Fresher legs of Our Conor can turn tables on ‘Hurricane’ in race to savour
Triumph Hurdle hero primed to come of age and Quevega ready to enter history books
Published 11/03/2014 | 02:00
It's finally here. Over the next few days the questions we've been asking since Christmas and even before will be answered and all the arguments will be settled.
I'm predicting a big week for Irish-trained horses too. Last year, we managed a record haul of 14 winners but looking down the card for this year's Festival and at the strong hands the likes of Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott travel with, I think we could go even better than that.
It's with that in mind that I plump for an Irish win in the big one today, the Champion Hurdle, but not for the one you might think. Most people will be drawn to Willie and Ruby Walsh to take the spoils with Hurricane Fly but I think the time has come for Our Conor to deliver.
The ground is drying out over here and I can see The Fly being caught for toe on that going and I really think Our Conor would have beaten him on better ground when the pair clashed at Leopardstown in January.
There won't be much in it and I can see three or four all coming over the last with a chance in what could be the race of the week, where we might see a throw back to 2005 when Hardy Eustace, Harchibald and Brave Inca went head-to-head in this race.
The New One wants a bit further and with Hurricane Fly now 10, the younger fresher legs on Dessie Hughes' five-year-old can carry Danny Mullins home.
The Arkle is another highlight today and I'm going to go with the
experience of Champagne Fever to take his third Festival win.
Willie's seven-year-old has won the Bumper and the Supreme Novices and has the class to win here again because I think Trifolium will struggle coming up the hill.
The wait will be over at 1.30 when the opening race of the day, the Supreme Novices, goes to post. And I'm going for another Willie Mullins winner in Wicklow Brave.
Willie has a strong say in this race with three entries and Vantour has a shout but he wants soft ground and once Wicklow Brave jumps well for Paul Townend, they could deliver at a decent price.
At 2.40, there's a very open handicap chase that would normally be hard to pick but I was at a preview night with Tony Martin in Listowel recently and he spoke highly of Wrong Turn, which he runs in this race.
The Mares' Hurdle (4.0) will surely see all the neutrals plump for Quevega as she goes for a record breaking sixth consecutive Festival win in this race.
It's been pointed out that she is 10 now but I don't think that will be an issue as Willie has minded her well. And while she has the class to win, I am also really rooting for her.
We won a maiden hurdle together in Punchestown in 2008 in what was her first race here and I knew she was something special then and I'd love to see her first past the post.
I was talking to Katie Walsh over here and she was very keen on the chances of Foxrock in the four-mile amateur race at 4.40.
Finally, the last race of the day is another open affair but Bryan Cooper is in the house with me this week and he reckons his mount, Art Of Logistics, has a decent each-way shout to round off the opening day.