The Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown is widely regarded as the biggest and most prestigious race of its kind in Ireland and the 2012 renewal will do much to enhance that notion judging by the entries lined up to take their chance on January 29.
However, despite a plethora of talent and quality likely to be on show including 2010 Champion Hurdle winner Binocular, it is current two-mile hurdle king Hurricane Fly who is generating all of the hype leading up to the race.
This is predominantly due to the horse’s fragility and questionable fitness levels which have so far prevented him from making a racecourse appearance this season.
Trainer Willie Mullins, much to the public’s delight, recently reported that the multiple Grade One winner had impressed in his schooling and is nearing a return to rude health which is likely to put him in contention for the race should everything continue to go well.
That news will not be music to the ears for other connections; nevertheless, any aspiring Champion Hurdler’s must surely have to take on Hurricane Fly sooner or later if they are to make it to the top of the division.
Mullins is extremely protective of his stable star and if one thing is guaranteed, he will not send him to Leopardstown unless the horse is A1 and he is confident of success.
Current best priced odds of 10/11 for Hurricane Fly are certainly tempting – as he will definitely be significantly shorter come post time if he makes it to the track in one piece.
But with those doubts in mind following a series of set-backs, Hurricane Fly cannot be backed ante-post with any confidence without the guarantee of ‘non-runner money back’.
Taking this on board, it may be best to look elsewhere and find a decent each-way price about one of the up and coming challengers.
Although Binocular cannot be totally discounted, he is usually primed for the Cheltenham Festival and his narrow win over Rock On Ruby in the Christmas Hurdle suggests that he still has some way to come in terms of reaching his peak this campaign.
Unaccompanied on the other hand is a young horse improving fast and the mare looked stylish in her dispatch of another Mullins horse, Thousand Stars, in the Grade One Istabraq Hurdle over course and distance in December.
Dermot Weld’s charge is a near definite runner and with her Triumph Hurdle form (second to Zarkandar) appearing stronger all the time following the progress of Grandouet, the 5/1 currently available should be snapped up no questions asked.
The Istabraq Hurdle form subsequently puts a line through Thousand Stars for this race whilst Voler La Vedette will require a personal best despite recently landing her first Grade One victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle.
Spirit Son on the other hand was mightily impressive when finishing second in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham last March and that form has potentially been boosted by Al Ferof and Sprinter Sacre’s (first and third respectively) excellent start to novice chasing.
Nicky Henderson will be pitching his charge in at the deep end considering that it will be his first run of the season, however if he does so and the horse makes it to Leopardstown, it will be a sure sign and instant indicator that Henderson believes he is immediately good enough to take his hand in the highest company.
At 8/1, Spirit Son provides another excellent each-way ante-post alternative to Hurricane Fly – and like Unaccompanied, should not be fully discounted for an outright success even if the favourite lines up.
© Frixo 2014