Hurricane Fly can silence the doubters
An early flight this morning has us in Cheltenham in plenty of time for a superb opening day's racing, where a couple of winning favourites could put the bookmakers on the back foot from the off.
The Champion Hurdle has been the subject of plenty of column inches this week and it's a pity we don't get to see Binocular run. It opens the race up a little but for me it's hard to look past Hurricane Fly.
I've heard all the arguments as to why he won't win it. We're told there is the 'curse' of the Montjeu bloodline and that he'll be spooked by the crowds and the atmosphere. I rode him in France and he doesn't boil over, he is just on his toes and knows he's at the races. It's often forgotten that he was a fine flat horse, winning a Listed race. I expect Menorah and Peddlers Cross to go close, they both love a battle, but Willie Mullins and Ruby are on to a winner with Hurricane, which has more gears than the other two.
In the opening race, the Supreme Novices, Cue Card is the subject of a few money-back specials with various bookmakers and he's a very decent horse which was aimed at the Champion Hurdle at one stage. But history suggests that Champion Bumper winners don't always go too well in this race, which has a quality look to it. The big-priced Hidden Universe catches my eye. He ran into fourth at Leopardstown last time out but didn't seem to like the dead ground that day and, at around 16/1, Dermot Weld's charge looks tempting.
I'm aboard Magen's Star, which has shown promising form in her recent runs, but the ground has probably dried out a little bit too much for her at this stage. The owners want her to take her chance but I think she'll find it tough going.
The Irish Independent Arkle Trophy is another race where the Irish will have a big say, particularly with Noel Meade's Realt Dubh. I won twice on him last year at Navan and Punchestown and he has a surprising amount of pace for a horse of his size. They say you need a big, strong horse to stay up the hill in the Arkle and he certainly fits that bill. The home team are strong looking too, with Nicky Henderson's Finian's Rainbow and Philip Hobbs' Captain Chris and I'll plump for the latter to just nick it. He's a good, bold jumper and even though he has finished behind the likes of today's opponents Ghizao and Medermit in the past, he offers a bit of value.
The 2.40 handicap chase is a very open looking race, and you won't see too many naps picked but Bensalem has good solid form and is rarely out of the places. In a race like this though, it's often wise to look for value, making Rare Bob a good each-way shout. He won at Leopardstown in January which was his last run and that's a decent indication, but anything can happen over three miles.
JP McManus has a big say in the Cross Country with five entries but this one is for Garde Champetre and Nina Carberry. Nina gets on so well with him that they are easy to back but I'm also expecting a big run from Another Jewel. I rode him in this race last year and we ran into fourth. They went too slow for him that day and he has won a big pot in France since. With John Cullen at a very competitive weight, they could be in for a big run.
Quevega is the stand-out entry in the Mares' Hurdle. I go into Willie Mullins' yard every Thursday and she seems in fine form at home. He brought her to the Curragh too and did some encouraging work there. She beat the boys at Punchestown too and even though she hasn't run in almost a year, that wasn't a problem 12 months ago so she's a strong fancy of mine, with Sparky May the best of the rest.
In the final race of the day I give Divers a big chance. Ferdy Murphy rarely leaves the Festival without a winner and he reckons this is one of his best chances, while Gordon Eliott's Tharawaat can run into a place.
1.30 Hidden Universe (e/w)
2.05 Captain Chris
2.40 Rare Bob (e/w)
3.20 Hurricane Fly
4.00 Garde Champetre
4.40 Quevega (nap)