THE Irish have sent over some outstanding hurdlers to Cheltenham over the years with the likes of Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca and Monksfield. But there is just a sneaky feeling that HURRICANE FLY could end up being better than all of them.
The son of Montjeu has been a difficult horse to train for Willie Mullins, failing to make it to the Festival twice, but he dispelled the myth that his sire’s offspring can’t get up the Cheltenham hill with an authoritative win against Peddlers Cross in the Stan James Champion Hurdle 12 months ago.
Neither Mullins, nor Ruby Walsh, have ever hidden their admiration for this eight-year-old and after an interrupted preparation ‘The Fly’ looked back to his awesome best when pulverising his rivals in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
There are a number of short-priced Festival bankers during the week, but there will be plenty of glum Irish faces if Hurricane Fly is turned over. I just can’t see that happening – he travels beautifully through his races and when he had to grind it out and battle last March he did exactly that. Paddy Power offer a best price 10/11 and that has to be taken.
Binocular was a decent winner of this race in 2010 and didn’t get the chance to defend his crown 12 months ago due to a medication mix-up at the Nicky Henderson yard. The last horse to regain the Champion Hurdle was Comedy Of Errors in 1975 and although Binocular is very talented and a slick jumper, he will surely struggle to get past Hurricane Fly.
This is one race that has eluded Paul Nicholls, but he throws four darts at today’s prize. His best chance would seemingly be last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar, who did really well to land last month’s Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. He is four from four since becoming part of Team Ditcheat and the form of last year’s Triumph has been franked consistently this season.
Sporting Index are offering a host of match bets (matches between two named horses with 15 length maximum make-up) and I’d certainly rather be with Zarkandar against Binocular. Another interesting match is between OSCARS WELL and Rock On Ruby. Regular readers will have already backed Oscars Well without Hurricane Fly at 13/2 and that is now a best price 6/1 with Coral.
Jessica Harrington is always to be feared at the Festival and Oscars Well was a big fancy when put up. Enthusiasm is tempered slightly, though, as he reportedly didn’t work brilliantly last week.
Rock On Ruby came within a whisker of winning the Neptune last year and has run two excellent races so far this season. I can see him sneaking into the places and I really wouldn’t want to separate him and Oscars Well in a match bet.
Kalann, Celestial Halo and Brampour look out of their depth, while although Zaidpour is going for a fifth straight victory this season, this is a huge step up. The same can’t be said for Overturn who looks as though he will get his ground. He beat Binocular in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November and although he hasn’t run his best races at Cheltenham, he could easily grab a place.
Irish punters will be looking to play up their Hurricane Fly winnings and there will be plenty of doubles going on to the remarkable QUEVEGA landing her fourth straight David Nicholson Mares Hurdle. Mullins’ wonder mare has annihilated her rivals in this race for the past three years, each time on her seasonal reappearance.
Sometimes punters can make things too complicated and there is simply no reason to oppose Quevega. She is head and shoulders above the rest in her division and she would probably give Big Buck’s a race in the World Hurdle. I think she’ll win easily again and she should be backed at 4/7 with Coral, but there is also the ‘betting without’ market to get stuck into.
The bookmakers are finding it hard to split Kentford Grey Lady, Our Girl Salley and SWINCOMBE FLAME for second favourite, but my preference is definitely the latter. The winner of the Lanzarote Hurdle at Kempton, she then ran a cracker at Ascot last time. Nick Williams has always thought the world of her and I can see her staying on to take second.
It might be worth buying Festival winning distances at 120 lengths with Sporting Index and then look to sell back after today’s action. If a couple of the bankers destroy their rivals today, you can be sure the quote will be raised.
HURRICANE FLY 3.20pm Cheltenham
QUEVEGA 4.40pm Cheltenham
SWINCOMBE FLAME (w/o Fav) 4.40pm Cheltenham
Buy Festival winning distances at 120 with Sporting Index
OSCARS WELL (w/o Fav) 13/2 e/w 3.20pm Cheltenham