Sunday 21 January 2018

Dunguib spearheads Irish raid on Champion Hurdle

Damien McElroy

A concerted Irish assault on the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 16 is in the offing with no less than 21 of the 34 horses entered in the opening afternoon's highlight based here.

That's a modern-day record as far as entrants are concerned for the €370,000 Smurfit Kappa promotion despite the sobering statistic that our challengers failed to make an impact for the past two renewals.

While the visitors have been overwhelmed since Sublimity triumphed for the Hennessy family in 2007, the current ante-post market in which last year's Supreme Novice Hurdle hero Go Native and Sunday's Leopardstown hotpot Solwhit are disputing favouritism is quite positive for our hopefuls.

Indeed, these stars of the Noel Meade and Charles Byrnes stables are the 5/1 co-second favourites with Zaynar according to Paddy Power, who have Philip Fenton's crack novice Dunguib as 4/1 jolly with a run.

Last year's surprise winner Punjabi, which is due to tackle a trial event at Haydock on Saturday, is available at 9/1 with Powers, preceded by both stable companion Binocular (15/2) and Khyber Kim (8/1).

Beaten by a neck by Punjabi 12 months ago, Celestial Halo, which tackles the odds-on Solwhit at Leopardstown on Sunday in the Toshiba Champion Hurdle for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh, is a 10/1 chance with the firm.

Rival layers William Hill have last season's Triumph Hurdle victor Zaynar installed as 5/1 favourite to follow up there in March and you can have 12/1 about Dunguib, which is a doubtful participant unless connections make a dramatic late switch from the Supreme Novices Hurdle to the all-aged championship.

Currently sidelined by injury, Hurricane Fly remains a possible contender for the Willie Mullins stable, but his other high-class French import Mikael D'Haguent wasn't entered despite recent speculation to the contrary.

Ladbrokes offer the chance for followers of Solwhit and Celestial Halo to back them this week for a Toshiba Hurdle-Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle double with the former at 10/1 and the Nicholls inmate double those odds.

Irish Independent

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