Wednesday 29 January 2020

Bookies set to scream in horror watching The Fly

Bookmakers are likely to be running for cover if the mighty Hurricane Fly can successfully defend his crown in the Champion Hurdle.

The Willie Mullins-trained superstar will be the first of four horses putting their titles on the line in the championship races at the Festival, with Champion Chase favourite Sizing Europe, World Hurdle 'good thing' Big Buck's and Gold Cup hero Long Run completing the quartet over the week.

It is far from inconceivable all four could collect, a thought that has the layers quivering. Coral's David Stevens said: "We can't remember a Festival where so many fancied horses were in action, especially in the big championship races, and these reigning champions, along with the likes of Quevega and Sprinter Sacre, will be written on thousands of betting slips.

"Wins for all these hot favourites would ensure bookmakers endured their most painful pay-out since Frankie Dettori went through the card at Ascot 16 years ago, a day that saw £40m returned to punters."

Mullins is confident Hurricane Fly is in the same form as when making a hugely impressive seasonal return in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.

"He travelled over well and seems in nice form," said Mullins. "He seems much more relaxed on the gallop over here than he was last year. I think he's just holding his form and I'm happy with that."

The Irish champion trainer also saddles Zaidpour, which is unbeaten in his last four starts. "The ground is probably too dry for him, but he has Grade One form over two miles so we have to give him his chance," Mullins said. "He wasn't right last year coming to the Festival but we think he's in good order this year."

Connections of Binocular are expecting a big run from the 2010 winner, which was unable to defend his crown 12 months ago.

COMFORTABLE

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old landed the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton before supplementing that with a comfortable victory in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last month.

"I know AP (McCoy) came back happy after Wincanton and I was thrilled. He looked like his old self the way he jumped," said trainer Nicky Henderson.

Binocular's regular partner McCoy was also delighted with the Wincanton performance and is looking forward to taking on Hurricane Fly.

"He jumped very well at Wincanton. At times he has never given the impression he's the same horse that won the Champion Hurdle," said the champion jockey.

"His run at Kempton was better but he gave me a better feel at Wincanton. But he's got a long way to go to beat Hurricane Fly -- he's an exceptional horse who has won 10 Grade Ones and never looked like getting beat."

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is responsible for four of the 10 runners as he seeks to win this race for the first time.

Zarkandar, which lifted the Triumph Hurdle last year, is the pick of his quartet thanks to victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

"Zarkandar won at Newbury and is in really good form," said Nicholls.

"Rock On Ruby is a great price. I don't think there's much between the two, but maybe Zarkandar has more room for improvement."

Jessica Harrington believes the expected fast pace will suit Oscars Well, which she feels is coming to hand at the right time.

The seven-year-old was runner-up to Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion Hurdle and would probably have won the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the 2011 Festival but for a mistake at the last.

"Oscar has been improving with every run this year and I feel he has improved again since his run at Leopardstown when runner up to 'The Fly'," the county Kildare trainer said.

"Realistically, I do feel Hurricane Fly is going to be very hard to beat."

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