In our second Cheltenham race preview, we look at the Champion Hurdle. This is the first Championship race of the week and it takes place on the opening day of the festival.
Last year’s Neptune Novices Hurdle champion Faugheen has emerged as the early favourite in the Champion Hurdle betting market. A run of eight unbeaten races has convinced many punters that the seven-year-old has what it takes to beat a top class field in the showpiece race on day one. Having swept aside all that has been put before him so far in his career; this race could elevate the son of Germany to true greatness, but he will need to overcome last year’s victor Jezki and two-time former champ Hurricane Fly first. A very short price of 5/4 is the best currently available for Willie Mullins’ young hopeful.
Since winning last year’s race and beating Hurricane Fly at Punchestown last spring, Jezki has lost three times to the 11-year-old Cheltenham veteran. He has a 100% record under jockey Barry Geraghty but it is AP McCoy who will mount the seven-year-old for this year’s defence. The champion jockey has a record of just three from seven on the Jessica Harrington-trained horse and JP McManus’ choice of jockey has surprised many pundits.
Hurricane Fly needs no introduction and a third win here would be a “dream result” for trainer Willie Mullins. He has been in great form this season and has proven that he has the measure of Jezki despite his age handicap. With Faugheen unproven against a field of this quality, there are those that feel Hurricane Fly is the value pick at 8/1.
All eyes will be on Ruby Walsh to see which of Mullins contenders he chooses to ride in this race and his decision will certainly have an effect on the bookmaker’s prices.