CHAMPION HURDLE: RACE PREVIEW

HURRICANE Fly, the Willie Mullins-trained winner of the race in 2011, bids to regain his crown at the expense of rivals that include last year’s victor Rock On Ruby writes Milesey. This season he’s arrived at the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle once again undefeated – including an impressive showing in his last race where he cruised to victory in the BHP Insurance sponsored Irish Champion Hurdle (2m) at Leopardstown in late January (a race which also featured French fancy Binocular). Binocular will be the likely mount of AP McCoy but may not be classy enough to win this. He won a weak looking Champion Hurdle in 2010. Was sixth in last year’s race and finished 5l behind Hurrican Fly in his only run this season. The 2012 Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby has been brought on steadily this season by Harry Fry in a bid to retain his title. He made a seasonal debut at Cheltenham, finishing third behind Zarkandar on heavy going. He may have needed that run and came on from that to win a listed event at Doncaster last month although may have benefited from the unfortunate Darlan falling.

Zarkandar is Paul Nicholls only entry here. This horse finished fifth last year and apart from a fall at Aintree, he has won all his other starts over hurdles so far.

Countrywide Flame, winner of the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago, disappointed in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, but looked more like his old self when second behind last year’s Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby at Doncaster last month.

Grandouet was beaten by Zarkandar at Cheltenham in December but that was his first run for a year and it would be no surprise to see him right in the mix at the final flight.

Of the rest Cinders And Ashes has yet to recapture his novice form while Cotton Mill, second behind My Tent Or Yours in the Betfair Hurdle on his seasonal debut, could be an interesting each way prospect.

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3 Comments
  1. Milesey 4 years ago

    CHAMPION HURDLE
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    Balder Succes gained sole win this season in minor event at Haydock and has had limitations exposed at a higher level, running about as well as could be expected when third to Zarkandar at Wincanton last time.

    Binocular won Champion Hurdle in 2010 and 6½ lengths fourth to Rock On Ruby 12 months ago. Encouraging return when third to easy winner Hurricane Fly in Irish Champion and should be in hunt for minor honours.

    Cinders And Ashes completed a 4-timer when successful in 2012 Supreme Novices’. Not at best in testing conditions in his 2 runs this term, fifth in Christmas Hurdle latest outing. Something to prove now.

    Countrywide Flame was a game winner of Triumph Hurdle, and stepped up again with easy success in Fighting Fifth on return. Stuck to task behind Rock On Ruby after forcing pace at Doncaster latest, but more needed.

    Grandouet beat Overturn in Grade 2 here in 2011 and excellent second to Zarkandar in corresponding race when next seen. Missed prep race due to minor problem but okay now and looks a leading player.

    Hurricane Fly won 2011 Champion Hurdle and unbeaten since third in 2012 renewal, easily accounting for Thousand Stars and Binocular in Irish Champion last time. Every chance of reclaiming crown.

    Khyber Kim finished second to Binocular in this in 2010. Rejoined Nicky Henderson/off nearly 2 years before fair return when runner-up to Zarkandar at Wincanton, but even pick of best form sees him fall short.

    Rock On Ruby’s best performances last 2 seasons have come at the Festival, winning well-run Champion Hurdle 12 months ago. May not get similar end-to-end gallop this time, but in good form, and now blinkered.

    Zarkandar’s only defeat when completing over jumps came when fifth in this last year and looks an improved performer this season, beating 2 of these in International here in December. Bold bid expected.

    Verdict:

    Hurricane Fly can become only the second horse to regain the Champion Hurdle title after Comedy of Errors (1975). He’s looked irresistible so far this season with his preparation having gone much smoother than 12 months ago. Rock On Ruby may not have the race go as ideally for him as it did last year, so bigger dangers could emerge in the shape of Zarkandar, unbeaten this term, and Grandouet.
    ———————-

    Milesey

  2. 1plus2 4 years ago

    Champion Hurdle

    A two mile sprint race for the fastest hurdlers in national hunt racing. An ability to travel well at speed and jump without losing momentum is crucial.

    Rock On Ruby, Winner Champion Hurdle
    Rock On Ruby after winning the 2012 Champion Hurdle

    Champion Hurdle Ten Year Trends
    10/10 had final prep run within 51 days of Festival
    9/10 had previously finished at least fourth at the Cheltenham Festival with six out of ten previous winners at the Festival
    9/10 had won at least one race that season
    9/10 had between ten and twenty-five runs over hurdles
    9/10 had won a Grade 1 hurdle or a Grade 3 handicap hurdle
    8/10 had won last time out
    8/10 were aged six to eight

    Champion Hurdle Trends Analysis
    From the above trends the two that stand out are the need for a relatively recent prep race and the age of the winner to be six to eight.

    If we look at the age requirement first the above trend can be cut back even further if we are radical with five-year-olds.

    One of the most well known stats in NH racing was the poor performance of five-year-olds in the Champion Hurdle until Katchit made a hole in that statistic in 2008 but even with his victory horses of that age are still one win from EIGHTY-EIGHT attempts since the previous five-year-old winner See You Then in 1985.

    Similarly there have only been three horses older than eight-years-old that have won the Champion Hurdle since 1951, a negative for the chances of the nine-year-olds in the race, Hurricane Fly and Binocular.

    Champion Hurdle Last Ten Winners
    Year Horse Age Trainer Jockey Price
    2012 Rock On Ruby 7yo P Nicholls N Fehily 11/1
    2011 Hurricane Fly 7yo W Mullins R Walsh 11/4F
    2010 Binocular 6yo N Henderson AP McCoy 9/1
    2009 Punjabi 6yo N Henderson B Geraghty 22/1
    2008 Katchit 5yo A King R Thornton 10/1
    2007 Sublimity 7yo J Carr P Carberry 16/1
    2006 Brave Inca 8yo C Murphy AP McCoy 7/4F
    2005 Hardy Eustace 8yo D Hughes C O’Dwyer 7/1F
    2004 Hardy Eustace 7yo D Hughes C O’Dwyer 33/1
    2003 Rooster Booster 9yo P Hobbs R Johnson 9/2

    Table above shows the last ten winners of the race, their age at the time of winning, trainer, jockey and odds (starting price).

    Champion Hurdle Preview 2013
    It appeared that the times were changing in the Champion Hurdle with the winners from 2007-2011 all having plenty of experience of running on the flat and all with decent official ratings on the level.

    Rock On Ruby put a stop to that winning streak when striking a blow for the traditional National Hunt horse who had graduated from Bumpers. However, the second, third, fourth and fifth in last year’s Champion Hurdle had all gtaduated from the Flat so it may well prove worthwhile targeting an ex-flat horse for glory in 2013.

    Champion Hurdle Tips 2013
    The prospect of soft ground looks to have scuppered the chance of our ante-post pick Cinders And Ashes and instead conditions look to have come right for ZARKANDAR.

    Paul Nicholls has been adamant his charge was not at his best when well beaten in last year’s Champion Hurdle but the six-year-old has bounced back to form this season with three comprehensive victories.

    Soft ground will make this race more of a test of stamina rather than just pure speed and that will play to Zarkandar’s strengths.

    With question marks about all his opponents, ZARKANDAR’s claims look rock solid and he is a confident selection.

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