Our Conor set to dethrone Hurricane Fly and become the new champion by Matthew Glazier
There are four horses trading at a similar price for what should be a fascinating Champion Hurdle renewal, with three of them successful during last year’s Festival, while My Tent Or Yours came a close second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Even with Annie Power set to run in the World Hurdle where there is supposedly less competition, there is more than enough for punters to get excited about, with Jezki and Un De Sceaux potentially adding intriguing sub-plots for this two mile hammer-and-tongs battle which could see Hurricane Fly win the race for a third time.
After spending a good deal of his earlier racing career being injured, the Irish raider has now recorded nineteen Grade 1 successes, the latest of which came at Leopardstown where the ten-year-old held off a stiff challenge from Our Conor to record a one-and-a-half-length victory.
Trainer Willie Mullins said after that latest performance: “I thought he was beaten coming out of the last bend and going to the last hurdle and then he put down his head and battled.
“I thought he was going away at the line. I was very pleased that he could do that. I’ve been telling everyone all year, I think he could be better this year. You don’t expect a horse to improve at his age.”
A failure to win the Champion Hurdle in 2012 remains the only blot on what is an impressive copybook of the Irish raider, with bet365 offering 11/4 and Non-Runner No Bet that the Fly claims a hat-trick of titles.
However, despite nine straight victories since Rock On Ruby’s Cheltenham success two years ago, the bookies feel as though Hurricane Fly can be taken on, with three younger horses all looking to show the required improvement necessary to win this prestigious race.
Our Conor produced the most impressive performance of the entire Festival in 2013 when destroying his opponents in the Triumph Hurdle. The four-year-old was fifteen lengths too good for his rivals and wasn’t far behind Hurricane Fly in his last outing.
Trainer Dessie Hughes is confident that the horse goes to Cheltenham with a “fighting chance” and despite five-year-olds not having a particularly good record in this race, the fact that he improved markedly in the Triumph last season than previous races bodes very well for his backers.
We should remember that Hughes knows what it takes to win a Champion Hurdle, having saddled Hardy Eustace to two victories in this race, the first of which was a surprise win against Rooster Booster before defending his crown when seeing off Harchibald and Brave Inca.
The trainer said after his latest race: “For three or four strides after the last I thought we had him but the other old boy just wore him down.
“Being a young horse, he should improve and I think Cheltenham improved him last year; he was definitely a stone better horse last year at Cheltenham. He appeared to love the track (at Cheltenham) and he’s definitely a better horse on better ground.
“All in all, I think we’ll be going to Cheltenham more optimistic than pessimistic and he must go there with a fighting chance.”
Paddy Power offer 4/1 and ¼ odds first three places which means that an each-way bet on Our Conor will at least return your stake if the horse finishes in the first three. This looks eminently achievable considering he may simply need to beat one out of The New One and My Tent Or Yours.
The latter pair clashed at Kempton on Boxing Day and neither horse was particularly fluent over hurdles that day, with The New One clattering the last which ultimately saw the Nigel Twiston-Davies charge lose to his rival by half a length.
Despite this defeat, last year’s Neptune winner could go off favourite on the day, having produced a quality performance on good to soft ground twelve months ago, while there was plenty to like about The New One’s victories at Kempton and Cheltenham before that defeat in the Christmas Hurdle.
Indeed, Twiston-Davies is backing his charge to frank that Christmas Hurdle result and feels that the track will be better suited to the horse.
“The New One is top-class, he did a very good bit of work on Tuesday and we’re looking forward to Cheltenham,” Twiston-Davies told At The Races.
“I think we can turn the form around with My Tent Or Yours, I think most people think Cheltenham will suit our horse more than My Tent Or Yours and a really true-run race, which it will be, will also suit him better.
“It’s more of a stamina test with the hill and it should suit our horse more I should think.”
Tony McCoy has been booked to take the ride of My Tent Or Yours and the horse has won all four of his outings this term, with the champion jockey opting to ride the seven-year-old rather than stablemate Jezki which is a clear statement of which horse he feels has the better chance of winning.
My Tent is a 9/2 chance to claim victory and there is no reason to suggest he won’t be in the shake-up at the end of the race, although many feel as though the race comes down to a straight tussle between the two main Irish protagonists rather than the English pair. There is also the slight negative that the horse sustained a sore hoof in the lead-up to the race.
Jezki was third behind Champagne Fever and My Tent in the Supreme last season, while his performance when finishing fourth in the Irish Champion Hurdle does not suggest that the horse can oblige at bigger odds of 10/1.
However, Un De Sceaux has attracted plenty of interest despite being a supposed Willie Mullins second string horse, with the trainer yet to decide whether the French horse will take his place in the race.
The six-year-old is relatively untested after three facile victories in Ireland when obliging at heavy odds-on on each occasion and it might be that the horse swerves the Champion Hurdle so that Mullins can put all his efforts into ensuring Hurricane Fly makes history.
RECOMMENDATION: Our Conor @ 4/1 e/w with Paddy Power NRNB