Michael Dorgan looks ahead to today’s opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of which is the Champion Hurdle.
After a terrible few months of dreadful weather, the grey clouds are abating and the sun is breaking out in glorious sunshine to signal the beginning of spring. A sense of optimism has filled the air and finally the wait is over; the Cheltenham festival begins today.
And what better way to begin than with Champion Hurdle Day? It is truly a fascinating card with many considering the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle (3:20pm) itself as the race of the meeting where Hurricane Fly bids to defend his crown and capture a hat-trick of victories. With only nine runners going to post, it seems nearly all have definite chances and views are diverse about the outcome. For all that Hurricane Fly has achieved (he is attempting a 20th Grade 1 victory today) many continue to put down his chances which has only made jockey Ruby Walsh more determined to ride him to victory today and the roof will be blown off Prestbury Park should he succeed. There is a strong contingent that believe Our Conor, an emphatic winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year and whom the ‘Fly’ has beaten twice this season, will reverse form with the champion. Jezki, who was unlucky not to get closer to the ‘Fly’ in December’s Ryanair Hurdle may also be capable of going one better should more prominent tactics be executed by todays jockey Barry Geraghty, who interestingly has never lost a race the horse. The English believe they have the answer in the form of My Tent Or Yours and The New One with the former attempting to emulate the great Istabraq and Hardy Eustace by winning the Neptune Novice Hurdle and winning the Champion Hurdle the following season; he may well have held off My Tent Or Yours at Kempton but for a last-flight blunder.
Racing begins however with the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle (1:30pm) where Paul Nicholls’ unbeaten Irving has been a fancied favourite for some time now. However history is against favourites in the race, the last winner being Brave Inca in 2004. Ruby Walsh has spoken positively about his chances on the unbeaten Vautour and Willie Mullins’ second string Wicklow Brave is also well fancied in some quarters. For punters of this race I have to suggest Paddy Powers incredible offer in the race; they are refunding all losing bets on horses that finish 2nd, 3rd or 4th.
The Arkle Chase (2:05pm) is another mouth-watering contest where Mullins’ Champagne Fever heads the market. Champagne Fever has run twice before at the festival, winning both the Champion Bumper and a very strong Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He will be taken on by the 2012 Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby who was second in the same race last year but has only raced twice since December against a total of three opponents. The biggest danger may be the Charles Byrnes trained Trifolium, although the drying ground may be a concern.
It’s all about Willie Mullins’ 10 year old ‘super mare’ Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle (4pm), who will be tough to beat in her quest for a record-breaking sixth festival success, one more than Golden Miller managed in his consecutive Gold Cups victories between 1932 and 1936.
Other races include the Festival Handicap Chase (2:40pm), the 4-mile National Hunt Challenge Cup Chase (4:40pm) and racing concludes with the Novices’ Handicap Chase (5:15pm)
Everything is in place for a fascinating few days action and the bookies will be eager that today doesn’t turn out to be a ‘Ruby Tuesday’, unlike the rest of us!
Pundit Arena – Michael Dorgan (@M_Dorgan)