Top 5 Moments of Cheltenham Festival 2014

Eastlake-Aintree-AP-McCoy-SL_3025804[1] The best week of the year is now over. It was as billed to be a surprising four days and as far a winners go it did not disappoint. I’m not one to be taken in by odds given by bookmakers but just glancing down at the winners just of the four premier races, with the exception of the Queen Mother champion chase, the prices alone can confirm that not many expected many of the results over the last week.

I was doing some reading on the social media sites on the Monday before kick off and someone had tweeted a picture of what they believed to be the main contenders of the most exciting Champion Hurdle in recent years. The picture showed Henderson’s My Tent or Yours, two time winner Hurricane Fly, Twiston Davies’ young the pretender the New One and the ill fated Our Conor. There was a comment underneath the picture from a user that asked: “Where is Jezki?” and the witty repose was: “Something people will be asking around 3.26pm tomorrow.” This puts a lot of weeks results in a nutshell. Surprise winners and therefore, I believe, exciting racing.

I have picked out my Top 5 favourite moments of the meeting.

5. Balthazar is king of the Cross Country:

This was undoubtedly one of the most impressive and popular performances of the week. As we have learnt from this festival especially it takes a great horse to come back to a festival let alone defend his crown. In the case of Balthazar King it wasn’t what he did, it was the manner in which he did it. Having lead most of the way through the twists and turns of Cheltenham’s famous cross country race, he was hard pressed by the fast finishing Any Currency but held on to beat him by a short head. Not only was this one of the most exciting finishes of the week it was a prime example of why Richard Johnson is the second most successful jockey in history. He has a way of hunting round, not panicking and let his horses approach a race naturally. Hopefully the National will be the next stop for this talented horse and if he does come round the Elbow in front it will be Johnsons first win in a race and you can’t help but think he deserves to win.

4. Jockeys, jockeys, jockeys

I wonder what the odds for Barry Geraghty having three winners at the Festival were? Pretty short I would imagine. Take Nicky Henderson out of that equation and I would think if there is a person out there who took that bet they are most likely sitting on a beach somewhere in the South Pacific having paid off the mortgage and all their children’s school fees. It was almost unbelievable. But what it exemplified was…Need someone for a big race? Barry’s your man. The rides he gave all three horses were exceptional. Especially on More of That. Coming up the hill Annie Power looked to be going the better of the two and but Geraghty’s strength in a finish is second to none. This week it also seemed he liked a nice spin round on a spare ride preferably a JP Mcmanus horse.

De Boinville vs AP?….De Boinville
We truly are in a Golden Age of jockeys. The list of top class riders is endless, AP McCoy head and shoulders above the rest? However young rider Nico de Boinville based at Nicky Henderson’s Lamborn yard is possibly most known for being the work rider for both Sprinter Sacre and Long Run. Now he will be most notable for riding his bosses sole winner of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival. It came in the Coral cup on Wednesday aboard the Dai Walters owned Whisper. This victory was sweet redemption for the young rider having been beaten a short head the day before but also because the man he beat into second was the magician in a finish, the man who many people believe has the capabilities to get a 15 year old donkey across the line in front. It was pure guts and determination and absolute joy to witness.

3. Nostalgia as Culloty is back in the winners enclosure.

It was nearly 10 years ago to the day that jockey Jim Culloty was in the winners enclosure at the festival, albeit in an entirely different outfit. Jockey aboard in all three of Best Mates Gold Cup runs, Jim Culloty must have found it hard to fight all sorts of emotions swirling around his head on Friday. Although Lord Windermere was possibly not the horse most people expected to see come into the enclosure with that rather apocalyptic music blasting from the rooftops, it was however a familiar and satisfying site to see Jim return to the very spot he had made his own for so many years.

He said after the race that his instructions to Davy Russell were to ride a patient race from the back, but half way round admitted to wanting to “sack the jockey” after he believed he had taken the instructions rather too far, as the horse lay right out the back for the best part of two and a half miles. It was the shock of the festival, but no one was more dumbfounded than the jockey himself. It goes to show that these animals can surprise anyone, even the pilot on board.

2. Sire de Grughy doing it for the family..

If there was a horse coming into the week with everything to prove, I believe unfairly, it was the Gary Moore trained Sire de Grugy. This horse had done everything right this season and with the absence of Sprinter Sacre in the 2 mile Champion Chase he deserved to go off favourite. Although the morning of the race he was about as weak as second hand teabag. There were horses who had to find a lot more than this horse, like Captain Conan who were vying for favouritism.

Coming up to the last fence in the Queen Mother there were, I’m sure, plenty of people hanging their heads in shame for ever doubting this progressive chaser when he hopped over the last fence and surged up the hill in front. It was an amazing win for Gary Moore, a trainer who does not get enough credit for the horses his produces for the big days and the way he has handled this horse is nothing short of genius. He has never been afraid to run him, to take on the big guns and always had absolute faith in the horse. It is something we should all admire him for.

1. Quevega.

There are not enough adjectives in the English dictionary to explain the enormity of what this mare has achieved. Her win at the Festival this year was her sixth triumph. To get a horse back for any race at the festival is a feat that not many can ever match, but to get a horse back six times and win all six of them is something I don’t believe will ever be matched again. Coming down the hill although Ruby was looking comfortable, there were also a host of horses which were looking as comfortable and for a second I was naive enough to think that the Queen’s crown was slowly slipping away.

But in usual style she stalked through the field and came up the hill, which incidentally she believes is flat, and produced her normal dominant performance that we as racegoers have rather begun to take for granted.

It is a true testament to Willie Mullins and his incredible team that she has kept her fit and healthy for this long and on Tuesday the heroine became a legend. It truly was the performance of a lifetime, something that will most likely never be repeated.

Away from the good stuff….

Although the week was one of exceptional sporting excellence, one must also not forget that our entertainment can come at a high price. There was a moment on Friday that exemplified no more clearly that elation can often come hand in hand with despair.

Daryl Jacob had been having, by his own and boss Paul Nicholls standards an average week, with no winners. To him Lac Fontana’s win in on the Friday must have had him breathing a heavy sigh of relief. But within 30 minutes of this he was being stretched off the course and on his way to hospital after a freak accident saw him thrown off his horse on the way down to the start.

It is the moments like this we must remember that not everything is about the money we may have lost on the horse. But that everyday these men and women out their health on the line for the benefit of the sport they love so much and sometimes this is repaid in the most unkind of ways.

    Cheltenham Gold Cup Day Tipster Comp 2014

    Day 4 Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Tipster Comp

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    Final Table Cheltenham Gold Cup Day Tipster Comp

    PosLWTwitter UsernameName06-Mar13-Mar20-Mar27-MarTotal
    12spudbob1stephen murphy711171247
    21OAPreeceowain prece714141045
    35ExBamptonPOBruce Benton59121541
    47ozwaldo1985Craig Osborne54141437
    56tomwba1982tom wba01671235
    63KenkenzobanksKen Banks5149735
    74elpwerkoPhil Perkins01414735
    814hirstyno2Shaun Hirst5751532
    98daveki69dave0164727
    1015ferdynezmark rothwell0142925
    119dougan90Andrew Dougan792725
    1212lewismcculloch2lewis mcculloch0414725
    1316SMOKEYFORMBYSimon Knuckey2112924
    1413trueblue140James colford764724
    15101tacyrrahsteve power5112220
    1611Front_row01David Kilroy099220
    1719RogerSmith0909Roger Smith507719
    1823the_phonic39ian williams064717
    1926whufc40Greg Lane007916
    2020LockuptipsterDave2010416
    2118PickeringDeanDean Pickering084416
    2224gfoss1986Gary Foster044715
    2317vi079Dave069015
    2425JohnnyGlenJohn Morris007714
    2522Chimp_AndeeAndrew Atkinson244414
    2629bandwagon1mark stevens204713
    2728flitox2013Daoudi060713
    2821tysonfazTyson Fazackerley560213
    2939vi079Dave0001212
    30Drchris123Chris wright0001212
    31hutts66martin hutton0001212
    3234prokringechantelle202711
    33jimch01Jim Chalmers00099
    343200paulopauloPaul50049
    3531ThedombrfcDom linton50049
    3633shugladhugh orr04048
    3727ajf_sportstipsAndrew06006
    3830davidburza1David Burza50005
    39cavaz04josh carvalho00022
    4035JohnODwyer80John Odwyer00202
    4137rushallsaddlerneil brookes00202
    4236TT_TipsterMatthew00202
    43greigo_ukGreig spencer00000
    4438croke69chris roke00000
    4540gspeirs1gordon speirs00000
    4641RawKyroWill00000

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      Top 5 Cheltenham Festival Highlights 2013

      What a week it was.

      Although I’m still in sulk that I didn’t get to go racing, I did however manage to watch most of the big races mostly thanks, and to an extent the patience, of my classmates who let me put the races up on the big screen while we trying to pump out an 18 page publication about news in Islington. They had to put up with my grumpy demeanour when it dawned on me on Tuesday night, with a feature still unfinished, that a trip to the festival was looking highly unlikely.

      Even though I wasn’t there I thought I would give my Top 5 Festival Highlights:

      The New One5. The New One: That was an incredible performance and is an example of when class and heart just collide. The way he found more and more when he reached the hill was just so impressive. There was a funny moment in an interview after the race when trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies admitted to his son Sam that he almost missed the race because he was in the bathroom. You would not be alone if you had missed the final furlongs because this horse just shot out of nowhere, up the hill and into the abyss. I cannot wait to see this horse next season, you can only imagine he will come back bigger and stronger.

      4. Hurricane Fly: What a moment. There is a reason that when horses tend to lose their crown they very rarely get it back. It is hard. But Hurricane Fly did this with such ease it was just an absolute joy to watch. Rock on Ruby did himself and his connections proud. Now people can stop going on about how last year was fluke because after that run it can safely be assumed that it was no such thing.

      3. Solwhit: Although the festival was without one of its biggest stars for the first time in many years and it was sad. Of course the absence of Big Buck’s left a big whole and it was a disappointment not to see him there. But Solwhit’s win was a true crowd pleaser. It was fantastic to watch a horse that maybe had been on the outskirts of greatness his whole career and not quite made it there, until this moment. It was amazing for him and everyone connected with the horse. People will forever go on about how Big Buck’s wasn’t there and he would have won if he had been. Perhaps this is true, but at the end of the day when all is said and done you can only beat what is put in front of you. Solwhit deserved this win and I’m glad he got it.

      Also we should not forget the run by another horse that has been a pillar of consistency right through his career. Celestial Halo’s run is one that make’s you realise why people love this game. Coming a close second in a champion hurdle and a second in a world hurdle is some feat that should not be forgotten.

      2. Quevega: This was a highlight not just for the festival but racing in general. This was an unbelievable achievement and I bet there was not a dry eye in the house and there shouldn’t have been. Winning five times at the Cheltenham Festival is the hardest thing. We should stand up and salute this mare who oozes class and ability. Well done and hopefully see her next year for number six.

      1. This is hard and a tie was necessary. When you watch these two horses there should be an emotion that seeps through your body: “Wow, aren’t they both immense.” But no it’s jealousy because the same man, the Cheltenham specialist who enjoyed his 50th Cheltenham winner this season, trains them both. Nicky Henderson must think himself the luckiest man in the world not just racing to have horses like Bobs Worth and Sprinter Sacre in his yard at the same time. Some people wait a lifetime for a horse even half as good as these two to come along and Henderson has them both now. What are the chances?
      Bobs Worth
      Although they are both brilliant what makes them capture the imagination the most is they are completely different. You have Sprinter Sacre the “James Bond” as Nicky puts it and Bobs Worth the “Head Boy” maybe not so cool, maybe doesn’t get as many girls but is good at everything- The Overachiever.

      Bobs Worth’s Gold cup was incredible. Again like the New One it was an example of the collision of heart and class to make up one perfect animal. The hill only seems to help him and he keeps going and going it was truly amazing. I don’t doubt this will not be his only Gold Cup- there will be more for sure. Fairytales can come true, Barry Geraghty had “Bob” as youngster and then seven years later won the Gold Cup on him. It’s a story Hollywood would be proud of.

      And what more can you say about Sprinter Sacre? Here is a horse that just does everything with such immense ease. His jumping is out of this world and he goes from A to B with speed and agility. We are lucky to have had Frankel last season and now we have him. We are truly in a Golden Era of horse racing.

      This year was the best, until a dark cloud was cast over Prestbury Park on Thursday when Amateur jockey JT McNamara was taken to hospital with serious spinal damage.

      I know this might seem strange but it as at times like this you see racing the for what it really is, a community where people look out for one another. All people could think about on Friday was not whether their horse was going to come up the hill in front, it was whether their friend was going to be OK. I say friend because this is what all these boys are to each other. Friends. Yes on the track they are competitors but when all is said and done they look out for each other.

      AP, Barry’s and JP McManus’ interviews after their races were not ones of elation, but of compassion and perspective. It was truly emotional and heart warming.

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        Cheltenham 2013



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          RSA Chase Preview 2013 Cheltenham

          Boston BobThe RSA betting market jumped into life this week as it emerged that long time ante-post favourite Dynaste, is likely to drop back in trip for the Jewson Novices’ Chase.
          Dynaste currently remains the 2/1 favourite, but with the majority of bookmakers offering non-runner no-bet, it is not in their favour to change that and connections have revealed the Jewson Novices’ will be his preferred option.
          His absence could be down to a whole host of reasons, yet will still come as a surprise to many after winning so easily over 3m in the Feltham Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
          His route to the festival matches that of stablemate Grands Crus’ route last year that ended in defeat in this race. In fact, no horse has ever won both the Feltham and the RSA in the same season and that, as well as the probable heavy rainfall, may have contributed to trainer David Pipe changing his mind.
          Dynaste’s probable absence leaves a massive whole in at the top of the betting with the Irish trained Boston Bob leading the way at 4/1 to fill it.
          Boston Bob was imperious as a hurdler and went into last year’s festival a red hot favourite in the Albert Bartlett. However, his run came to an abrupt end when he had little answer to the late Brindisi Breeze coming up the hill.

          Latest RSA Chase Betting


          If you had read our ‘5 to follow’ feature at the start of the season you’d know that Boston Bob was one of our selections and a so far promising season as novice puts him in a good position to out his festival blues right.
          However, despite impressing this season, he has not looked sensational in his two runs despite unbeaten and scoring a Grade One at Leopardstown.
          His maiden run over fences came at Navan when he got up by ½ a length to win as the 1/5 favourite. Not flattering by any stretches of the imagination.
          He followed that up with an even closer victory at Leopardstown when battling to get up by a nose in a trilling finish winning as the 6/4 favourite.
          Boston BobWe may not have seen the best of Boston Bob yet and his pedigree suggests he will stay the 3m so you’d have to give him a great chance without Dynaste in the race.
          Unioniste has been a revelation this season and his consistent jumping and ability to stay will put him up there with a fantastic chance of success.
          His only defeat this season came at Cheltenham’s Open Meeting when he had no answers to Dynaste’s speed up the hill.
          Since then, he’s responded with an impressive victory in the December Gold Cup at Cheltenham, course form that will prove vital when running in the traditionally gruelling RSA Chase.
          Nicky Henderson trained Hadrian’s Approach was just beaten by Unioniste last out and could be deemed quite unfortunate not to win that race. His performance when a well beaten second in the Feltham Chase is decent form even though he was more than nine lengths behind Dynaste.
          A horse that has been a real eye catcher this year is David Pipes Goulanes. I said after his latest victory at Wetherby that he could potentially be a player come the festival after getting up by a head to Super Duty, and I stand by that comment especially with stablemate Dyanste not in the race.

          VERDICT

          This race looked like Dynaste’s to lose but with him looking Jewson bound, the race is wide open and I sense there will some big priced contenders challenging.
          Boston Bob looks likely to go off favourite for the race and that is probably justified going off his impressive hurdling form and unbeaten start over fences. However, he doesn’t need to be much shorter than he is right now as there a range of other potential contenders out for the crown.
          He is the classiest horse in the race but will be in good company with the likes of Unioniste and Goulanes looking really solid jumpers and stayers. Boston Bob will undoubtedly have to raise his game to win this.
          Unioniste’s December Gold Cup win came from bottom weight of 9-9 with 16lbs in hand on second placed Walkon. He was undoubtedly better than the handicappers made him out that day but he was lucky to beat Hadrian’s Approach last out.
          Goulanes looks a real good horse but this is a massive rise in class and he is somewhat unexposed at this level. However, at 10/1, he is much better value than his rivals and doesn’t look that far away.

          Winner: Goulanes (10/1 Bet Victor)

            Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle Preview 2013

            365284_1[1]This year’s Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle looks set to be a real blockbuster with the best of British and Ireland going head-to-head for festival glory.
            Ante-post favourite Pont Alexandre looks a real classy hurdler and punters will feel even more confident about their backing this five-year-old, with trainer Willie Mullins, claiming this is his best chance of festival success. A bold statement, especially when you think he has Quevega (as short as 1/2) to continue her festival winning streak.
            His class is there for all to see. He has bags of speed and combines that speed in his jumping and looks a real stayer. You don’t really look for much more in a race like this.
            He smashed his rivals on debut at Navan, coming home 13 lengths ahead of Busty Brown. The odds on favourite Don Cossack fell at the last in that race but it would not have stopped Pont Alexandre from slamming him.
            He is not the only Irish chance in this race with Jonjo O’Neill trained Taquin Du Seuil 6/1 and Rule The World 10/1, emphasising the Irish stronghold on this race.
            Taquin Du Seuil will be the mount of champion jockey AP McCoy and although his all round speed and jumping don’t stand out as much as other rivals, he has quietly gone about his business and picked up the coverted Grade One Challow Hurdle.
            Trainer Jonjo O’Neill thinks the world of this six-year-old but he had no answers to My Tent Or Yours pace on his second run and only loss of the season.
            However, despite that defeat, O’Neill believes he has improved leaps and bounds since we last saw him and that he’ll have his star novice in tip top condition come the festival. Another plus point is how versatile he is with the ground. With unpredictability surrounding the ground going at The Festival, that will prove in his favour.
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            Despite the Irish having three of the top four in the betting, the race is by no means going to Ireland as The New One holds massive claims on behalf of Britain.
            The Nigel Twiston-Davies trained five-year-old looks the real deal despite a ¼ length defeat by At Fishers Cross on heavy ground at Cheltenham last month.
            He will have definitely learnt more from that race and improve for it. Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies probably went slightly too early on him and on another day, on better ground, would have gone on to win easily.
            Last year’s Champion Bumper sixth followed up that festival ride with an emphatic win over My Tent Or Yours at Aintree on Grand National day. Bearing in mind My Tent Or Yours emphatic Betfair Hurdle win last month, that form looks very good.
            Twiston-Davies regards this five-year-old as potentially one of the best he has trained and a win in this race come the festival will set him on his way to potential greatness.
            Puffin Billy (12/1) was beaten last time out by Melodic Rendezvous. Connections suggested there were genuine excuses but he looked well beaten for most of that race and will have to improve immensely to challenge.
            Chatterbox (14/1) is a very interesting one, should he run, as he holds some potentially tremendous form yet is a large price considering.
            Unbeaten in his three starts but gave out a thumping to a somewhat under-par stablemate, My Tent Or Yours. The form obviously stands out but is dismissed by many as the race time was run extremely slowly. However, with the weather the way it has being, it is hardly surprising that that was the case.

            VERDICT

            This race is so close I have personally changed my mind three times in the space of a couple of weeks. Off first impressions my allegiances lied with Taquin Du Seuil after I was very impressed with the way he went about his win in the Challow Hurdle.
            However, backed into 6/1 from 12’s since tipped by Pricewise leaves me thinking he is now too short.
            Pont Alexandre looks set to go off a short priced favourite with money continuing to come for Willie Mullins’ star. He looks as bomb proof as it gets looking at his performances in Ireland and that is backed up by his trainer’s confidence.
            Many have compared Pont Alexandre to the great Denman and you can see why. He looks like he will go on to be a potential staying chaser as he looks blessed with staying ability. However, should you look further into the comparisons with Denman, you’ll see that Denman went on to lose this race and that is what I see happening to Pont Alexandre.
            The horse that will deliver this defeat will be The New One. I was super impressed with this five-year-old on his first three victories over hurdles, but I was even more impressed the way it was defeated by At Fishers Cross at Cheltenham.
            Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies let him go at an area of the course that is avoided by most on heavy ground but he simply kicked away at phenomenal speed. Should Twiston-Davies have got another chance he’d have held on longer and I’m certain he’d have won very easily.
            Winner: The New One (4/1 William Hill)
            Each Way: Chatterbox (14/1 Ladbrokes)

              Stan James Champion Hurdle Preview Cheltenham 2013

              Rock On Ruby This year’s Stan James Champion Hurdle has the potential to be a real classic with a range of contenders including a possible four previous winners. Current champion Rock On Ruby will be defending his crown against Hurricane Fly, Binocular and Punjabi. Throw in the likes of Grandouet, Zarkandar, Cinders and Ashes and Countrywide Flame and you have a recipe for an absolute thriller.

              The weather has hampered trainer’s preparations this winter but 2011 winner Hurricane Fly has once again been impeccable in Ireland and heads the betting for the third consecutive year.

              Best priced at 15/8 with Paddy Power, punters will be hoping Hurricane Fly’s below par performance last year was just a minor hiccup and he looks primed to bounce back to the top with trainer Willie Mullins claiming he is better than ever.

              The question remains whether he can handle a strong ran gallop. His turn of speed is second to none but he struggled to keep on track with Overturn and Rock On Ruby last year.

              Yes he was probably below par last season and the one solo run leading to the festival may not have helped. However, many believe Ruby Walsh left it too late on catching Rock On Ruby but the fact of the matter is Rock On Ruby was further ahead at the finishing post than he was jumping the last.

              The pace that Overturn brought to the race last year meant that the winning time has only been beaten once since the great Istabraq and whilst the ground was probably quicker than is likely this year, even an on song Hurricane Fly will struggle to match a time similar to last year.

              That said the question is this year is who will inject the pace into the race. It is no secret Rock On Ruby would prefer a strong gallop but with no Overturn, who, if anyone, is likely to take them along?

              Hurricane Fly

              Should no one decide to take it up, Noel Fehily may have to take it up with Rock On Ruby although I’d imagine he’d prefer not to.   A somewhat fortunate victory at Doncaster after Darlan’s tragic fatal fall is Rock On Ruby’s only victory since his famous triumph last year.

              His defeat to Oscar Whisky at Aintree was over 2m4f, a distance he has never won at that distance and so many Festival winners fail at that Aintree meeting.

              His seasonal return came in the International Hurdle in December at Cheltenham. Coming around the bend he seemed to be going best of any, but he hit a flat spot after the penultimate flight and finished a good 8 lengths behind Zarkandar.

              Trainer Harry Fry however was not expecting him to peak in that race and despite looking beat by eventual faller Darlan last out, he ran into a strong head wind and will definitely be better for the run.

              Fry has since come out to express his delight in the form his stable superstar is currently in and he will, like he has most of his career, be a surprise winner should he emulate Hardy Eustace in defending the Champion Hurdle crown.

              Fry inherited Rock On Ruby from Paul Nicholls after Nicholls put his maiden Champion Hurdle success last year down to his then employee Fry.

              Nicholls hopes of himself defending the Champion Hurdle crown comes in the form of Zarkandar.

              The 2011 Triumph Hurdle winner has had a much busier season than last year and looks a much stronger horse as a six-year-old than he did last year.

              His season kicked off to a promising start when getting up to beat stablemate Prospect Wells by a neck and 15lbs despite been the unfancied of the two.

              He kicked on from then to score at Cheltenham over Grandouet and Rock On Ruby but did have 4lbs in hand that day.

              His most recent success came with victory over Khyber Kim at Wincanton. Victory was easy enough and he goes into the race in good form. He looks a real battler and should it turn into a slog for the line, this horse will be hard to pass.

              It will be interesting to see where Nicholls decides to go with this young hurdler with him looking to be a potential stayer. He could be Nicholls long term replacement for Big Bucks.

              Pre-New Year, Nicky Henderson looked to hold a firm hold on the race with Darlan, then ante post favourite, and Grandouet looking very prominent in the betting also. Them thrown in with Binocular meant he held three of the top eight of the betting.

              However, Darlan’s tragic fall coinciding with doubts over the fitness Grandouet’s fitness have somewhat weakened Henderson’s hold on the race.

               

              Grandouet at one point had been pulled out of the betting but Henderson assured punters his injury was not bad enough to keep him out of the festival.

              His form is solid enough and the 4 length victory over Overturn last year was made even more impressive after the former’s second place last year.

              However he has not proved enough to me that he is a strong enough finisher to compete in large fields in top Grade 1 races. It is not that I don’t think he is good enough to win this year’s Champion Hurdle I just think he has the most to prove.

              Grandouet’s stablemate Binocular could well be the forgotten horse this year. The highly talented 2010 winner has nowhere near the amount of grade 1 victories as he should do.

              His season return was a disappointing 3rd against Hurricane Fly but he has never ran well fresh and Henderson seems to get this 9-year-old firing when everyone writes him off.

              Blessed with a phenomenal turn of speed and natural pace, rule Binocular out at your peril. His talent is there for all to see when you see his starting prices.

              Never before has his starting price gone off in double figures and with him currently 10/1 and money continuing to come for Hurricane Fly, it maybe this, is the first time. In fact his biggest starting price was the 2010 Champion Hurdle victory, going on to win at 9/1. Should he stay a similar price he could well be a good each way bet.

              Cinders and Ashes could very well prove to be the forgotten horse in this race. The heavy ground will not have favoured him one bit and he will be out to prove his worth at a big price of 12/1.

              Many thought triumph hurdler victor Countrywide Flame would be a big player before a beaten favourite in the Christmas Hurdle.

              A distant 2nd to Rock On Ruby at Doncaster does him no favours form wise but he is capable of performing on his day, but may still find himself a distance behind a high class field. This race has a poor record for five-year-olds with Katchit the only one to prevail in over 25-years.

              VERDICT

              Hurricaine Fly is seen by many as the one to beat and I have to say I agree. His overall hurdle record is simply outstanding and no one would be surprised should he be the first horse since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 to regain the crown.

              However, with victories in Ireland of 2/5, 1/5 and 1/6 suggest, he has come up against very little and I believe Rock On Ruby will be out to prove last year was no fluke.

              His race will all hinge on how the race is run. A strong gallop will most definitely favour Harry Fry’s defending champion and he will be better than we have seen already this season.

              For some reason this horse has never had the respect from people that he deserves and he has a striking resemblance of Hardy Eustace.

              Eustace was the last horse to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles and my money is on Rock On Ruby to emulate him.

              The field is undoubtedly strong with Zarkandar and Grandouet deserved contenders but I think the race may simply hinge on how the race is run and my personal opinion is that they won’t feature.

              If it is run at a pace then I think Rock On Ruby will win. If not then I’d fancy Hurricane Fly and possibly Binocular.

              Paddy Power are offering money back should Hurricane Fly win creating the perfect opportunity to back Rock On Ruby and Binocular each way.

              Win: Rock On Ruby (11/2 with Paddy Power (If Hurricane Fly wins, money back))

              Each Way: Binocular (10/1 with Coral)