Its Cheltenham festival time again and we preview The Champions Hurdle looking at the runners, riders and the betting for the blue ribbon event.
A race that needs no introduction, this years champion hurdle is a race to saviour for all fans of the beautiful jumping game. The legend that is Hurricane Fly try’s to gain a 3rd champion hurdle to go down in history as the finest hurdler Ireland has ever produced with Istabraq.
This year is going to be his biggest test without doubt. His win in this years Irish champion hurdle was fantastic, after Our Conor cruised up at the last it looked as if his winning run at Leopardstown was coming to a end, but Hurricane Fly was having none of it and battled back to take the Irish crown with a little bit to spare at the line.
Some will say he saves his best for his favourite Irish venue but a winner of 2 champion hurdle already he does not seem to get the credit he richly deserves. He is the one they all have to beat.
The Champion hurdle in essence is a 5 horse race with any one of the 5 main protagonists staking a reasonable claim to the crown. Hurricane Fly main danger form this side of the sea will come from last years brilliant triumph hurdle winner Our Conor.
The Dessie Hughes inmate is going to be primed to produce on the biggest stage as he did last year, and after his close 2nd in this years Irish Champion Hurdle he could be the one to give Willie Mullins and his team most to think about. The sight of him bounding clear in last year Triumph hurdle lives long in the memory and a similar performance will see him at the very least in the top 3.
The other main Irish challenger is last year’s 3rd in the supreme Novices Jezski. Jessica Harrington’s horse ran a excellent race in this years Ryanair Hurdle in Leopards town when not having the most clear run through, then really ran a little flat in this years Irish Champion hurdle where he was held up at back of field and did not really pick up. A change of tactics can see him run into a place but for the win he will a lifetime best and more.
The English challenge is headed by the very likeable The New One for the father and son team of Nigel and Sam Twiston Davis. Few would begrudge the local trainer a champion hurdle win on his home patch and in The New One it could very well happen. He has a devastating turn of foot and as we seen in last years victory in the Neptune at the festival the punishing climb is something he relishes.
The race could be decided by the brilliance or quick thinking of one of the jockeys and Ruby Walsh is a master at deciding when to press the button, where as Sam Twiston Davis still young and learning can sometimes get a rush of blood to the head and kick on soon. This horse is the best the trainer has ever had and if not this year he is sure to win a champion hurdle in the coming years as he has age on his side only being 6.
The hope of the Nicky Henderson team relies on the talented My Tent Or Yours in the big one. The beautiful moving son of Desert King is horse with so much talent but after the last will he get out battled by one of the other more battled hardened campaigners. He is sure to travel best turning into the strait and going to the last but maybe in the last few hundred yards is where he may lose his chance. It’s all about opinions this game and some will say he is a stronger horse this year and that he beat The New One in the Christmas Hurdle.
This is the biggest race of them all and any chinks in the armour will come to the surface.
The fact that Annie power does not run takes a little gloss of the race but in hindsight she was never going to run in the champion hurdle with Hurricane Fly on the scene. It’s a race to get the heart pumping the palms sweating, if you are not excited as a horse racing fan about this race, its time to take up bowls, enjoy the spectacle that is the 2014 Champion Hurlde.
Verdict. 1st Hurricane Fly 2nd Our Conor 3rd The New One.
Class 1, Grade 1, £418,000 Total Prize Fund. Cheltenham, 3.20pm, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, two miles and half a furlong. For four-year-olds and upwards which are allotted a rating of 130 or more by the senior BHA Head of Handicapping following a review of the horses entered and taking account of races run up to and including March 4 – horses who are not qualified for a rating in GB, IRE or FR may also be entered (such horses may be eligible providing the Handicapper is satisfied that the horse’s racecourse performances up to and including March 4 would merit a minimum rating of 130 – the decision of the BHA Head of Handicapping shall be final). Weights: 4yo: 11st 2lb; 5yo+: 11st 10lb; fillies & mares allowed 7lb. Entries closedJanuary 14, entries revealed January 15 (18 entries). Scratchings deadline February 11 (11 remain), £20,000 supplementary stage & six-day confirmation stage March 5 (11 six-day confirmations plus 1 supplementary entry), final declaration 10.00am, March 9 (9 declared runners).
Captain Cee Bee (IRE) Edward Harty IRE 11st 10lb Mark Walsh
Grumeti Alan King 11st 10lb Wayne Hutchinson
Hurricane Fly (IRE) Willie Mullins IRE 11st 10lb Ruby Walsh
Jezki (IRE) (Hood) Jessica Harrington IRE 11st 10lb Barry Geraghty
Melodic Rendezvous Jeremy Scott 11st 10lb Nick Scholfield
My Tent Or Yours (IRE) Nicky Henderson 11st 10lb A P McCoy
Our Conor (IRE) Dessie Hughes IRE 11st 10lb Danny Mullins
Ptit Zig (FR) Paul Nicholls 11st 10lb Daryl Jacob
The New One (IRE) Nigel Twiston-Davies 11st 10lb Sam Twiston-Davies
9 declared runners
The following three horses were taken out of the race today: ANNIE POWER (IRE), THOUSAND STARS (FR), UN DE SCEAUX (FR)
TIMEFORM ON THE CHAMPION HURDLE: CAN HURRICANE MAKE HISTORY AGAIN?
Hurricane Fly heads Timeform’s ratings for the Stan James Champion Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, Tuesday, March 11, as he bids for a third win in the race, but he will have to be at his very best to see off a strong field of up-and-comers.
Hurricane Fly seeks to join a very exclusive club, one which so far has only five members, as a three-time winner of the Champion Hurdle. The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old, of course, joined an even more select group last year when he became only the second horse (after 1973 and 1975 winner Comedy of Errors) to regain his Champion Hurdle crown after losing it. Although he is unbeaten in four starts since Cheltenham, including a fourth straight win in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly may have to improve on what he’s done previously because of the new wave of hurdlers.
Timeform Jumps Handicapper, Phil Turner, explained: “My Tent Or Yours, along with The New One and Our Conor, are snapping at the heels of Hurricane Fly. There is little between the four of them in the betting, or on Timeform ratings, with just 4 lb separating the quartet, whilst even Jezki isn’t far behind either. All of them have already shown form good enough to win an average Champion Hurdle, so the chances are Hurricane Fly will have to be at his very best, if not better than ever, to see them off.”
Comedy of Errors was also a 10-year-old when attempting to win a third Champion Hurdle in 1976, but he managed only fourth behind an outstanding new opponent only half his age in Night Nurse. That Champion Hurdle ushered in a new generation of top hurdlers, with runner-up Bird’s Nest (aged six) and sixth-placed Dramatist (aged five) also in the field, and that younger brigade went on to dominate the division for several years afterwards.
Turner added: “It’s not out of the question that something similar will happen with this modern crop. That said, Comedy of Errors had already been beaten by both Night Nurse and Bird’s Nest prior to Cheltenham, whilst Hurricane Fly has come out on top against his two younger Irish rivals on both previous meetings. He’s now got to prove himself against the British-trained pair.”
Tuesday’s race has attracted the smallest field since eight lined up for that 1976 renewal – there were also nine runners in both 1980 and 2013 – though Timeform feel that this shouldn’t detract from the race at all.
“It’s a case of quality over quantity. With the possible exception of Hurricane Fly’s stable companions Annie Power (who runs in the World Hurdle instead) and Un de Sceaux, all of the big names have made it there. As a result, it looks set to be the race of the 2014 Festival.”
Champion Hurdle (all ratings weight-adjusted)
184 HURRICANE FLY
183 MY TENT OR YOURS
182 THE NEW ONE
180 OUR CONOR
175 MELODIC RENDEZVOUS
169 PTIT ZIG
167 CAPTAIN CEE BEE