Irish Champion Hurdle Preview
The feature race from Ireland on Sunday is the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, a Grade 1, run at Leopardstown and due off at 2.35.
Although there are only four runners, each of quartet is a multiple Grade 1 winner, and three have won at the Cheltenham Festival, with the other a close third there. Indeed, the quartet can boast 26 Grade 1 victories between them! Whilst that is of course skewed by Hurricane Fly's record eighteen Grade 1 successes, the remaining trio's return of eight collective top pots cannot be crabbed.
As well as the odds-on favourite, Hurricane Fly, there are two other Champion Hurdle contenders currently quoted at single figure prices for the Cheltenham showpiece in opposition. Jezki and Our Conor are both a top priced 8/1 to win the Blue Riband in March, and either will surely have to lower the Fly's colours to have a serious chance of replicating the feat six weeks hence.
Captain Cee Bee completes the group and he may be in here to help Jezki from a pace perspective, despite having been a fine warrior in his younger days. Now aged thirteen, it's hard to see him being even nearly fast enough to beat all of the other three, and he is readily discounted from projections.
Hurricane Fly is one of THE stars of the winter game, and has been for a number of years now. Winner of the Champion Hurdle in 2011 and 2013 - and arguably given far too much to do in 2012 when third - the Fly is also unbeaten at Leopardstown in seven starts. Now a ten-year-old he is clearly not getting any quicker, and his first run of the season was a laboured verdict over 138-rated stablemate, Marito. When you consider that Our Conor and Jezki are both rated in the 160's, Hurricane Fly will clearly have to step up on that effort.
Luckily for Fly fans, he has already shown more lustre than on that seasonal bow when beating four rivals - including all three of today's re-opposing runners - in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas. The margins there were two and a half lengths back to Jezki and a further three and a quarter back to Our Conor, with Captain Cee Bee another four lengths away in fourth.
On that form, there is no obvious reason why Jezki should finish in front of Hurricane Fly, but Our Conor is entitled to come on a good bit for his first hurdles start since last March. He has nigh on six lengths to find with Hurricane Fly but just three to match Jezki.
The tactics on Sunday look like being exactly the same as at the end of December, with Captain Cee Bee cutting out the spadework for Jezki and, in so doing, setting things up nicely for Conor and the Fly, both of whom are happy enough off a swinging gallop. In truth, there's every chance of this race being a carbon copy of the Ryanair Hurdle and, in that context, Hurricane Fly is the one to beat. Unfortunately, his price of 4/7 reflects that.
There are however two ways to improve on those skinny odds.
1. Play a forecast with Our Conor in second, as he's expected to strip a lot fitter than four weeks ago.
2. Open a new account with Paddy Power and take advantage of their massive 3/1 offer. (Conditions apply)