Menorah to land the Champion for Hobbs

LAST year we thought we weren’t going to see Binocular run in the Champion Hurdle and his connections surprised us all by declaring him fit for the race at the last minute. Amazingly, 12 months on, they have surprised us all again at the final hour by not declaring the champion because of a medication mix-up. The race, which had been billed as the best of the meeting, still looks a cracker even though it has lost one of its headline acts.

Last year’s Supreme Novices’ winner MENORAH now assumes the mantle of favouritism from Binocular and lines up this afternoon bidding to defend a 100 per cent Cheltenham record. Philip Hobbs’ stable star has added two impressive wins (in the Greatwood and the International) to last year’s Festival success and comes here as the most bomb-proof of the leading fancies.

The one concern I had about a smallish field was the danger of there being no pace. Our selection is only seen at his best if there is a decent gallop and that looks assured now with Overturn declared to run. His role is to ensure that there are no hiding places for any of the field with stamina doubts as the stable’s first string Peddlers Cross is a proven stayer and the biggest danger to Menorah.

He has done nothing wrong so far this season and was extremely impressive when beating Binocular and Starluck at Newbury in the rearranged Fighting Fifth Hurdle before Christmas. However, there is just a nagging doubt that he may be more effective over a slightly longer trip and he is really short now at just 4/1 with Victor Chandler.

As for Irish talking-horse Hurricane Fly, he could well be the superstar the whole of Ireland suggests he may be, but is plenty short enough at 7/2 with Paddy Power. Yes, he has demonstrated that he has the speed, stamina and class to win a Champion Hurdle, but he has been plagued by injury and this is his first trip to Cheltenham. I’m not sure whether the course will suit him and his sire Montjeu doesn’t exactly have a proven history of producing Festival winners.

Oscar Whisky, Khyber Kim and Mille Chief look place possibilities at best, while last year’s beaten Supreme Novices’ favourite Dunguib has a mountain to climb, although if there is to be an upset in the race, he could well be the most likely if he finally lets his hooves do the talking. However, the most sensible bet in the race is without doubt Menorah and he is decent value at 10/3 with Sportingbet. I’m also interested in trading Overturn at a massive price on Betdaq as there is a very real possibility he might get a soft lead from the front.

Sporting Index have produced a massive array of markets, including the usual host of match bets which sees two horses paired against each other. Even though they cannot separate Peddlers Cross and Hurricane Fly, I would far rather be with the former than the latter and recommend a buy at 3/4 length. That means that every length more than 3/4 length that Peddlers Cross beats Hurricane Fly, you win one unit stake wherever they finish. It is also worth remembering that the maximum make-up between the pair is capped at 15 lengths meaning that if disaster struck, you can only lose 15 3/4 times your stake.

Finally, you can keep tabs on all of my Cheltenham betting news by following me live from the course on Twitter @BillEsdaile.

the INSIDER

CUE CARD is the obvious place to start when looking at the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as he stands out on form. However, he has been off the track a little while and I worry that he may get done for toe up the famous ‘hill’. The horse most likely to go past him is Nicky Henderson’s SPIRIT SON (three per cent each way) who has done nothing wrong so far and can cheer up his trainer after the Binocular debacle.

As for the Champion Hurdle itself, I respect Menorah who did us a good favour this time last year by landing the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Yet, as hard to beat as he may be, it’s not often that Donald McCain is as bullish about a horse as he is about PEDDLERS CROSS (five per cent win) and he narrowly gets the nod. Elsewhere, I like the look of old favourite BLAZING BAILEY (two per cent e/w) in the 2.40pm, who has performed with all his old relish this season, while POKER DE SIVOLA (one per cent e/w) can go well at a big price in the Cross Country Chase at 4.00pm.

That leaves QUEVEGA (10 per cent win) as the opening day banker in her attempt to land the hat-trick in the David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle.

Finally, the last race of the day looks an impossible puzzle to solve, but TULLAMORE DEW (0.5 per cent e/w) and complete outsider QUO VIDEO (0.5 per cent e/w) are two of the more likely sorts.

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