PREVIEW: Stan James Champion Hurdle
First run in 1927 for which it’s inaugural winner, Blaris, picked up the princely sum of £365 the Champion Hurdle now holds pride of place as the ultimate test for the two mile hurdler and the history of the championship contest is littered with most of the great names associated with the sport including the five horses who have won the race on three occasions – Hatton’s Grace ( 1949 – 1951 ) Sir Ken ( 1952 – 1954 ) Persian War ( 1968 – 1970 ) See You Then ( 1985 – 1987 ) and Istabraq ( 1998 – 2000 ).
Dual winner Hurricane Fly (2011 and 2013) will attempt to join that illustrious group by winning the latest renewal but faces one of his stiffest tests to date against his up and coming stablemate Faugheen and reigning champion Jezki.
Eight horses have stood their ground at the six-day declaration stage making it one of the smallest fields in the races’ long history but what the championship contest lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality with arguably the four best hurdlers in training set to lock horns at Prestbury Park next Tuesday afternoon.
1. Arctic Fire – The third-string from the all-conquering Willie Mullins stable but deserves to take his chance after creditable efforts behind his illustrious stablemate Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown in December and more recently when runner-up to that horse over the same course and distance in the Irish Champion Hurdle with Jezki back in third place, although a final flight blunder probably cost Jessica Harrington’s charge second spot. Narrowly beaten in the County Hurdle at last year’s festival so course shouldn’t hold any fears but will need a career-best performance to finish in the first three.
14-1 With most bookmakers.
2. Bertimont – Gave The New One a fright when second to that horse in Haydock’s Champion Hurdle Trial but will face different conditions here and despite deserving to take his chance must be rated an odds on chance to finish in the last pair.
3. Faugheen – The new kid on the block and a potential superstar in the making for Willie Mullins with Hurricane Fly in the twilight of his career. Unbeaten in seven hurdle starts to date including when running out an easy winner of the 2m 5f Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s festival and although dropping back in trip this time that didn’t stop the likes of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace going on to Champion Hurdle glory 12 months later. More recently Peddlers Cross and The New One both won the novice race before being placed in the Champion Hurdle’s of 2011 and 2014 respectively. Never out of second gear to win both starts this season but has yet to face rivals of this calibre and in a small field tactics may prove crucial.
4. Hurricane Fly – The Willie Mullins-trained eleven-year-old is a legend in the
true sense of the word with a cv of Grade 1 victories that just goes on and on.
With two Champion Hurdle wins under his belt the son of Montjeu has nothing
left to prove and would be the most popular winner of the week if able to join
the likes of Istabraq with a third championship. Possibly needs plenty of cut in
the ground now to take the sting out of some speedier younger rivals but has
confounded his critics on more than one occasion in the past. Fourth 12
months ago and may have to settle for a similar placing this time unless the
heavens open in the lead up to the race.
5. Jezki – In many ways the forgotton horse of the race – probably because the defending champion has failed to get off the mark in three starts this season, all behind old rival Hurricane Fly. Third behind Champagne Fever and My Tent Or Yours in the 2013 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle the son of Milan overturned that form when just getting the better of the runner-up there in last year’s Champion Hurdle with The New One ( possibly unlucky after being hampered early on ) back in third with Hurricane Fly one place further behind. Jessica Harrington’s charge is ideally suited by decent ground which he is likely to get for the first time since winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle last May and could be the one to find any chinks in the armour of the short priced favourite.
6. Kitten Rock – Talented young hurdler and unbeaten in four runs this season but yet to win at Grade 1 level. Looked exposed in that class towards the back end of last season when fourth in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at Punchestown and the fact that Eddie O’Grady’s charge is in the same ownership as Jezki suggests the five-year-old may be required to ensure a decent pace in the race.
7. The New One – Regarded by many as an unlucky loser 12 months ago when badly hampered by the ill-fated Our Conor before staying on strongly to be beaten three lengths in third place. Unbeaten in five starts since but far from convincing at Aintree last April and struggled to get the better of Bertimont last time. In what could become a tactical affair may once again find himself with too much ground to make up in the closing stages.
8. Vaniteux – Third and put in his place by an impressive Vautour in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle last year and despite a cracking reappearance when giving weight to all bar Garde La Victoire in the Greatwood at Cheltenham’s Open meeting has failed to build on that since. Hard to see him turning the tables on The New One who beat him by over four lengths in the International back in December and will face that rival on 8lb worse terms. Possibly found the trip too far last time but anything better than 5th place would be stretching the imagination.
Distance Course Going Progressive
Arctic Fire Yes Yes Yes Yes
Bertimont Yes No Yes Yes
Faugheen Yes Yes Yes Yes
Hurricane Fly Yes Yes No No
Jezki Yes Yes Yes Yes
Kitten Rock Yes No Yes Yes
The New One Yes Yes Yes Yes
Vaniteux Yes Yes Yes No