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Champion Hurdle preview

The headline race of The Festival, Day 1** is always the Champion Hurdle. It's a tremendous honour roll of previous victors, can the pride of Ireland capture an historic third Champion Hurdle or will he be usurped by one of the younger brigade?
(** note - not run at The Pretentious Racecourse, Newbury)

Taking up the reins, and linking it with the finest (read "only") Australian Rules football film of all-time, is prolific blog contributor Jon da Silva, @creamontop. Like all good bloggers, he's never afraid to have an opinion...

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Champion Hurdle

The 1980 Australian movie The Club starring Jack Thompson's moustache features the word Champion a lot. The aim of sport depicted as the desire to be acknowledged as a 'True Champion'. Unusually based on my viewing for a 70s decade Aussie movie it finishes with a ridiculously happy ending. The Kid with potential kicks the winning Goal and is a 'Real Champion' who fixes up the Knockers - "Glad I wasn't one of them" says Lou Richards.

Real Champions of course do not have stable mates who could beat them transferred to other races. No offence but if Willie Mullins thinks a win by The Fly is anything but counterfeit because the best Timeform adjusted rated horse prior to the race Annie Power was made to skip this then let me disabuse him of that notion. "March Champions" in the vernacular of The Club meant someone who looked good in training but disappeared when the real AFL games started. In National Hunt March Champions used to mean a lot but greed and the interests of top trainers are downgrading it.

BTW in the below the excuse 'Not Right' imagine it with a #really tag. No top contender has lost this year with out the tag #NotRight except The New One who kicked the last and whose jockey kicked too early apparently. #excusesexcuses

Les Irish

Call me a knocker.

Our Conor 9/2
If the kid with potential Our Conor proves to be a True Champion or as close to it as Willie Mullins will allow I will be one of 'The Critics' who got it wrong. A facile winner of the Triumph last year and a respectful distance behind Hurricane Fly twice. 9/2 is not a long price for a horse we are asked to believe in. Maybe the harder run of a Champion will help but he's ifs and maybes and the price of better form.

Hurricane Fly 11/4 (10/3 with bookies who won't take a bet)
Again unbeaten in Ireland having beaten the same three horses the last twice (Jezki, Our Conor and Captain Cee Bee). Form that is impossible to weigh up. Likely to face the two strongest challengers he's ever faced in winning two out of last three. An acknowledged and True Champion but can he find more at the age of 10? Jezki and the Fly laboured to early season wins and have raced each other since giving little or no marker to how good they or Our Conor are. Stable thinks he 'deserves it' and has kept back two real contenders to help - hardly a ringing endorsement. Cheltenham performances not as dominating as Irish performances but a two-time champion - allegedly not right when beaten there! Yes I am a knocker but not a confident one.

Jezki 10/1
Could not hold his place in a five-runner field and fared even worse held up off a slow pace in a four-runner affair. Now a hood is tried which seems the opposite of what he needs. If he were mine with his poor leaping and lack of tactical guts I'd be using blinkers & making use of him. Another who you'd be betting will suddenly be the 'real' Jezki on the day. May also be played tactically for MTOY. Not for me.

Captain Cee Bee 200/1
Has twice made the pace to no effect for Jezki. I assume he will set a tempo tracked by Jezki (else why would the other mains consent to be dragged fast early if no contender to chase). The aim being to settle MTOY and allow him to come through late up the inner?

Fabrique en Angleterre

Call me a Homer.

My Tent Or Yours 9/2 AKA MTOY
This boy can cruise. In a fast run race he simply appears late and wins. Managed to pull back The New One last time at Kempton as that one used the last like Gareth Bale a dead ball. I suspect he will win, if his yips ridden trainer can pull the trigger on it, the Aintree Hurdle in a canter. Beaten by tactical front running last year in the Supreme (by Champagne Fever, Jezki third). Has team mates (Capt Cee Bee, Jezki) to try to ensure a fast enough gallop for him. A contender.

Ptit Zig 50/1
Might have a chance if they opt to grab lead or go with the pacemaker Captain Cee Bee. Beaten by Melodic Rendezvous on deep at Haydock giving 4lb - which makes them similar horses at the weights.

Melodic Rendezvous 25/1
Was collared on Twitter by one of his owners after suggesting his Newcastle loss behind My Tent or Yours was a result of a #Slow - apparently was not right! Been mustard on wet ground and won three other races at sharp Wincanton/Haydock. Not definitive won't like faster and has a stiff track here to compensate. Essentially up against only two form lines MTOY/TNO & OC/HF/Jezki. Point is I don't think heavy form is near the best heavy form available here. Can still finish strongly after looking in trouble as he showed last time. Not quite good enough.

Grumeti 100/1
Optimistic by Alan King. 5L+ behind MTOY at Newcastle which was not that one's best form. Main hope is to grab the lead off the pacemaker but does not seem one to make a lot of use of and maybe more of an Aintree/Kempton two miler.

The New One 11/4 AKA TNO
Beaten by MTOY narrowly in December and off since. Has a devastating turn of foot. Is unbeaten outside the Cheltenham Bumper when fresh (albeit his defeats since probably caused by respectively stamina, stamina & a mistake, arguably kicked for home too early on each occasion). Main negative is he makes mistakes which cost him last time and his inexperienced pilot may not have The Balls of Steel (c) Paul Carberry & Charlie Swan. Fresh as paint and that may be a good thing for Twister's top horses see Imperial Commander.

Conclusion
None of the top four would surprise me if they won and Jezki would not be absurd. Prospect of little pace makes The New One hard to beat for me. Even if the pacemaker and some of the flotsam in the race conjure up a good pace he is still in with a great chance. Main worry after recent rides is his pilot seems to ride horses like they can sprint twice. It might be worth waiting for a lemming plunge late on The Fly (esp if Vantour & or Champagne Fever win) & if TNO drifts to 7/2 say I will be in again.

1pt The New One 5/2 or more
.2 SF MTOY to beat TNO (that's a straight forecast or exacta for those not used to the acronym)

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