Ante-Post Preview of the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – With the National Hunt season getting into full swing, the focus already turns to mid-March and Cheltenham as horses look to impress with their early season appearances. As the Festival is only 116 days away I’ve decided to start this new feature for thatsbettingtips.com with the aim of offering a variety of ante-post previews for all the major Cheltenham races. This first instalment examines the merits of those who dominate the early Champion Hurdle market.
The next few weeks will prove very influential in shaping the betting for the feature race on the first day of the Festival. By the end of the month all the main contenders should have begun their respective seasons. This weekend, Punchestown hosts the renewal of the Morgiana Hurdle which will see last year’s winner Hurricane Fly take on Jezki, two horses with strong Champion Hurdle claims. That race is soon followed by the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle at the end of the month where The New One and My Tent Or Yours are expected to lock horns.
Currently The New One (4/1 Betfred), last year’s Neptune Novice’s Hurdle winner, sits at the head of the market. This Nigel Twiston-Davies trained horse has already got his season off to the best start possible by comfortably beating Rock on Ruby (the 2012 Champion Hurdle winner) at Kempton over 2m. Sent off the 1/2f, the victory was never in doubt as The New One travelled with ease and showed a good burst of speed late on to move clear of his only real rival in the field. Before the race, there were reservations about how effective The New One would be when dropped from 2m 5f to 2m, however those questions were quickly dealt with as his overall performance was hugely appealing from start to finish. This horse seems to have the perfect credentials for the Champion Hurdle as he travels comfortably off a strong pace and has the ability to finish off his races with a potent turn of foot. Undoubtedly he is a horse with alot of class but also with a good degree of improvement to come over this new trip.
Another horse who has already had his first outing in public is the JP McManus owned Jezki (8/1 Ladbrokes). He reappeared in a Grade 2 contest at Down Royal where he was faced with a field of 5 which included two useful sorts in the form of Caid Du Berlais and Flaxen Flare. Similar to The New One, Jezki was sent off a very short favourite (4/9) but unfortunately couldn’t produce anywhere near as dominating a performance. He was challenged throughly throughout and had to dig in deep to beat his rivals. Although he was giving weight away to all of his challengers the manner of his victory was certainly workmanlike as opposed to impressive and he had to be fully pushed out to win. The race should bring him on no end as it seemed he lacked a good amount of fitness. He finished third to Champagne Fever and My Tent Or Yours in the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham last year. He clearly wasn’t seen to his best that day as he followed up that effort by routing a good quality Grade 1 field at the Punchestown Festival by 16 lengths. With his impressive record over hurdles he has to be respected however his current odds of 8/1 look an accurate reflection of his chance, with others preferred so far.
Then we come to the horse they all have to beat, HURRICANE FLY (11/2 William Hill). Winner of this race on two occasions (last year and in 2011), this 9 year-old Willie Mullins trained horse has had a hugely impressive career to date, finishing in the places on every single one of his 21 starts over hurdles to date. He clearly is a superstar over hurdles and could well return to Cheltenham as favourite to retain his crown. Typically he is campaigned solely in Ireland before arriving at these shores in March and should have the ideal preparation schedule designed to bring out the best in him with the Festival in mind. Last year he began, as he will this year, in the Morgiana Hurdle and destroyed his 2 other rivals by 12 lengths. Looking at the current odds, it seems that a repeat of last year’s victory is predicted as he is priced as the 8/15 favourite with Jezki second in the market at 2/1. I expect Hurricane Fly to win comfortably on Sunday and the 11/2 on offer to disappear making him co-favourite around the 4/1 mark. Willie Mullins recently stated that the horse has come back even stronger this year, if true then his rivals will have a hard time prising the crown out of his hands.
Second in the market, Our Conor (5/1 Coral) was a hugely impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year. On the final day of last year’s Festival he destroyed a competitive 17 runner field to win by 15 lengths. Everything about that performance was appealing; he comfortably led the main pack home, jumped his hurdles superbly and killed the others off with a vicious injection of pace around the final bend. His first appearance this year is still unknown but expect him to have a Irish campaign similar to that of Hurricane Fly. Certainly his position in the market is very much justified and provided he reproduces the form he showed at Cheltenham he is another who, come race day, could be right up there vying for favouritism.
Other lively contenders include the other JP McManus owned horse – My Tent Or Yours (6/1 Ladbrokes). He came second in the Supreme, loosing by only half a length to Champagne Fever, before bolting up at Aintree and winning by 16 lengths. On the Supreme form he holds Jezki and like all the other younger horses in the field he has the potential for plenty of improvement. A lot will depend on which horse AP McCoy favours for the race and expect him to be studying both carefully over this season with an aim to select the best prospect.
Finally we have a relative outsider who was very eye-catching on his first start this season, Melodic Rendezvous (20/1 Betfred). Off top weight, he readily won a Grade 2 Handicap Hurdle race at Wincanton 5 days ago. On that day Paul Nicholls was very bullish about the chances of his runner Far West (2nd to Our Conor in the Triumph) however the Jeremy Scott trained Melodic Rendezvous tracked the lead, and flew the last to win with a bit in hand. Although currently a 20/1 shot he’s of definite interest as an outsider who at the current price offers plenty of value. Entered in the Fighting Fifth (along with My Tent Or Yours and The New One) if he runs and performs well his inflated odds could quickly vanish and he could well establish himself as a genuine contender.
At this early stage of the season it is difficult to have a accurate handle on the market, especially as to where the value lies. What is clear though is, barring injury (or god forbid a repeat of the incident that took Darlan’s life last year), this year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle could well go down in history as one of the best. The New One justifiably deserves to be the current favourite, however as the others make their reappearance's expect the market to change regularly. At the prices, HURRICANE FLY looks a little big as he should go through his Irish campaign comfortably beating those who are likely to challenge him. He may come under a bit more pressure if he is faced with taking on Our Conor, nevertheless the 11/2 on offer should contract provided he picks up the Morgiana on Sunday as is expected. Alot is made of the fact that he will be 10 when he reappears however it would be foolish to forget that his trainer has a special knack of being able to carefully steer his older inmates through their seasons with the Festival being the main aim (a perfect example would be Quevega). Until the others properly establish themselves regularly in top class races Im happy to stick with the old boy and put my faith in his trainer and his unquestionable ability.
HURRICANE FLY (WIN) (11/2 William Hill)
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