs Worth (IRE) 14/1||B J Geraghty
|N J Henderson||11|
|PU||Whisper (FR) 6/1||Nico de Boinville
|N J Henderson||8|
|PU||Virgilio (FR) 5/1||Harry Skelton