Cheltenham Day One Preview
Liverpool Echo - 2010-03-15
IT is the season for short-priced favourites in championship races – but one contest to which that rule certainly does not apply to is the Champion Hurdle.
Though it is the highlight of an action-packed day one at the Cheltenham Festival, it has sparked reams of debate all through the winter and several horses have topped the betting lists for it, only to lose their place just as quickly.
Hurricane Fly started the campaign at the head of the market, only for injury to sideline him, while others to have their prices slashed then lengthened include Zaynar, Celestial Halo, Binocular and Solwhit.
The last named quartet will all come under starters’ orders tomorrow but it is difficult to see any of them coming out on top, due to the interrupted preparation they have had in the run-up to the meeting.
Two weeks ago, his trainer Nicky Henderson had all but ruled him out of the reckoning, as the gelding had been failing to sparkle but, after extensive tests and a couple of good workouts on the schooling ground, he will now take his chance.
“AP (McCoy) rode him on Friday morning and was very happy,” said owner JP McManus, whose silks were carried to success by Qaspal in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.
“The horse gave him a great feel. I must say I’m very excited by Binocular.”
Yet you don’t win races of this magnitude unless preparations have run smoothly and the fact Binocular has done a version of the hokey-cokey – in, out, in, out – does not augur well; similar sentiments apply to Solwhit, who suffered a cold last week.
One horse with excellent claims is the current favourite Go Native and Noel Meade’s gelding – who took last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle – is chasing a £1million bonus, having already won the ‘Fighting Fifth’ and Christmas Hurdles this season.
Go Native certainly possesses a touch of class but many will be happy to take him on and perception is that the Champion Hurdle will go the way of an up-and-coming, unexposed performer this year.
First there are the two greys; Medermit from Alan King’s yard, who warmed up for Cheltenham with a pleasing performance at Haydock in January, and Alan Fleming’s pride and joy, Starluck.
They are both slick jumpers, blessed with a turn of speed and it is not hard to envisage them looming into contention running down the hill on the turn for home but, if that is the case, expect Khyber Kim to be in their slipstream.
Trained close to the course by Nigel Twiston-Davies, Khyber Kim has started to fulfil his vast potential in recent months and has won both his starts – the Greatwood Hurdle and the Boylesports International – in breathtaking fashion.
Khyber Kim is also never better than when he is fresh, so the fact he has not been since out since December 12 is not a negative and, granted some luck in running, he can give Twiston-Davies and Paddy Brennan their first success in the race.
But if the Champion Hurdle is going to stay in England, it promises to be an outstanding day for Irish horses; only an act of God will prevent Dunguib taking the Supreme Novices Hurdle, while Garde Champtre and Voler La Vedette should take the last two races.
Most interesting of all, however, is Captain Cee Bee’s presence in the Arkle; this horse is the apple of his trainer Eddie Harty’s eye and the prospect of perfect jumping ground only enhance the nine-year-old’s claims.
True, there are some smart types in opposition – Henrietta Knight is sweet on Somersby, Sizing Europe is unbeaten in four starts over fences, while Sports Line is an intriguing runner for Willie Mullins – but Captain Cee Bee has a touch of class.
“He’s in great form and he has been working well,” Harty reported. “I think he is a bit special. He’s a lovely horse blessed with a high-cruising speed and is high-class. Hopefully everything will go according to plan. I think I’ve got the best boy.”
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