Trio of Former Winners Heading for Champion Hurdle Clash
Irish champion trainer Willie Mullins' hot favourite Hurricane Fly heads 10 horses going forward for this year’s £400,000 Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle (3.20pm) at the six-day confirmation stage for Champion Day, Tuesday, March 12.
Hurricane Fly comes into this season’s edition in fine form having won his last four starts, all in Grade One company, and he appeared as good as ever when seeing off Thousand Stars and 2010 Stan James Champion Hurdle hero Binocular in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 27.
Current Cheltenham odds have Hurricane Fly as the 2/1 favourite, which looks to be good value if he's back to his best.
Countrywide Flame, successful in the 2012 JCB Triumph Hurdle for trainer John Quinn, announced himself as a serious Stan James Champion Hurdle contender when thrashing last season’s William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Cinders And Ashes in the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in early December. The pair subsequently came home fourth and fifth in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and the latter has not been seen since, while Countrywide Flame was beaten three lengths by Rock On Ruby in a Listed contest at Doncaster on February 4.
As well as Binocular and Grandouet, Nicky Henderson is likely to saddle Grade One scorer Khyber Kim, who made an encouraging return after a 22-month absence when chasing home Zarkandar in the Grade Two Kingwell Hurdle on February 16.
Rory Jiwani of sponsor Stan James said: “Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly is our 2/1 favourite as he seeks to become the first horse since 1975 (Comedy Of Errors) to regain the Champion Hurdle. Next best is Zarkandar who won the StanJames.com International at Cheltenham in December and last month’s Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. Paul Nicholls’ Triumph Hurdle winner is 9/2, with Rock On Ruby, now running in the name of Harry Fry after winning the race for Nicholls last year, 11/2 to retain his crown.
“Nicky Henderson’s International runner-up Grandouet is a 6/1 shot with his 2010 Champion Hurdler victor Binocular and Donald McCain’s Supreme winner Cinders And Ashes both 10/1 chances. Last year’s Triumph Hurdle hero Countrywide Flame is 16/1 for John Quinn with John Ferguson’s Cotton Mill a 20/1 shot, although he’s also a live contender in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle.
“We are thrilled to be sponsoring again the big race on Day One of The Festival and it looks set to be a fantastic renewal. Hurricane Fly is certain to go off favourite but he has questions to answer after last year’s defeat and you could make a case for all of the top seven in the betting. Cinders And Ashes has come in for plenty of support in recent days with connections hoping for good ground next Tuesday.”
Stan James Champion Hurdle – sponsor’s prices:
2/1 Hurricane Fly, 9/2 Zarkandar, 11/2 Rock On Ruby, 6/1 Grandouet, 10/1 Cinders And Ashes, 12/1 Binocular, 14/1 Countrywide Flame, 20/1 Cotton Mill, 66/1 Khyber Kim, 100/1 Balder Succes
Each way 1/4 odds, 1, 2, 3 – non runner, no bet
The action on Champion Day gets underway with the £120,000 William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm) and all the main contenders remain engaged including impressive Betfair Hurdle scorer My Tent Or Yours, as well as leading Irish hopes Jezki and Un Atout, who are both unbeaten over hurdles.
Scott said: “Melodic Rendezvous has come out of his run at Exeter very well and relatively speaking we are very happy with him.
“He will still have an entry in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle but unless something happens between now and then, the William Hill Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the target.
“After he works on Thursday, we will get him checked out by the vet and make sure everything is hunky dory and, if everyone is happy, it’s all systems go.
“I think his form is solid enough but the biggest problem is trying to work out how horses are going to act on slightly quicker ground. We always thought he wanted quite good ground and I have every expectation he will be happy on what is likely to be good, good to soft ground.”
The £150,000 Grade One Racing Post Arkle Trophy Chase (2.05pm) is being billed as a match race between Simonsig and Overturn, and the pair headline 12 contenders going forward. Arvika Ligeonniere, a dual Grade One winner in Ireland,is one of three remaining entries for Willie Mullins.
Top-weight Uncle Junior and last year’s winner Balthazar King are among 31 horses still in the £50,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeplechase over just short of four miles.
Quevega heads 22 entries remaining in the £85,000 Grade Two OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4.40pm) as she goes in pursuit of her fifth consecutive victory in the extended two and a half mile contest. Her possible challengers include stablemates Tarla and Zuzka as well as last season’s Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle heroine Une Artiste, trained by Nicky Henderson.
Maximum fields of 24 and 20 look guaranteed for the £90,000 JLT Specialty Handicap Chase (2.40pm) over an extended three miles and the £60,000 Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase (5.15pm) over an extended two and a half miles, with 57 and 54 confirmations respectively.
The going at Cheltenham is currently Good to Soft, Good in Places on the Chase and Hurdle Courses, and Good to Soft, Soft in Places on the Cross Country Course, with between 12 and 15 millimetres of rain forecast ahead of The Festival.
Simon Claisse, Head of Racing, South West Region & Cheltenham’s Clerk of the Course, commented: “We are forecast ground temperatures reaching as low as minus five degrees Celsius on Tuesday morning.
“On that basis, we have taken the decision to put down frost covers on the take offs and landings as well as some of the more vulnerable areas of the Cross Country Course on Sunday.”
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