Champion Hurdle – the likely lads, maybe men and lovable longshots
The likely lads – Hurricane Fly, Rock on Ruby, Zarkandar
2011 winner Hurricane Fly has been granted the interrupted prep which he so lacked when third last year, but suspicions linger that the blistering gallop Rock On Ruby served up in beating him in 2012 maybe draw his sting once more.The return to a larger field should be nectar to the defending champion, who has won his last six races at around two miles when 10 or more contestants were involved.
Zarkandar stormed up the hill to finish fifth and last of this triumvirate in last year’s running, but his yard was mired in ill-health at the time and an unbeaten season that includes an eight-length defeat of Rock On Ruby over this course and distance should see him bang there at the death.
The maybe men – Binocular, Grandouet
Mindful of his unexpected yet utterly emphatic 2010 Champion Hurdle triumph, bookies seem terrified of getting the mercurial Binocular wrong again and his recent third behind Hurricane Fly on unsuitable ground will have him fit enough to strike if the mood takes him.
Unlike his stable mate, Nicky Henderson’s Grandouet has yet to finish outside the medals in four Cheltenham contests and his two-length second behind a race-fit Zarkandar on his comeback from a year-long injury lay off was very promising.
The loveable longshots – Cinders and Ashes and Countrywide Flame
Five of the last six winners have been sent off at prices between 9/1 and 22/1, indicating the likes of Cinders and Ashes and Countrywide Flame are no forlorn hopes. The former’s first seasonal sniff of decent ground worked the oracle at last year’s festival, with Donald McCain’s gelding out-staying the Darlan (a one-time favourite for this race) to win the Supreme Novices Hurdle.
Fellow 2011 Festival victor Countrywide Flame, has posted form figures of 1-5-3 in Grade 1 company this term and the return to Cheltenham and a larger-field race should see him guaranteed the stiff gallop he needs to be seen at his best.