When A Fire Starts To Burn

When A Fire Starts To Burn

The consensus seems to be that only 3 horses can win the Champion Hurdle – Faugheen, The New One and Jezki – and all are top class horses. Faugheen (5/4) is known as the monster at Closutton and he could easily become one of the greats. A fast run 2m on good ground would look to suit ideally and he’s so quick that it’ll take a huge performance to beat him.

If he has a weakness it’s that he’s not a natural hurdler. He generally jumps well enough though and when he is a bit scrappy, it doesn’t seem to affect his momentum. The only issue is his price – he’s 5/4 against two other proven top notchers. He’ll surely be a bigger price on the morning of the race if all 3 get there, so if you’re not already on, I couldn’t recommend backing him now.

The New One (3/1) divided opinion after last season’s Champion Hurdle – between those who thought he’d have won had he not been hampered by Our Conor’s fall at the 3rd, and those who felt he had every chance and got done for toe coming down the hill, before staying on all too late. A lot of it was pocket talking, but it might not be that relevant for this season’s renewal as he looks a quicker horse this season.

I’ve been taken by the style of his wins at Haydock and especially in the Bula (International) last month, (though Vaniteux didn’t do much for the form when beaten on the same terms by Rock On Ruby next time.) Like Faugheen, there are plenty who like to crab his jumping, but I think his technique is improving all the time and I’m less concerned about his jumping that I was before last season’s renewal.

The placed horses from the previous season’s renewal have a good record, (in contrast to the other 3 championship events,) with this century Hors La Loi, Brave Inca, Punjabi, Binocular & Hurricane Fly all having been placed in the renewal before winning. He has a leading chance, but if Faugheen lines up with his unbeaten record in tact, he’s also likely to be a bigger price on the day.

Jezki (6/1) reminds me of Hardy Eustace in that a lot of people have labeled him a lucky winner. The consensus after 33/1 shot Hardy Eustace beat the 11/8 defending champion Rooster Booster was that Conor O’Dwyer had stolen the race by dictating a stop-start pace, knowing Rooster Booster liked a breakneck gallop. Hardy Eustace silenced the doubters by winning again the following year.

Jezki has been beaten twice by Hurricane Fly on testing ground this season, but he got a lot closer to him last time at Leopardstown than he did in those races last season, which suggests he’s continuing to improve. Jezki needs a fast run race and good ground – assuming he gets that in the Champion he looks an each-way bet to nothing as it’d be a big surprise if he wasn’t in the first 3. He might be slightly shorter by raceday but, (assuming they all get there,) I’m expecting at least 5/1 to be available so there’s not much point backing him now either.

The 3 of them are currently taking up 84% of the over-round and it’s shaping up as the sort of race where there ought to be some each-way value at fancy prices, because of the lack of depth in the race.

The Champion Hurdle is the one championship race where you tend to get surprises – 8 of the 14 winners this century have gone off at 9/1 or bigger, including Sublimity (16/1), Punjabi, (22/1) and Hardy Eustace (33/1). The average SP during that period of nearly 10/1 is more than double that of the other 3 championship races. Whilst at this stage it looks as if one of the 3 market leaders must win, a shock shouldn’t be ruled out. I’m therefore not looking for an each-way long shot to run into a place – I’m looking for one that can win.

There aren’t many to choose from as Hurricane Fly (14/1) is 11 now and, whilst he is still a great horse, its hard to see him winning unless the ground is genuinely testing. We saw again last season that it doesn’t matter how wet the winter is – if the ten days in the run up to the Festival are dry and mild, there’ll be a sound surface. Patrick Mullins has said that he felt Hurricane Fly’s head carriage suggested, when beaten at Cheltenham and Punchestown in the spring, that he didn’t like good ground now. You couldn’t back him at this stage, but if the forecast in the run up to the Festival is for a lot of rain in the couple of days before the race – he’d have a chance, (in particular as Faugheen and especially Jezki wouldn’t want a lot of cut.)

Of the others at shorter than 50/1 in the market, they virtually all have other targets - Un De Sceaux (Arkle), Annie Power (Mares Hurdle), Josses Hill (Arkle) & Rock On Ruby (World Hurdle).

Therefore there only looks to be one strategy at this stage – to back Arctic Fire (33/1) each-way. He’s a headstrong type, (always raced in a hood for Willie Mullins,) and can be keen in his races. He’s just the type to not show his form in steadily run trials, (too keen when a disappointing 5¾l 3rd to Irving in the Fighting Fifth on unsuitably soft ground,) before improving for a faster run race and better ground in the Champion.

The Ryanair Hurdle was run at a quicker pace than most of the conditions races as JP McManus ran a couple of outsiders to ensure Jezki got some sort of decent pace. Arctic Fire settled better there and ran a blinder to be beaten just 1¾l on soft ground he hates. Willie Mullins said afterwards “We’ve always thought he was a Champion Hurdle horse and he’s showing that now.” Good ground and a strongly run Champion Hurdle look his ideal conditions.

Last season he ran in the County rather than the Supreme as Mullins expected the ground to be quicker later in the week. In fact the opposite happened as the new course was watered and a fair bit slower than the old course – which possibly cost Arctic Fire victory, (½l 2nd off 141.)

He’s a really talented second season hurdler who’s improving all the time, and if there is genuinely good ground I think he could cause an upset. Even if he doesn’t – with such a gulf between Faugheen, The New One, Jezki, Hurricane Fly and his other opponents – he must have a great chance of being placed. With Sky Bet being 33/1 non runner, no bet, there’s no reason not to get stuck in now.

1pt e/w Arctic Fire for the Champion Hurdle @ 33/1 (NRNB)

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Cheltenham Countdown

The best Cheltenham Festival blog on the planet returns for 2015!

Over the past three years our National Hunt expert Matt Tombs has held our hands on the road to the Cheltenham Festival, with analysis and bets through the season, but the main focus being on the four days in March that brings the racing world together.

Matt has turned a profit every year, and in 2014 ante-post bets on Jezki (12/1) and Balthazar King (33/1) ensured it was another successful Festival. View the archive of years past at 2014, 2013 and 2012.

You can also follow and contact Matt on Twitter.

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Cheltenham Portfolio:

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Bentelimar - Supreme Novices - 0.5pts e/w 50/1 - U/P

Un De Sceaux - Arkle - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Smashing - Arkle w/o Un De Sceaux - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - Champion Hurdle - 1pt e/w 33/1 NRNB - 2nd

Polly Peachum - Mares Hurdle - 1pt e/w 10/1 NRNB - 2nd

Cause Of Causes - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 8/1 NRNB - WON

Wounded Warrior - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 10/1 - N/R

Vroum Vroum Mag - National Hunt Chase - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Cocktails At Dawn - Novices Handicap Chase - 1pt 16/1 NRNB - U/P

Jarry D'Honneur - Novices Handicap Chase - 1pt 16/1 NRNB - N/R

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Nichols Canyon - Neptune Novices - 1pt 6/1 NRNB - 3rd

Arbre De Vie - Neptune Novices - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - N/R

Champagne West - RSA Chase - 1pt 16/1 - N/R

Valseur Lido - RSA Chase - 1pt 10/1 NRNB - N/R

Simply Ned - Champion Chase - 1pt e/w 33/1 - U/P

Sire Collonges - Cross Country - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Moon Racer - Champion Bumper - 1pt 12/1 - WON

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Apache Stronghold - JLT - 1pt 16/1 - 2nd

Caid Du Berlais - Ryanair Chase - 1pt 25/1 - N/R

Un Temps Pour Tout - World Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Whisper - World Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P

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Rich Coast - County Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 NRNB - U/P

Shantou Bob - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 25/1 - U/P

Martello Tower - Albert Bartlett - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Dynaste - Gold Cup - 1pt 25/1 - N/R

Smad Place - Gold Cup - 1pt e/w 25/1 NRNB - U/P

Current Event - Foxhunter Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

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15 or more - Total Irish Winners - 1pt 9/1 - Lost

Mullins treble - Novice Hurdles - 1pt 20/1 - Lost

Fred Winter - Longest Winning SP Race - 1pt 20/1 - Lost

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Other bets:

Shanahan's Turn - Novice Handicap Chase - 1pt 12/1 - U/P

Pearlysteps - Champion Hunters Chase - 1pt 9/1 - 3rd

Rivage D'Or - La Touche Cup - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Lots Of Memories - World Series Hurdle - 1pt e/w 40/1 - U/P

Ballynagour - Punchestown Gold Cup - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

No More Heroes - Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle - 1pt 10/3 - U/P

Ange D'Or Javilex - Martinstown Handicap Hurdle - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Modus - Champion INH Flat Race - 1pt 5/1 - 3rd

Valseur Lido - Growise Novice Chase - 1pt 9/1 - WON

Mallowney - Boylesports Champion Chase - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Saint Are - Grand National - 1pt 33/1 - 2nd

Corrin Wood - Grand National - 1pt 100/1 - U/P

Cole Harden - Liverpool Hurdle - 1pt 11/4 - 2nd

Nichols Canyon - Mersey Novices Hurdle - 1pt 7/2 - WON

Sizing Granite - Maghull Novices Chase - 1pt 6/1 - WON

Simply Ned - Melling Chase - 1pt 22/1 - U/P

Carraig Mor - Mildmay Novices Chase - 1pt 14/1 - 2nd

Roi Des Francs - Sefton Novices Hurdle - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Blue Heron - Aintree Hurdle - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Silviniaco Conti - Aintree Bowl - 1pt 3/1 - WON

Dresden - Red Rum Chase - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Neverownup - Fox Hunter Chase - 1pt 40/1 - U/P

Wicklow Brave - Betfair Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - U/P

Houblon Des Obeaux - Denman Chase - 1pt 10/3 - 2nd

On His Own - Irish Hennessy - 1pt 7/2 - U/P

Apache Stronghold - Flogas Novice Chase - 1pt 5/1 - WON

Un Temps Pour Tout - Cleeve Hurdle - 1pt 11/4 - 3rd

Robinsfirth - Classic Novice Hurdle - 1pt 8/1 - U/P

Arctic Fire - Irish Champion Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - 2nd

Twinlight - Clarence House Chase - 1pt 6/1 - U/P

Katie T - Boylesports Hurdle - 1pt 12/1 - WON

Lord Windermere - Lexus Chase - 1pt 13/2 - U/P

Dedigout - Leopardstown Xmas Hurdle - 1pt 33/1 - U/P

Le Vent d'Antan - Beginners' Chase - 1pt 3/1 - WON

Al Ferof - King George - 1pt 6/1 - 3rd

Purple Bay - Christmas Hurdle - 1pt 20/1 - 2nd

Simply Ned - Dial-a-Bet Chase - 1pt 10/1 - 3rd

Corrin Wood - Rowland Meyrick - 1pt 8/1 - 3rd

Ma Filleule - King George - 2pts 33/1 - N/R

Hello George - Ladbroke - 1pt 14/1 - U/P

Caid Du Berlais - December Gold Cup - 1pt 7/2 - U/P

Zamdy Man - International Hurdle - 1pt e/w 12/1 - U/P

Dodging Bullets - Tingle Creek - 1pt 10/1 - WON

Irish Saint - Henry VIII - 1pt 13/8 - U/P

Ma Filleule - Betfred Chase - 1pt 9/4 - U/P

Benny's Mist - Grand Sefton - 1pt 12/1 - 3rd

Rocky Creek - Hennessy Gold Cup - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Aurore D'Estruval - Fighting Fifth - 1pt 4/1 - 2nd

Real Steel - Drinmore - 1pt 12/1 - 3rd

Tandem - Royal Bond - 1pt 10/1 - U/P

Menorah - Betfair Chase - 1pt 9/1 - 2nd

Zamdy Man - Price Rush Hurdle - 1pt 25/1 - 2nd

Caid Du Berlais - Paddy Power Gold Cup - 1pt 16/1 - WON

Sausalito Sunrise - Club Novices Chase - 1pt 3/1 - 2nd

Simply Ned - Shloer Chase - 1pt 9/4 - 2nd

Regal Encore - Greatwood Hurdle - 1pt 16/1 - U/P

Jezki - Morgiana Hurdle - 1pt 4/5 - 2nd