Countdown To Cheltenham: Ante-post Champion Hurdle Preview
Two-miles, eight hurdles and the Cheltenham hill bring together the quickest hurdlers in Britain and Ireland to do battle for the most valuable and prestigious hurdle race in Britain – The Champion Hurdle.
Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, See You Then, Persian War and Istabraq have all notched-up hat-tricks, whilst Insurance, National Spirit, Bula, Comedy of Errors, Night Nurse, Monksfield, Sea Pigeon, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly have all won it twice. Comedy of Errors and Hurricane Fly are the only two horses to have regained their title after losing it the previous year.
Nicky Henderson is the joint leading trainer of all time with 5-wins, whilst Ruby Walsh, Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy have all ridden the winner twice in the last ten years, with McCoy having ridden the winner three times overall.
It’s been 30 years since Nicky Henderson trained the first of his winners, since when ten 6-year-olds, ten 7-year-olds, four 8-year-olds, three 9-year-olds and two 5-year-olds have won.
Faugheen “the machine” remains unbeaten and has looked a potential superstar for trainer Willie Mullins. Ruby Walsh looks sure to desert his dual Champion Hurdler Huricane Fly to ride him – and that’s why he’s as short as he is. He would be following in the footsteps of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace, amongst other, who won the 2½ mile novice hurdle at the previous year’s festival before stepping back in trip to win this.
The New One 10/3
If Faugheen is as good as everyone thinks he is, The New One may become one of those horses that was good enough to win an average Champion Hurdle but never claimed the crown. Arguably would have won last year but for being hampered, and may well enjoy having the prominent racing Faugheen to chase down. No one would begrudge local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and jockey son Sam a big-race winner.
After two defeats this season at the hands of Hurricane Fly, last year’s champion has been largely overlooked. However, he looks the type to improve for Cheltenham and the good ground which usually prevails at the festival. He also looks the type who will appreciate a strong pace, the stronger the better.
Hurricane Fly 14/1
The dual Champion Hurdler has won more grade-1s than any other National Hunt horse, including two this season. Price may well drop if he wins this weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle for a fifth time – but would become the first 11-yearold winner of the Champion Hurdle winner since Sea Pigeon. Heavy ground would give him a chance – but that’s unlikely at the festival.
Arctic Fire 25/1
Willie Mullins’ third string was 2nd in a handicap at last year’s festival off a mark of 141, but requires a leap of faith to be supported here.
Put in his place by Rock On Ruby last time, and third behind another of the Mullins stable, Vatour, in last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle. Would be a surprise winner, though is trained by Nicky Henderson whose stable is bound to hit peak-form at the festival.
Purple Bay 50/1
His trainer John Ferguson remains in good form but he was a long way behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle. Most of his best performances have also come on right-handed tracks.
This season’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner was pulled-up behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle.
Tiger Roll 50/1
Last year’s impressive Triumph Hurdle winner is trained by Gordon Elliot who knows how to peak them for a big target, however he’ll have to improve markedly for a return to Cheltenham, and only two 5-year-olds have won in the last 29 renewals.
Little King Robin 100/1
Unlikely winner, but he is a front-runner that loves good ground – and could make the race an interesting test.
Willie Mullins also has Vatour, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power entered, but they all look to have more obvious targets.
A good ground renewal would probably means this will be a fight between the leading protagonists, and only Jezki appeals as an ante-post bet. He looks to have a genuine chance, may drop in price if he wins this weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle, and looks an each-way bet to nothing.
2 points each-way Jezki @ 6/1