Cheltenham Festival News
|Tuesday 27th January 2015|
Clash of youth versus experience awaits in Champion Hurdle
With just about all the key trials for the Champion Hurdle at the forthcoming Cheltenham Festival having been run, the stage is set for an epic renewal of the two-mile championship event that so often delivers more than it promises.
Last year, it was the now-11-year-old Hurricane Fly who appeared set to land his third title, arriving at the race on the back off a breath-taking nine straight Grade 1 successes. Racing is a funny old game, though, and at no point during the big event did Mullins’ superstar look comfortable. The writing was on the wall some way out and he eventually finished a shock fourth behind Jessie Harrington’s top hurdler Jezki, who is set to defend his crown on the opening day of the fixture.
Jezki beat Hurricane Fly again at Punchestown at the end of last term. But in three meetings between the pair this season it is the old warrior who has stunned the doubters with three barnstorming wins. Hurricane Fly most recently forced a critical error out of his big rival as they eyeballed each other at the final flight of the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle.
If he does go back to the Prestbury track it will be fascinating to see who stable jockey Ruby Walsh chooses to ride. Walsh’s head will tell him to go with Faugheen, the hot young prospect, but his heart will surely urge him to stay with Hurricane Fly. It will be a tormenting decision.
In Faugheen, Mullins has apparently found a worthy successor to his long-time stable star. He has won all eight career races and graduated to become a top novice hurdler last season when winning the Grade 1 Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in impressive fashion. He dropped back to two miles on his final outing last campaign at Punchestown and was arguably more impressive. Indeed, he was so impressive that the Champion Hurdle and not the World Hurdle was soon nominated as the season’s main aim.
Faugheen made all and hacked up in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November. Faugheen then landed the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day with nonchalant ease, dismissing the useful Purple Bay without breaking sweat to score by eight lengths. He certainly looks the real deal. But the Champion Hurdle will be a much bigger test and, as well as The New One and Jezki, there could be the not insignificant figure of his legendary stable companion Hurricane Fly also standing in the path.