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Wayne Bailey: Faugheen is no cert with Jezki primed for double

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Jezki, under Barry Geraghty, skips to Champion Hurdle glory last year - can he repeat the feat this afternoon? Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

Jezki, under Barry Geraghty, skips to Champion Hurdle glory last year - can he repeat the feat this afternoon? Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

SPORTSFILE

Jezki, under Barry Geraghty, skips to Champion Hurdle glory last year - can he repeat the feat this afternoon? Photo: Barry Cregg / SPORTSFILE

A keen racegoer, the late Albert Reynolds told the now defunct 'Sporting Life' newspaper in 1994 that he never backed odds-on horses. If he wanted to buy some money, he'd buy it off a bank rather than a bookmaker.

Were the former Taoiseach around today, he'd no doubt avoid Un De Sceaux (Arkle Chase) and Annie Power (Mares' Hurdle) although it must be noted that odds-on favourites have fared rather well at the Festival in recent years with the last five all winning.

Sizing Europe and Hurricane Fly were the last odds-on horses to get beaten (2012) and bookmakers all over Britain and Ireland will be praying they get at least one of today's short ones turned over to scupper the huge amount of doubles which will inevitably be placed on the pair today.

Another one which has proved very popular in the betting is, of course, Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle (3.20) which is even-money at the time of writing.

Unbeaten in eight races, he appears to be the real deal although this is by far his toughest assignment to date and I'm not convinced he's bomb-proof.

For a start, you could argue that Purple Bay is the best horse he's beaten so far although, as the old saying goes, he can only beat what's put in front of him. But still, some of these are seasoned top-level performers and Faugheen will have absolutely no room for error.

While impressive in last year's Neptune, he did get a bit worked up beforehand and ended up making a couple of jumping mistakes. More recently, he wasn't too fluent over the last in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton even though he was miles clear - and you rarely get away with those errors in a Champion Hurdle at a fast pace.

Instead, last year's winner Jezki is a good value alternative at 4/1. Admittedly, he too makes the odd mistake and he nearly came down at the last in the Irish Champion Hurdle but unlike Faugheen, it's all built into his price and his big-race experience is sure to serve him well.

Hurricane Fly will raise the roof if he comes up the famous hill in front but it's a big ask aged 11 and a fairytale afternoon seems unlikely. I don't think there was ever much chance of Ruby Walsh siding with The Fly over Faugheen although it couldn't have been easy to get off a horse which has given so much, especially here in Ireland.

I backed The New One last year and he possibly would have won had he not been hampered by Our Conor's fall. He's won five starts since and should go well although the tactics will be fascinating as both he and Faugheen like to race prominently. I had considered him again, but I'm put off by the fact that he had to dig deep to win a Grade Two at Haydock at 1/6.

 

Cheltenham stat attack: National Hunt Chase

No fewer than 67 horses aged younger than seven have taken part in the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (4.40) since 1989 but just two have won.

The most recent was Tricky Trickster in 2009 - older horses have held sway again since and last year's winner Midnight Prayer was one of the oldest horses in the field, aged nine.

Those figures haven't put punters off backing Very Wood, and the six-year-old is likely to go off as favourite today priced in the region of 3/1.

Nina Carberry gets the ride on Noel Meade's gelding, which was last seen winning a weak Grade Two Novice Chase at Navan last month.

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