The Cheltenham Festival Big Debate – Binocular v Hurricane Fly in Champion Hurdle
October 27, 2010 Leave a comment
The big debate leading up to the 2010 Cheltenham Gold Cup of course was which one of the two Paul Nicholls trained superstars, Kauto Star or Denman would win the race. The debate started just as soon as Kauto went past the winning post in first place in 2009, thus avenging his defeat, by Denman from the year before.
The two had arrived at Cheltenham last year on the back of an outstanding performance by each earlier in the season, Kauto had won a fourth King George at Kempton in sensational style and Denman had won the Hennessey Gold Cup carrying a huge weight. Denman’s victory in fact had grown men crying and leading plaudits claiming it was one of the greatest National Hunt performances of modern times.
Opinions seemed to equally divided by the time the race started but the Bookmakers had long since made their minds up and sent off Kauto Star as the 8/11 odds on favourite, with Denman rated only at 4/1. In the event of course, neither won. Kauto ran an uncharacteristically poor race falling in the end four fences from home, while Denman had to be content with second place once again, this time behind new champion, Imperial Commander.
A similar debate concerning the two might well take place again this season; both have been entered and both feature prominently in the betting. However, the big Cheltenham Festival debate this year will probably concern the likely winner of the Champion Hurdle. It is a debate which is already well underway and is generating huge interest in the race. The debate, needless to say revolves around which of either the reigning champion, Binocular or the young pretender, Hurricane Fly, who missed the race last year through injury, will win in 2011.
With the Champion Hurdle his main target, Binocular looked the real deal at the outset of the 2008/9 season, winning two big races, including the Grade 2, Boylesports International at Ascot. However a loss of form on the build up to the 2009 Cheltenham Festival damaged his reputation, which was damaged further when he could only finish third , behind stablemate, Punjabi in the 2009 race itself.
After plenty of work at home however, trainer Nicky Henderson finally appeared to have him back on track and his third place behind Go Native in the 2009 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton proved it. He never looked back after that, winning the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown as a warm up for his second tilt at the Champion, which, under jockey, Tony McCoy he duly won by a 3½ lengths from Khyber Kim. In so doing he looked as good a winner of the race as there ever has been.
Hurricane Fly, trained by Willie Mullins in Ireland has always been marked down as a future Champion Hurdler. He proved why too in December 2008, when winning the Future Champion Novice Hurdle by a massive 10 lengths from Go Native, who went on to win the 2009 Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham.
The 6 year old who was withdrawn from the Festival in 2009, when favourite to win the Supreme, did not race again until the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in April, which he duly won by 7 lengths from Kempes. He proved his superiority once again in that race over Go Native too, who was well beaten and well down the field in the fifth place.
He made his first appearance in the 2009/10 season in the Grade One Punchestown Hurdle in November of last year, but having gone off as odds on favourites he ran poorly finishing only third of four runners behind Solwhit. He was later discovered lame and once again was forced to miss the Cheltenham Festival. He returned five months later to beat a top quality field in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle last April, a race which confirmed him as the best hurdler in Ireland.
The scene is set therefore for the 2011 Champion Hurdle which the two are already the market favourites, with Binocular at 3/1 and Hurricane Fly at 5s. Of course as an exciting sub plot to the chances of the two in the big race, Ruby Walsh will be riding Hurricane Fly and Binocular will be ridden by McCoy – what a prospect for the opening day of the 2011 Cheltenham Festival!