Cheltenham Festival – Antepost Champion Hurdle Tips

Date: 22nd January

The 2013 Champion Hurdle is a very interesting market and the Major seeks to sought the candidates into some sort of order.

In tomorrows Racing Post, Pricewise provides his own views on the antepost Champion Hurdle market.  From the look of things tonight, I would guess that the well supported Cotton Mill is his selection!

Hurricane Fly 7/2, Darlan 4/1, Zarkander 7/1, Grandouet 7/1, Rock on Ruby 9/1, Oscar Whisky 16/1, Cinders and Ashes 16/1, Countrywide Flame 20/1, Binocular 20/1, Cotton Mill 25/1, Grumeti 25/1

This year will be the tenth anniversary of a classic Champion Hurdle win for the magnificent but ill fated grey, Rooster Booster.  If you have never seen it, have a look.  It is a race I would dearly like to have seen live, preferably with a donkey choking roll of notes down on the winner who Richard Johnson could barely contain coming down the hill.

Nicky Henderson has won more Champion Hurdles than any other trainer in history, largely helped by See You Then, a three time winner from 85 to 87.  His other two wins have come in the last four years with Punjabi (The Major’s biggest ever winner) and Binocular bringing home the title to Seven Barrows.

Last year did not feel like a vintage renewal but this time around, some of the younger blood sorts have matured into decent contenders and we have a good race.

Let us size up the protagonists.

Hurricane Fly – As a nine year old, the bare stats are against Hurricane Fly, with just seven horses over the age of eight winning since the second world war.

That said, he does not have that many miles on the clock – He has suffered more than one setback in his career.  He has reappeared this season looking stronger than ever and while his return race was potentially fortuitous with Go Native falling at the last when seemingly winding up a challenge.

Following that, The Fly readily put an average field to bed in the Istabraq Hurdle , it is hard to be overly excited about the defeat of the mare unaccompanied but what he had to do, he did well.

This is the main problem in supporting the Fly.  You see, I am confident that he is back to his best but I am not sure his best is good enough.  What excuse did he have in last years running?  It is a brave call to shout out the second favourite, a horse with a Champion Hurdle crown already and form figures of 11211/131/1111/1131-11 as not good enough… but you have to start with a view.

The 2012 Champion

The Major was lucky enough to have put up Rock on Ruby as my antepost tip for last years renewal 14/1.  He did not let me down… actually, he really blew me away that day.  I think he was massively helped by Overturn setting a fair lick of a pace.  I think Rock on Ruby would be a good World Hurdle horse.

Last year, Zarkander was well beaten but he was an inexperienced horse and over the summer seems have come on a bucket load.  His reappearance in heavy ground was fair if not spectacular, giving weight to Prospect Wells but getting up in the end.  Then came one of the crucial prep races, the International.

The International

What a fantastic renewal of the International in December.  It was always a three horse race but what a cluster of talent gathered!  Zarkander and Rock on Ruby locked horns and joining them was Grandouet, another classy horse that has had his problems.

IT was heavy ground but they went at a very good clip and there were no excuses for Rock on Ruby who finished tired.  You could argue he flattened the last but I think that was more to do with his own tiredness.

Grandouet was the last to throw down a challenge to Zarkander but the latter helped by the rail stuck to the task and finished well.

I see nothing wrong with that form, confirming that Zarkander has developed past Rock on Ruby.  Yet it is the Grandouet run which warrants a second look.

He seemed to be closing well on the hill without quite having the guns to get to Zarkander.  Incredibly that was his first run since the International in 2011, a race Grandouet won from Overturn by 4l.  That form puts him thoroughly in the mix.  Think back to the Triumph that Zarkander won, that day, Grandouet was again in third and similarly stayed on up the hill without ever really threatening.

Of the three, the winner of the 2012 International, Zarkander is my pick.  One troubling thought is jockey bookings.  I can not see Ruby riding anything other than Hurricane Fly and that means a likely booking of Daryl Jacob for Zarkander, that will not help his price on the day.

Darlan – The Young Pretender.

Have a look at last years Supreme Novices – To me, I think Darlan would have won had he not been so flat footed at the last and had not needed so much straightening from AP.  He looks a much easier ride this year.  The Betfair hurdle is probably a better race to get a read on Darlan versus Zarkander.

Although Darlan fell, he seemingly was all over the field and looked to me to be a likely winner.

The Antepost Champion Hurdle Tip

So Grandouet might be better for his first run back after a year.  Hurricane Fly doesn’t run bad races and Zarkander has hardly done anything wrong this year.

For Rock on Ruby to win, which is conceivable, I think they need to cut each others throats.

It is Darlan though that the Major returns to.  Yet, as short as he is, The Major is taken by the style of his running.  I think the race is coming at the right time and he looks the sort to be a good match for AP McCoy, as long as the champ is not on Binocular unlikely in the Majors view) – 7/2 generally and 18/5 with Sportingbet.

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