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2014 Champion Hurdle tips - Hurricane Fly to land Champion Hurdle hat-trick

Brian Healy takes a look at the Champion Hurdle field in his runner-by-runner guide to Tuesday's big feature race.

The fourth race on the card on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, this year's renewal of the Champion Hurdle is particularly strong compared to recent years, and much discussion has be made over the months in relation to the race with so many strong contenders going to post.

Due off at 3.20 pm on Tuesday, a final field of nine rivals will go to post to compete for the premier hurdling prize, including the defending champion, Willie Mullins' Hurricane Fly. Here, we assess the champion's chances, and also those of the eight challengers to his title.

Captain Cee Bee 

Formerly a high-class hurdler and chaser, and winner of the 2008 Supreme Novice's Hurdle where he beat Binocular. 

He didn't progress as hoped over the smaller obstacles, but matched the best of his hurdling form over fences and posted his best effort over the larger obstacles when third to Sizing Europe in the 2011 Champion Chase.

Edward Harty's runner has been a regular in many of the top hurdling races, running creditably but never quite good enough, although he did make an increasingly-rare visit to the winners' enclosure at Tipperary back in October last year.


Captain Cee Bee has been supplemented for the Champion Hurdle to act as pacemaker for My Tent Or Yours and Jezki. AFP PHOTO/ADRIAN DENNIS (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images)

He proved no match for Hurricane Fly when fourth in the Ryanair Hurdle and wasn't disgraced when third of four in the Irish Champion Hurdle behind Hurricane Fly and Our Conor, with Jezki close up in fourth.

Supplemented for this race, presumably to act as a pacemaker for JP McManus' other runners, My Tent Or Yours and Jezki, and difficult to make a case for him getting anywhere near the principals.

Grumeti 

One of the season's leading juveniles in 2011/2012, Alan King's runner was sent off favourite for the 2012 Triumph Hurdle, finishing third behind Countrywide Flame. He gained revenge next time at Aintree, but has been well-held in three starts this season, albeit against good opposition.


Grumeti faces a tough assignment in the Champion Hurdle. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

He has twice seen the back-end of My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, and in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, beaten an aggregate 48-lengths behind that rival, and was third of six behind Melodic Rendezvous last time in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton.

Although a smart individual, he's a step behind these rivals and needs to find plenty of improvement if he's to be involved at the finish.

Hurricane Fly 

The outstanding hurdler of his generation over this trip, with 19 Grade One successes to his name, including this race in 2011 and 2013.

He wasn't at his best in-between though, losing first run to Rock On Ruby and Overturn when only third in 2012, but showed that run to be a blip when winning the Rabobank Champion Hurdle on his next start, and he's been unbeaten since.

His chances of a third win in the race have been knocked in some quarters, and statistics point to his age as a negative. However, he was the wrong side of the same statistic last year and has looked as good as ever in three runs this season, comprehensively stepping up on a fairly laboured win in the Morgiana Hurdle to beat Jezki, Our Conor and Captain Cee Bee in the Ryanair Hurdle.

He had the same trio behind when landing the Irish Champion Hurdle, and trainer Willie Mullins has sounded bullish about Hurricane Fly's chances of adding to his Grade One tally with a successful defence.

He showed battling qualities that day to get back up after making a mistake and headed over the last by Our Conor, with Captain Cee Bee and Jezki beaten into third and fourth respectively.

It is hard to see him not being in the frame, and he rates the one they all have to beat in this contest. Will take plenty of beating.

Jezki

High class for Jessica Harrington, Jezki has twice failed to find his best at Cheltenham, firstly behind Champagne Fever in the 2012 Champion Bumper, and then when third behind the same rival and My Tent Or Yours in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Returned to action this season with a pair of Grade One wins in the WKD Hurdle and the Hatton's Grace Hurdle when stepped up in trip, but has been found wanting behind Hurricane Fly the last twice.

He was trapped on the bend behind Captain Cee Bee and Our Conor when short of room in the Ryanair Hurdle before finishing strongly to get to within three lengths of Hurricane Fly in that race, and probably wasn't suited to the slow early pace and being dropped out in the Irish Champion Hurdle next time where he ran too keen early on and found little for pressure later.

Jezki is 4-4 with Barry Geraghty aboard but will have to take another step forward against Hurricane Fly, having twice been beaten by that rival. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

While he has to step up on recent efforts behind Hurricane Fly, Jezki should be better suited by a stronger pace and better ground, and Barry Geraghty takes over from AP McCoy, who deserts Jezki in favour of My Tent Or Yours. 

It is interesting that he will be sporting a first-time hood in the race and Barry Geraghty is 4-4 aboard Jezki; a more aggressive ride could see Jezki get closer to Hurricane Fly this time around and he's no forlorn hope if everything drops right for him.

Melodic Rendezvous 

Winner of the 2013 Tolworth Hurdle, Melodic Rendezvous has won three Grade Two events this season, including the Kingwell Hurdle most recently at Wincanton.

Those wins came in soft/heavy ground though, and the likely faster conditions will likely count against Jeremy' Scott's charge here, although he did win the Elite Hurdle on good-to-soft on his seasonal debut.

Melodic Rendezvous contested the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on good ground where he finished a disappointing fifth but was later found to have pulled muscles in his back.


Melodic Rendezvous won the Kingwell Hurdle last time, but would prefer softer ground than he'll get on Tuesday. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Given some time to recover, he returned to action to beat Ptit Zig at Haydock, before getting the better of Zarkander at Wincanton, with Grumeti further back in third. 

While he has to step up on those efforts, he's clearly going the right way and entitled to his place in the field; however, the ground is a big concern at this highest level and he may find things happening too quickly for him.

My Tent Or Yours

Top-class individual who is unbeaten in four starts since being outstayed up the Cheltenham hill by Champagne Fever in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, where Jezki was back in third.

Having effortlessly landed the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, he gained revenge on The New One (who had beaten him in a bumper) in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, before rounding off his preparation with an easy win in a jumpers' bumper at the same venue.

A strong-travelling sort, many have suggested he's all speed and will struggle to stay up the hill. However, there was little wrong with the way he came up the hill in the Supreme, and he was only outstayed by Champagne Fever who already looked in need of a trip and has proven to have got further since.

Nicky Henderson's charge can race keenly, so won't want this race to turn into a crawl, so the presence of Captain Cee Bee will be a great help and if AP McCoy can get him settled, this strong-traveller could make them all go.

Our Conor

A facile wide-margin winner of the 2013 Triumph Hurdle, Our Conor has twice finished behind Hurricane Fly in recent starts, and that may be the case again.

He did make the Willie Mullins horse pull out all the stops in the Irish Champion Hurdle, heading Hurricane Fly over the last, but he couldn't hold off the renewed effort of the reigning Champion Hurdle winner on the run-in and gave best to the champion late on.

That was a step up from his earlier effort when only finding only the one pace behind Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle, and he should be competitive again on Tuesday.

He's been described as a bridle-horse though in some quarters, and he appeared to lack some heart when challenged again by Hurricane Fly on the run-in, and it is debatable if he will come up the Cheltenham hill in the heat of battle against these rivals.


2013 Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor has been a popular selection among punters for the Champion Hurdle. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

While his Triumph Hurdle win was certainly impressive, there has been little to come out of the race from those who finished behind him, and he was so far clear of the field that the hill was a relative non-issue

He'll certainly be in there with every chance, and is still open to plenty of improvement even at this high level, so can't be easily dismissed although he may need more time to mature before he can take over the Champion Hurdle mantle.

Ptit Zig 

A Group One winner in France, Ptit Zig put up a fair performance under top-weight in the Ladbroke at Ascot behind the handicap blot that was Willow's Saviour.

He was beaten by Diakali in the Prix Alain Du Breil at Auteil fin an earlier, and that runner has proven no match for Our Conor over in Ireland.


Ptit Zig has plenty of improvement to find if he's to be competitive, and was beaten behind Melodic Rendezvous last time. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Paul Nicholls' runner also proved no match for Melodic Rendezvous in the mud at Haydock on his last run in a Grade Two trial for this race, and he has plenty to find if he's to get involved, although the better ground may aid his chances.

However it is difficult to make a case for him as a likely winner and he will likely struggle even to reach the places in this contest.

The New One 

Nigel Twiston-Davies' runner has been a real talking horse for this race since winning last year's Neptune and readily landed the odds on his reappearance run in a four-runner affair at Kempton when beating Arkle hope, Rock On Ruby.

He has since beaten Zarkander at Cheltenham, but failed to run the speed out of My Tent Or Yours back at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle, and blotted his copybook in some fashion in both races by making a horlicks of the last. Its debatable whether My Tent Or Yours would have won the latter race with a clean jump

The New One has a potent mix of speed and stamina, and looks an ideal type for a race of this nature. However, the way My Tent Or Yours got upsides in that Kempton race tempers enthusiasm that he'll possess the tactical speed required to hold a position although his stamina could see him running on up the hill.

With those last-flight mistakes also strong in the memory, Sam Twiston-Davies' charge can't afford to make another similar mistake in this company where he'll be jumping the last at speed; however, if everything drops right for him he should put in a bold bid and will relish the hill.

VERDICT

A tough race to call, where chances can be given to most of the runners in a hugely competitive renewal.

There are concerns about The New One being out-sped at this trip having won the Neptune over further, and he failed to run the sting out of My Tent Or Yours at Kempton. Its debatable whether he would have won there despite making a mistake at the last.

Nicky Henderson's horse possesses plenty of speed and travels well, and showed plenty of battling qualities to get upsides and past The New One at Kempton, and although outstayed into second in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the better ground will help as will the presence of Captain Cee Bee who should ensure a decent gallop. 

There are doubts too over Our Conor, who perhaps isn't the heartiest of battlers when he allowed Hurricane Fly to get back at him on the run-in during the Irish Champion Hurdle, and he may struggle to come up the hill in a truly-run race.


Hurricane Fly is the one they all have to beat, and Willie Mullins' star can land a third Champion Hurdle. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

Jezki should fare better on the quicker ground and with a stronger pace to chase, and with Barry Geraghty 4-4 on him, he's no forlorn hope but they all need to get past HURRICANE FLY who is bidding for a third Champion Hurdle, and a 20th Grade One success over timber.

He's looked as good as ever this season, beating Jezki, Our Conor and Captain Cee Bee twice already, and with Willie Mullins bullish about his chances, he is the one to beat and he should pay another visit to the winners' enclosure at Cheltenham.

Brian Healy's Champion Hurdle Selections:

Hurricane Fly @ 10/3

Jezki @ 10/1 (each-way)


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2014 Champion Hurdle tips - Hurricane Fly to land Champion Hurdle hat-trick

Brian Healy takes a look at the Champion Hurdle field in his runner-by-runner guide to Tuesday's big feature race.

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