January 30, 2012 Leave a comment
Following his hugely emphatic win on his much delayed seasonal reappearance in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, Hurricane Fly has been shortened to around the 4/5 odds on mark to retain his Champion Hurdle title at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
The Willie Mullins eight year old looked as impressive as ever defeating his four rivals with consummate ease and chalking up a seventh success win in the process.
Mullins had earlier in the season expressed concerns with the ‘champion’s’ progress at home which prompted him to withdraw him from his two intended earlier season starts. However, whatever was troubling him then certainly isn’t now and he looks a sure fire banker for the Festival. Should he win at the Festival he will emulate the back to back wins of Hardy Eustace in 2004 & 2005 and will have a chance next season to equal the three straight wins of the great Istabraq from 1998-2000.
Bookmakers have reported some support for the likes of the Nicky Henderson pair, Grandouet and 2010 Champion Hurdle winner, Binocular as well as Paul Nicholls, 2011 Triumph Hurdle winner, Zarkandar. However, they are well behind the favourite in the market and based on Hurricane Fly’s latest run they will be well behind him too at Cheltenham.
Zarkandar, the half brother of course to the great ‘Arc de Triomphe’ winner, Zarkava, has yet to be seen this season, but he is the lime up for his reappearance at Newbury in a fortnight’s time in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle over two miles. The five year old in fact is the 8/1 favourite to win at Newbury but he will need to run well and get close to a mark of 151 if he is to have any chance against Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham for which he is also an 8/1 chance.
Unaccompanied, who was second behind Zarkandar in the 2011 ‘Triumph’ has progressed nicely so far this season. The Dermot Weld five year old won a Listed event back in November over two miles and followed that up with a decent win in the Grade 1 Istabraq Hurdle on 29th December. In that race he had the Willie Mullins trained second string for the Champion Hurdle, Thousand Stars nearly two lengths behind, although he was in receipt of 10lbs. Unaccompanied can be backed at anything between 16-25/1 for the Champion Hurdle.
Binocular of course having missed the Cheltenham Festival last year has been struggling of late but returned to winning ways with a workmanlike performance to win a second successive Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park last month. In that race he proved just too strong for the improving Paul Nicholls trained Rock On Ruby, although he too would appear to have the Champion Hurdle as his Cheltenham target.
Grandouet, who is the 11/2 second favourite for the Champion Hurdle, bounced back from his fall at Wincanton in November to win the first Betfair Hurdle at Haydock, defeating Marsh Warbler by eight lengths in the process. He then followed that up by taking the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, this time by four lengths from the very ebullient Overturn from the Donald McCain stable.