Champion Hurdle Tips : Grandouet Zarkandar Binocular battle with Hurricane Fly

Known as the highlight of the first day at the Festival, the Champion Hurdle has provided some spectacular moments over the years and has produced just as many spectacular horses that are etched into Cheltenham folklore as this year Hurricane Fly is the horse to beat.

Perhaps the greatest multiple winner of the race was Sea Pigeon, who won the hurdle feature in 1980 and 1981. The fact that he was so dominate in a golden age of hurdling probably lifts him above the many other multiple winners. Monksfield (1978 and 1979), Night Nurse (1976 and 1977), Bird’s Nest, Dramatist and Sea Pigeon himself all used to regularly compete against each other in some fascinating battles which established real interest from not just the racing public but fans across the whole sporting spectrum.

Originally Sea Pigeon was bred to be a smart Flat horse and delivered that potential by racking up big-race handicap victories in the Chester Cup in 1977 and 1978 along with a memorable top-weight victory in the 1978 Ebor. When switched to jump racing under trainer Peter Easterby his Champion Hurdle winning exploits were put on hold for a couple of seasons after twice finishing second behind the Monksfield in 1978 and 1979. But he soon got his revenge as for the next two seasons he saw off all before him at Prestbury Park – first sprinting clear under jockey Jonjo O’Neill in 1980 before landing the spoils a year later thanks to one of the great Festival rides by John Francome.

Champion Hurdle Tip

Hurricane Fly should romp home but those seeking value could do no better than Overturn at 40/1. Take advantage of a free £100/€100 bet we’ve negotiated with Paddy Power! Spend it on any race, use it as a saver, put it on a favourite. Claim here!

Another legend of Cheltenham courtesy of his Champion Hurdle exploits is three-time winner Istabraq.

After already showing a liking for Cheltenham by winning the Royal Sunalliance Novices’ Hurdle in 1997, trainer Aiden O’Brien dropped him back to the two mile distance of the Champion the following season and what transpired over the next three years turned a horse that once upon a time didn’t break his maiden on the Flat until his fourth race, into a legend of the sport.

His wins in 1998, 1999 and 2000 were all done in tremendous style and by an aggregate of 19 lengths. He was denied a record-breaking fourth in 2001 when he was pulled up despite going off a well-backed favourite, but he will be remembered for his brilliance in years gone by than the way he limply bowed out.

This season’s renewal could announce another potential legend of the sport as Hurricane Fly looks to register back-to-back wins in the race. He looked as good as ever in his comeback race in Ireland and will be the one to beat when the tapes are released come the Festival.

Many people’s banker of the entire Cheltenham Festival will be Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle – and it’s going to take a brave, or maybe a stupid, man to bet against him.

His credentials are near flawless.

Not only is he the defending champion, it looks as though, if his comeback race is anything to go by, the Fly has come back this season bigger and better than ever.

He made his much anticipated course debut at Cheltenham last season after years of dominating the Irish hurdling scene but injuries had cost Britain it’s chance of seeing Willie Mullins’ charge in action. He was worth the wait last season though as he sauntered clear of a top-class field to let everyone know there was a new hurdling superstar on the scene.

Mullins took his time to let loose his stable star this season, but his eagerly anticipated return in the Irish Champion Hurdle was one to savour. Under Ruby Walsh he scored by six-and-a-half lengths at Leopardstown from Oscars Well in a style that could be only described as scintillating. The markets for Cheltenham reacted accordingly, cutting him in to odds-on to join modern day legends such as Night Nurse (1976 and 1977), Sea Pigeon (1980 and 1981), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Istabraq (1998, 1999 and 2000) and Hardy Eustace (2004 and 2005) in becoming a multiple winner of the prestigious hurdle race.

Nicky Henderson’s Grandouet is the next in the betting and probably should give the favourite the most to think about. He has progressed plenty since finishing third in a very hot Triumph Hurdle last season, but five-year-old’s don’t have a great record in the race with Katchit for Alan King in 2005 the only five-year-old winner since 1986.

Paul Nicholls’ main challenger, Zarkandar, is also taking the Triumph to Champion Hurdle route and actually beat Grandouet by two and a half lengths in last season’s four-year-old Festival event. He is also lacking in experience though, and the hustle and bustle of a Champion Hurdle may be too hot for the youngster to handle.

If you’re looking for an each-way alternative to the favourite then look no further than Donald McCain’s admirable Overturn. He won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in some style earlier in the season and has been given a length break since a couple of pleasing runs in the autumn. McCain’s charge will love spring ground at Prestbury Park and should have the ability to run into a place.


Over 10 years in football analysis and online publishing with articles featured in a number of different publications.

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