This year’s Champion Hurdle looks a wide open affair but two horses in particular advanced their claims with authoritative performances over the Christmas period.
First up it was the turn of Darlan, who simply destroyed his rivals in the Christmas Hurdle, prompting bookmakers to promote him to Champion Hurdle favouritism, and he was quickly joined at the head of the betting by Hurricane Fly, who recorded the 13th Grade 1 victory of his career when landing Leopardstown’s Festival Hurdle.
While it’s easy to pick holes in the Christmas Hurdle form (the slow pace wouldn’t have suited some), it’s more difficult to crab the performance of Hurricane Fly, who produced a slick round of jumping to dispose of Unaccompanied by seven lengths, but does that mark him out as a prospective winner of the Festival showpiece?
Many would say “yes” to that but there are genuine grounds for thinking his current odds of 7/2 are overestimating his chances of regaining his Champion Hurdle crown, and these five reasons why that won’t happen might even have you looking elsewhere for the winner:
1. He was all out when beating Peddlers Cross in the 2011 running of the race and at the age of nine, he’s unlikely to have got any better. Besides, there have been only three winners aged nine or older in the last 30 years.
2. The competition looks hotter than 12 months ago, when he was beaten at odds-on, with progressive types such as Grandouet, Darlan and Zarkandar all set to take him on, not to mention last year’s winner Rock On Ruby.
3. He won his Champion Hurdle on ground that was officially “good” but he’s done most of his winning on very deep ground in Ireland and he may need those conditions these days, if only to slow the others down.
4. It’s debatable what he has achieved in landing the odds on his last three starts as he has beaten just nine rivals in the process, and many of his victories have come in moderately paced contests. Back at Championship level and in the hurly-burly of the Champion Hurdle, he could well be taken out of his comfort zone.
5. He’s far from guaranteed to run up to his best form at the Festival, as he showed when beaten in the race last season, and even his trainer Willie Mullins concedes he is a difficult race to keep right, saying after the Leopardstown race: “I’ll be happy if we can get Hurricane Fly there in the same sort of form he is in now.”
Article contributed by Nick Wilby
Nick Wilby writes for Cheltenhamfestival.net, an award-winning horse racing news website.