THERE may only be a field of eight for this afternoon’s Stan James Champion Hurdle (3.20pm), but what we lack in quantity is more than made up for in terms of quality.
Red-hot favourite FAUGHEEN may well be the name on everyone’s lips this afternoon, but his CV looks relatively light when compared to some of his rivals.
Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old has just three Grade One victories to his name to date – in contrast to Jezki’s six and the astonishing 22 racked up to date by the legendary Hurricane Fly.
When you consider that both are also former winners of this race (Jezki 12 months ago and Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013), it’s remarkable that Faugheen is as short as 11/10 with Betway to win this afternoon.
However, it’s not really about what Faugheen has beaten to date – holes can certainly be picked in his form – it’s about the manner of those victories.
The son of Germany boasts a perfect 9/9 record under rules and no horse has ever got within three lengths of him. In his two runs to date this term, he hasn’t even come off the bridle and his potential is unlimited.
I’ve been desperate to oppose Faugheen for weeks, but the fact of the matter is that I think he’ll win and win impressively.
He didn’t jump particularly well in last year’s Neptune, making notable hurdling errors three out and at the second last. Yet, those mistakes almost seemed to knock him back onto the bridle.
Don’t get me wrong, he’ll have to be far smarter over the timber this afternoon, but I just can’t see anything being good enough to trouble him.
The New One appears to lack the gears required to win a Champion of this quality. Admittedly, he was hampered at a crucial stage last year, but seemed to get tapped for toe at a crucial time.
Jezki is probably the most bombproof of the leading protagonists with the drying ground in his favour, but I’m not sure he’s met a horse like Faugheen before.
Spread bettors out there could do a lot worse than side with Jezki in a match bet at levels with The New One.
Hurricane Fly seems to be in the form of his life at the grand old age of 11, but the ground seems to have turned against him.
The one horse who appears over-priced is Faugheen’s stablemate ARCTIC FIRE who could well hit the frame at 18/1.
Mullins thought he was the best of the bunch as a three-year-old and he is suddenly finding his feet two years on.
He split Hurricane Fly and Jezki last time and showed he handles the track with a great run in last year’s County Hurdle. He looks a decent each-way bet at 15/2 with Sky Bet without the machine that is Faugheen.
FAUGHEEN 3.20pm Cheltenham
ARCTIC FIRE (W/O Faugheen) 3.20pm Cheltenham