There’s a little over a month until the roar of the Cheltenham crowd will bellow out over the Gloucestershire hills to signal the start of the Cheltenham Festival and with that in mind let’s take a look at the stand out race on the opening day – the Champion Hurdle.
It is arguably the best renewal of the race we’ve had this century. Faugheen, The New One, Hurricane Fly and Jezki could all potentially line up against each other.
So who’s going to win it? First off, let’s start with Faugheen.
Faugheen is a machine. There’s no other word to describe the superstar that Willie Mullins has on his hands. Ever since he stormed up the Cheltenham hill last year to claim the Novices’ Hurdle the racing world sat up and realised what a special horse he was.
The drop back in trip to 2 miles should not be an issue. Since that Festival win he has won well at Punchestown and Kempton over the Champion Hurdle distance.
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Some experts claim that even money or 10-11 does not represent great value for a horse that still has a bit to prove. They may have a point but you can only beat what is placed in front of you and nine out of nine times on a racecourse he has done just that.
The New One
The New One is a very talented horse and it can be strongly argued he would have gone on to win the Champion Hurdle himself last year had he not been impeded by the fatal fall of Our Conor.
However if the rain comes and it turns into an uphill slog that may prove a little too much for Nigel Twiston-Davies’ seven-year-old, who only narrowly won a Champion Hurdle trial at Haydock last month despite average opponents and odds of 1-6 under the heavy going.
He does still have an incredibly impressive record and an unbelievable finish in him so you would think he will pose the strongest threat to Faugheen.
12 months ago you would not think that you would be realistically discussing the prospect of Hurricane Fly returning to Cheltenham Festival let alone seriously challenging for another Champion Hurdle.
But since that day, he has won 3 out of the 4 duels he’s had over in Ireland with last year’s winner of the race Jezki and must be treated with the greatest respect once again. Ruby Walsh seems to have found that extra gear Hurricane Fly has over most horses, one that was missing in the race last year.
He never knows when he’s beaten and with odds floating around of anywhere between 6-1 and 12-1 he could be a great value bet. The big question will be whether Ruby decides to ride Faugheen or Hurricane Fly. Faugheen may seem like the obvious choice but it is apparent that Ruby has a special bond with Hurricane Fly and he has given him so many pleasures, particularly at Cheltenham so you wouldn’t rule out him siding with his old accomplice.
Three horses have been discussed and we have only touched upon last year’s winner of the race once: Jezki. He was sensational in victory last year and although Hurricane Fly seems to have found the measure of him over at Leopardstown and Punchestown you can never know what will happen at Cheltenham.
McCoy ditched him last year in favour of My Tent or Yours but it is unlikely he will make the same mistake this year and if he runs anything like he did last year he will be there or thereabouts.
And that’s before you even talk about potential starts like Arctic Fire and Un De Sceaux who may be given runs in the opening day’s showcase event.
It really is a line-up that takes your breath away. Pencil in Tuesday March 10 in your diaries and start counting down the days.