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