The Stan James Champion Hurdle is, without doubt, one of the most intriguing races of the week as it’s packed with star quality.
It was first run in 1927, and since then only top horses have won the race. Is this an omen for this year’s Champion Hurdle? It is hard to see the winner coming from outside the first three in the market. But who will claim the winner’s prize money of £227,800?
Last year Jezki, who is running again this year, won the race at 9/1. He finished ahead of My Tent or Yours, The New One, and Hurricane Fly – who finished second, third and fourth respectively. It is undeniable that Hurricane Fly got the better of him on all three starts during the winter season.
However, Hurricane Fly dominates at Leopardstown, and Jezki’s mistake didn’t help him either. What this writer does like about Jezki is his previous form at Cheltenham.
Last year’s Champion Hurdle win was a small surprise given that AP McCoy decided to ride My Tent or Yours opposed to Jezki, which allowed Barry Geraghty to ride Jezki, thus adding another Champion Hurdle to his CV after his success on Punjabi.
Hurricane Fly is a fascinating horse – he just doesn’t know when to give up. He possesses a drive and determination that is incredibly rare in racehorses. He has been back to his best this season and has chalked up the wins.
Hurricane Fly has got the better of Jezki and Arctic Fire on three occasions this season. This is perhaps the best form in the race. There are some doubts though, at eleven the pace of the race might be too much for him, considering the cruising speed of both The New One and Faugheen.
Also, Ruby abandoned him in order to ride hot favourite Faugheen. So Paul Townend will be aboard ‘The Fly’. The ground will play a vital role deciding his chances. The softer it is, the better for him. He is set to go off at a big price; he is currently 8/1 with Ladbrokes. This writer feels if he runs a big race, the bookies might regret that large price.
Another horse who has been racking up the wins this season is The New One. His trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies, has said he believes his horse and Faugheen should be joint-favourites. This writer is aware that Faugheen could easily be a class apart, despite this, he hasn’t run against anything similar to these big guns.
The New One was unlucky in 2014, yet he still has incredible cruising speed. He was given a scare this season when Bertimont, available at 100/1 with Ladbrokes, ran him close on heavy ground at Haydock. The New One ticks all the boxes, and if he gets his jumping spot on, he should be right in the thick of it approaching the finishing line.
The last horse this writer will be describing in detail is Faugheen. His form is immaculate; eight runs, eight wins, and he did not get a real challenge. The main negative that this writer sees in him is his price. Even money in the Champion Hurdle is ridiculous.
Obviously they’re taking the Walsh-Mullins combo into consideration and the bookies are safeguarding their money. There is every chance that he could dominate. He has won over two miles, beating notable horses such as Valseur Lido, Sgt Reckless, and Real Steel.
He also has won over two miles five furlongs at last year’s meeting. He defeated another horse that had potential – Red Sherlock. This shows his versatility, yet none of the horses mentioned have quality like, The New One, Jezki, and Hurricane Fly.
Out of the rest, there are two horses who this writer believes have each-way claims. They are Arctic Fire and Kitten Rock. Arctic Fire has some solid form this season including being the meat in the sandwich between Hurricane Fly and Faugheen in Leopardstown.
He was just beaten in last year’s county hurdle also, despite that a cheeky each-way bet may be in order as he is available at 18/1 and he has finished ahead of last year’s winner this term.
Kitten Rock is a horse this writer is very fond of. He has won a lot of races this year, and he has looked like a talented sort. It’s a shame he isn’t a novice this season as he would have had a chance at winning one of the ‘smaller’ races.
Despite that, one must think that he is in the field just in case something happens to the other JP McManus horse, Jezki. At 33/1 there is value, but realistically to finish in the top three he would need a massive personal best, which seems unlikely. Also, Vaniteux is entered and recent form should suggest that he is in much too deep here.
To summarise, the winner will come from the first three in the market, unless Hurricane Fly does a rain dance tonight. The New One and Faugheen will battle to the very end, but when pushed, the writer sees Faugheen’s unbeaten run coming to an abrupt end.
Selection: The New One (10/3 Ladbrokes) Each-way: Arctic Fire (18/1 Ladbrokes)
David Rusk, Pundit Arena
Featured image by jeff collins [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons