Sport Cheltenham

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Fly faces eight while Nicholls warns Big Buck's rivals

Trainer Paul Nicholls
Trainer Paul Nicholls

Thomas Kelly

Hurricane Fly will face just eight rivals when he bids for a third victory in the Champion Hurdle tomorrow.

Willie Mullins' brilliant 10-year-old will be aiming to secure an incredible 20th Grade One success in the feature event on the opening day. Hurricane Fly is the champion trainer's only runner after the withdrawals of Annie Power, Un De Sceaux and Thousand Stars.

The New One, representing Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies, is rated by bookmakers as the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly, while last year's Triumph Hurdle hero Our Conor has twice run well behind Mullins' champion this season.

Nicky Henderson's My Tent Or Yours and the Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki are contenders for JP McManus, with Captain Cee Bee also declared. Jeremy Scott's Melodic Rendezvous, Paul Nicholls' Ptit Zig and the Alan King-trained Grumeti complete the field.

Meanwhile, Nicholls says Big Buck's is in "seriously good order" as he bids to land the World Hurdle for a fifth time on Thursday.

The former champion trainer disagreed with owner Andy Stewart, who felt the 11-year-old had "fluffed his lines" in the Cleeve Hurdle in January. It was his first start after 420 days off and he went down by three-quarters of a length, ending his winning streak at 18.

Nicholls said: "He needed the run on very bad ground and he had been off for a long time. I've trained him with one race in mind. If it had been a normal year, he'd have run at Newbury in November (Long Distance Hurdle) where we normally start the season off. I wanted him to have a hard race to see where we were – and if he was going to get to Cheltenham we needed a hard race."

Nicholls is fully aware of the threat posed by Mullins' unbeaten mare Annie Power.

He said: "She beat Zarkandar on very testing ground, which he doesn't like, at Cheltenham earlier on, but she's a very good mare.

"Big Buck's certainly won't go down without a fight, he's in seriously good order."

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