Hurricane Fly is probably the banker favourite of the whole Festival. An outstanding champion last year, the Fly looked to have returned better than ever when simply hacking up in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. With Ruby Walsh motionless, the way he ghosted past top performers Thousand Stars & Oscar Well on the turn for home must have been frightening for his potential opponents at Cheltenham.
It would seem the only horse who could potentially stop him is Zarkandar who must surely have improvement left from a decent handicap win after a lengthy absence. Carrying a fair weight and with the Paul Nicholls yard not firing at the time, there may be much more to come but it’s hard to see last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner troubling the favourite. Binocular is a previous champion but has far too many off days to be considered and literally everything would have to go in his favour for AP McCoy’s mount to get up the hill in front. A better value prospect would be the improving Rock on Ruby who fared well at the Festival last year and at 14/1 represents sound EW value.
Bet: 5pts Hurricane Fly (NAP) 5/4 William Hill, 1pt E/W Rock on Ruby 14/1
The Arkle promised to be one of the best races at the Festival for most of the season but it would appear that the brilliant Sprinter Sacre is scaring off the opposition as we are getting closer. Donald McCain’s decision to switch Peddlers to the Jewson caused a lot of ante-post pain and probably confirmed what most of the industry has known for a while. That Sprinter Sacre is very very special. Special enough to have a horse of the calibre of Peddler’s Cross switch targets. Last year’s Supreme Novice winner Al Ferof would appear to have the best chance of shocking Nicky Henderson’s charge having raced well against more experienced rivals Somersby & Finians Rainbow but as with Hurricane Fly it’s hard to see any chinks in Sprinter Sacre’s armoury despite reversed placings at last year’s Festival. The favourite has progressed remarkably and the demolition job on Peddlers at Kempton stands out in the memory. Of course, Cheltenham is a different proposition but again Sprinter Sacre is a justifiably solid favourite. Cue Card and Menorah make up the shortlist but both disappointed at last year’s Festival. Cue Card, you feel is just a shade short of top class and Menorah would have to find something extra in the jumping department.
Bet: 1.75pts Sprinter Sacre Evens Stan James, 1pt Al Ferof 5/2 Paddy Power on MSB
I think this market is massively misleading and as such would recommend avoiding the favourite Grands Crus. He gamely hacked up at Kempton against his reopposing rival Bob’s Worth but it was worth observing the closing stages of that race where Bob’s Worth, jumping inconsistency aside, was beginning to turn the screw.
Up the demanding hill at Cheltenham, Grands Crus, exuberant style, potentially more suited to an Arkle style race, will be put fully to the stamina test. My gut feeling is that if Bob’s Worth can get his jumping right, which cost him severely against Invictus last time out, then the three times course winner will be able to reverse the placings from the flatter track.
That said, the pick will be the Irish raider Sir Des Champs who has a splendid record and will be fancied to thrive upped in distance against the home opposition. I backed this horse back in January at 14/1 and there has been significant support in recent weeks for a horse that initially looked destined for the Jewson. Opting to take on these better horses over a testing 3m, with First Lieutenant (same owner) also in the field, seems very significant.
Bet: 2pts E/W Sir Des Champs 5/1 Paddy Power