Hurricane forecast for Cheltenham

Ruby Walsh says Hurricane Fly is in good form for Cheltenham
Ruby Walsh says Hurricane Fly is in good form for Cheltenham
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Hurricane Fly’s fame can reach its zenith by winning the Stan James Champion Hurdle for a third time.

Willie Mullins’ remarkable ten-year-old arrives at Cheltenham seemingly as sparky as ever and is taken to claim a 20th Grade One triumph at the biggest show in town.

This season’s renewal looks like being the race of the Festival, with The New One, My Tent Or Yours, Our Conor and Jezki genuinely worthy foes.

A compelling argument can be formulated for all of the protagonists, but the race pivots around Hurricane Fly.

Incredulously, there are those who can still not forgive him for his meek defence of his title in the 2012 Champion, when only third behind Rock On Ruby.

Mullins has, however, repeatedly stressed that his great horse was not right that year, so it seems a little curious that he should still be held accountable for that transgression.

Hurricane Fly has, after all, not lost since that race, winning another nine top-level events, including last March when he emphatically reversed form with Rock On Ruby.

He might not have ripped up too many trees on his seasonal bow at Punchestown in November, but what has since twice occurred at Leopardstown unquestionably dilutes the case for Jezki and Our Conor.

There were slight extenuating circumstances in the Ryanair Hurdle and the Irish Champion Hurdle as Our Conor should improve for both runs, while Jezki was a tad unlucky in the former.

But the manner in which Hurricane Fly outmuscled that duo merely confirmed what most people already knew.

The list of young pretenders now looks even more impressive in the fullness of time, but Hurricane Fly is probably still the best, and certainly the most reliable, horse in the field.

Irving can give Paul Nicholls a perfect start to the meeting by winning the curtain-raising Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The Ditcheat handler has played a blinder with this six-year-old this season, having deployed a laudable waiting game in pursuit of the rights races on the right sort of ground.

This has meant he is unbeaten over hurdles with four victories by an accumulative aggregate winning distance of 19 lengths.

Just as important, though, is the fact Irving seems to be getting better with each race, with his five-length demolition of the well-above-average Amore Alato in the Dovecote at Kempton last month suggested he is going places in a bit of a rush.

Irving looks just about the best novice in Britain, and has an action which should lend itself nicely to even better ground.

He can prove up to the job against a pretty formidable Irish battalion.

The overseas challenge can collectively toast a winner 35 minutes later as Trifolium holds stout claims in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Charles Byrnes’ seven-year-old has rather gone unnoticed in the build-up to the race, with compatriot Champagne Fever and Rock On Ruby all the rage.

But it is surely folly to leave him out of calculations on the evidence of his nine-length cakewalk in the Irish Arkle at Leopardstown in January.

The usually reserved Byrnes was uncharacteristically cock-a-hoop after that race as he clearly feels Trifolium is more of a good-ground horse, rather than one that likes to slog through mud.

Having been kept away from the racetrack since then, this deeply progressive individual should return to Cheltenham, where he finished third in the 2012 Supreme, in especially rude health and ready to go.

Shotgun Paddy has the tools to go the distance in the Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase.

Trainer Emma Lavelle has long been earmarked the four-miler for this seven-year-old, who ran amok in the Classic Chase at Warwick in January and has been kept on ice since then.

It would be surprising if this trip did not eke out further improvement from a horse who has raced just four times over fences.

Cantlow was cruelly denied his place in the Byrne Group Plate last year, when he was withdrawn at the start with a bleeding nose, but he can gain sweet redemption in the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase.

Paul Webber’s inmate has plenty of weight for this assignment, but his record over fences is sound, and he ran really well here when second to Double Ross in the December Gold Cup.

There is a strong suspicion that Webber and owner JP McManus have had this race in mind ever since.

The Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase is not for the faint-hearted, but it could pay to throw a few bob the way of Manyriverstocross.

Alan King’s nine-year-old has so far done pretty well over fences but can take his game to another level at a track on which he finished third in the County Hurdle last season.


CHELTENHAM: 1.30 Irving, 2.05 Trifolium, 2.40 Cantlow, 3.20 HURRICANE FLY (NAP), 4.00 Quevega, 4.40 Shotgun Paddy, 5.15 Manyriverstocross.