Hurricane Fly will have to fend off a high-class bunch of youngsters to become a three-time winner of the Champion Hurdle as Lewis Jones takes a look at the latest betting.
What happened in 2013?
The real Hurricane Fly returned to Cheltenham and became only the second horse in history to regain a Champion Hurdle, following in the footsteps of Comedy Of Errors in 1975.
He had relinquished his crown in 2012 when running very flat behind Rock On Ruby but reversed that form 12 months on with a performance filled with class, guts and superb jockeyship from Ruby Walsh.
Rock On Ruby, who ran a gallant race to sustain a strong gallop to finish second, was sent on early by Noel Fehily and set a strong pace. He was joined by the third Countrywide Flame and fourth Zarkandar with three to jump, but it was clear for all to see that Walsh was cruising on Hurricane Fly.
Cheltenham isn’t a track that suits him though as he was started to wilt as the line came but his advantage and class was too big for his rivals to peg back.
Life will be harder for him defending his crown, but he´ll likely arrive unbeaten again, unless something in Ireland improves beyond what is expected, and there are not many obvious contenders waiting in the wings in the UK. If any horse can become the first 10-year-old winner since Sea Pigeon in 1980, it´s Hurricane Fly.
Although, he’s not the most straightforward to train and trainer Willie Mullins will have completed a very impressive job if he gets to Prestbury Park in one piece.
2014 Major Players
At the time of writing the race revolves around Hurricane Fly and as long as he stays in one piece, he’s bound to go off favourite come Festival day. Only nine horses above eight-years-old have won the Champion Hurdle since 1951 but Hurricane Fly is actually very lightly raced for a horse of his grey hairs.
Our Conor is a horse with the obvious claims to stamp his authority at the top level after winning the Triumph Hurdle by about three laps in 2013 (officially measured at 17 lengths).
However, only Katchit in the last 45 years has followed up a Triumph Hurdle win in the Champion Hurdle a year later as five-year-olds rarely develop in time to compete at the top level.
My Tent Or Yours also enters calculations for this race after finishing second in a very strong Supreme Novices Hurdle while fellow young pretender The New One, who won the Neptune Investments Management Hurdle, has been described as the best he’s ever trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies.
Betting advice: strong race trends
The age stat is a worry for Hurricane Fly but eight of the last 14 Champion Hurdle winners did run in last season’s race, which strengthens his case considerably.
Much like the Supreme Novices Hurdle, getting a recent run to blow away the cobwebs is a key trait for a serious Champion Hurdle contender. Only one winner since 1993 didn’t have a prep race during the same calendar year.
It’s best to keep an eye on the William Hill Christmas Hurdle at Kempton over the Christmas period, the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, a race that has produced the winner or a placed horse for the last six years. In Ireland, Hurricane Fly will mop up races such as the Istabraq Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown in December.
We’re keen to oppose both Hurricane Fly and Our Conor on age grounds and are predicting a huge season for The New One, who can be backed at 7/1 with Bet365.
He routed a very classy field in the Neptune and we feel he didn’t get the credit he deserved for that imperious victory, where he beat a very high class bunch of novices.
A strong traveller who has a potent turn of foot, on good ground he’s going to be a very hard horse to beat.