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The road to the 2014 Cheltenham Festival: The Champion Hurdle…

Is Hurricane Fly ripe for the picking in this year’s Champion Hurdle?

17 Grade 1 victories! Not too shabby…

There has been plenty of talk this week surrounding current Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly, but then again there should be, he did just smash the world record for number of Grade/Group 1 victories. He is a modern day legend (an over-used word but in this case it is fittingly applied) and on his day, which is most days, he is impossible to beat.

However, is he starting to show signs of ‘slowing down’ after 32 career starts? 

Plenty were unimpressed by his re-appearance at Punchestown, even his trainer Willie Mullins seemed somewhat underwhelmed, and a number of bookies pushed him out a touch in the ante-post market for the Champion Hurdle.

To win 3 Champion Hurdles would be some achievement, he would be joining a select group of all-time greats should he manage to power up the hill and capture his 3rd crown in March, but is ‘The Fly’ ripe for the picking this season?

Let’s examine some of the evidence…

The last 10yo+ to win the Champion Hurdle was Sea Pigeon in 1981…

…and Hurricane Fly will be 10 come March. In the history of the Champion Hurdle it has only been won by a horse in double digits 4 times. Perhaps even more interesting is that those 4 wins are shared by 2 horses; Hatton’s Grace as a 10yo & 11yo and the aforementioned Sea Pigeon who was also winning it as a 10yo & 11yo.

On that stat alone Hurricane Fly could be deemed as ‘opposable’ however, I want to take a look at the recent renewals of the Champion Hurdle and see how many 10yo+ horses have actually run in the race.

Time to dig into my Proform Database

Since 1998 there have been 17 horses aged 10 or older to have run in the Champion Hurdle, none (obviously) have won and only 1 has placed.

Hmmmm… hardly conclusive and only 3 started with any sort of chance. 1 being Istabraq who, let’s be honest, didn’t come into the 2002 renewal as the Istabraq we knew and loved, and the other 2 being Rooster Booster (2nd in 2004) and Hardy Eustace (4th in 2007), both of whom ran solid enough races.

It IS difficult for the older generation to land a serious blow in the race BUT not many have tried in recent times. I wouldn’t be dismissing him off the back of this alone.

It is an advantage to have run to a solid RPR figure on seasonal debut in your Champion Hurdle year…

This was probably the aspect of Hurricane Fly’s performance that really struck me. On Sunday (in the Morgiana Hurdle) he ran to an RPR figure of 154. To put that in context with the horse himself that is the LOWEST figure he has achieved since he stepped out of Novice company. In fact in all previous 15 starts outwith the Novice ranks he had only run to an RPR under 164 on ONE occasion. In his last 10 starts he had only run to an RPR figure of lower than 169 ONCE. That would be the one real concern for me with the horse as that figure is a fair dip on his average in recent season’s.

But how does that shape up with previous Champion Hurdlers on their seasonal debut run in their Champion Hurdle year?

2013 Hurricane Fly – 173 (RPR figure on seasonal debut)

2012 Rock On Ruby – 162

2011 Hurricane Fly – 164

2010 Binocular – 158

2009 Punjabi – 157

2008 Katchit – 160

2007 Sublimity – 127 (16-1 ‘surprise’ winner)

2006 Brave Inca – 167

2005 Hardy Eustace – 164

2004 Hardy Eustace – 138 (33-1 ‘surprise’ winner)

2003 Rooster Booster – 166

2002 Hors La Loi III – 153

2000 – Istabraq – 179

1999 – Istabraq – 152

1998 – Istabraq – 159

Horses can win the Champion Hurdle from an ‘average’ seasonal debut, hell the mighty Istabraq’s 1999 victory was kicked off with a lower RPR performance than ‘The Fly’ just produced, but 11 of the last 15 winners fired in a better performance than the 154 Hurricane Fly just recorded and, at the very least, it puts the question of doubt in my mind about his ability to join the ranks of the other 3 times Champion Hurdle winners.

To balance this out a bit, however, I think it is only fair we take a look at the other 2014 Champion Hurdle protagonists and see how they fared on seasonal debut…

The New One – 166

Melodic Rendezvous – 158

Rock On Ruby – 157

Jezki – 153

Far West – 150

Shining like a beacon at the top there is the young pretender to the throne THE NEW ONE. He fired in a big figure on debut and put himself right up there with previous winners, in fact of the past 7 winners only Hurricane Fly has fired in a better seasonal debut RPR. MELODIC RENDEZVOUS is certainly an interesting one based on that debut figure and he would probably rate as the current ‘value’ play in the market. JEZKI is an interesting one as well, albeit at the other end of the scale, as he actually produced a lower figure than Hurricane Fly on seasonal debut. It was a muddling sort of race he was involved in that day but recent history tells us he will need to show a lot more in his next couple of runs to make into a serious Champion Hurdle player.

There are still a number of Champion Hurdle players yet to lay down their opening hand yet so it will be interesting to see where they fall into the mix.

Fans of OUR CONOR & MY TENT OR YOURS will be looking for an opening RPR figure of around 160 when they hit the track for the first time this season, especially with THE NEW ONE having already made his intentions crystal clear.

The 2014 Champion Hurdle picture looks, at this stage, far from clear cut and it will be interesting to see if it takes on a more robust shape when we revisit it later on in this series of articles.

As for Hurricane Fly being ripe for the picking, at this stage and after his opening marker (and if you put a gun to my head for an answer!) I would have to say yes he is ripe for the picking, based purely on his own high standards and how far below them he was on Sunday. However, he is a champion, tried and tested 17 time Grade 1 winner, and it would be foolish to write him off after 1 ‘below par’ performance and without further evidence. It says something for the horse that he can run someway below form and still break a world record!

Can the ‘aging’ champion climb the hill in March and become a three time Champion Hurdle legend?

Ben (NTF)

6 responses to “The road to the 2014 Cheltenham Festival: The Champion Hurdle…”

    • Cheers Steve

      Will be interesting to see what kind of mark the other contenders put up on seasonal debut.

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

  1. I wouldn’t judge him on that run as his trainer reckons he needed the race badly. He got a RPR of 156 at the same meeting 4 years ago and went on to win the Champion Hurdle that season. I’d be concerned if he doesn’t improve by at least 10 next time out.

    • Hi Brian

      He didn’t actually go on to run in that years Champion Hurdle, he missed that one and only ran once more that season in the Rabobank Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. I certainly not ruling him out of anything at this stage but I agree with you that you would like to see a run around at least 10lbs better next time out.

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

  2. Hi,
    Before his first Champion everyone said a Montjeu wouldn’t get up the hill. Before his second Champion only Comedy of Errors had regained the title. On Sunday no horse had won more than 16 Grade 1s. Given all of this, I am not sure one can rely on stats when it comes to Hurricane Fly. Maybe he is a freak ? Given what he has achieved it is possible that he is just better than those 10 year olds who have tried before ? Maybe he hasn’t as many miles on the clock or hasn’t had hard races. Maybe he has been luckier with injuries. I am not saying he will definitely win the Champion as a10 year old.. but I won’t be one of the doubting Thomases..he’s proved them wrong many times before so why not one more time ?

    • Hi Michael

      He certainly has busted stats in the past and he could well do it again in the future. We can only judge him this season on what we have seen so far and that was, on the figures, a below par run. Obviously though I wouldn’t dismiss him out of hand off the back of a seasonal debut run and I’m still very much open to the possibility of him winning again. It will be intriguing to watch the main protagonists as the season develops towards the March showdown…

      Cheers – Ben (NTF)

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