My Tent set for Champion joy
Simon Holt previews the action on day one of the Cheltenham Festival and expects to see a new Champion Hurdler crowned.
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MY TENT OR YOURS, a horse who has long looked a class act, is fancied to give his trainer Nicky Henderson a sixth Champion Hurdle triumph on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
So powerfully does this horse travel that he is reminiscent of Henderson's triple champion See You Then who would cruise up to his rivals in the closing stages before quickening clear, and it was only a ferocious pace set by Champagne Fever which seemed to catch him out in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on this day 12 months ago.
Unbeaten since, My Tent Or Yours proved that he is not merely a bridle horse when knuckling down well to beat The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day and has since recorded an exceptionally fast time in a recent 'jumpers bumper' on the same course.
- 2pts win My Tent Or Yours in 3.20 Cheltenham at best morning price - showed he can battle with Christmas win and should relish this test
- 1pt e.w. Grandouet in 2.05 Cheltenham at best morning price - strong traveller has the ability to run well at a price
- 1pt e.w. Attaglance in 5.15 Cheltenham at best morning price - well-handicapped on his best form and trained with this in mind
Henderson is confident that a small setback last week, when the seven year-old punctured a hole in his foot, will not affect his performance and, with owner JP McManus fielding Captain Cee Bee as a likely pacemaker, My Tent should have the race run to suit him.
A free runner in the early stages, he needs enough pace to enable AP McCoy to switch him off but too much - as was the case last year - could just blunt his finishing effort up the hill.
More versatile with regard to race-tempo is the dual Champion Hurricane Fly who overcame a stop-start gallop before regaining his title at the expense of Rock On Ruby last year.
Willie Mullins' star hurdler has seemed as good as ever in his last two starts at Leopardstown, beating the reopposing Jezki in December and then battling gamely to account for Our Conor (Captain Cee Bee third, Jezki fourth) subsequently in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
A record-breaking Grade One winner, Hurricane Fly is a totally professional and admirable racehorse and, even though this looks a hotter championship than the ones he has contested before - and even though he is now 10 years old - it is hard to see him not being competitive.
Our Conor, last year's runaway Triumph Hurdle winner, seemed to have every chance jumping the last at Leopardstown and, while trainer Dessie Hughes has almost certainly been preparing him to peak for this day, he was receiving 2lb and beaten a length-and-a-half by 'the Fly' so needs to find a bit of improvement.
McManus's Jezki, not far behind My Tent Or Yours when third in the Supreme last year, clearly has to produce more if he's to reverse two defeats by Hurricane Fly and a hood will be fitted to try and help him settle better in the early stages.
A more intriguing runner is The New One, who blundered at the last when narrowly beaten by 'My Tent' at Kempton.
Successful in the Neptune Novices' over two miles and five furlongs at this meeting last year, he has enough speed to match his rivals but may have superior stamina.
Therefore, even though his rider Sam Twiston-Davies has been self-critical of hitting the front too soon in the past, he probably needs to be bang in contention from some way out as his mount looks sure to keep galloping.
Occasionally a clumsy jumper when under pressure, the six-year-old is the other leading contender in what appears to be a high-class renewal and possibly the race of the week.
Drying ground could see Henderson's GRANDOUET upsetting some shorter-priced rivals in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy.
Very smart over hurdles and travelling well when falling four out in last year's Champion, the seven-year-old has had a slightly checkered career over fences so far - he unseated Barry Geraghty when tightened up by Hinterland at Sandown in November and then battled on well failing narrowly against the same Champion Chase-bound rival on the same course a month later.
Grandouet's latest run when well beaten by Dodging Bullets at Kempton over Christmas should be ignored as he was obliged (unsuitably) to make the running and appeared to perform as if something was amiss.
If back on song, he has the ability to defy his odds here as he will be dropped in off the likely fast pace set by Champagne Fever and, given a clear round of jumping, is capable of carrying his rider into the straight on the bridle.
Champagne Fever, who bids for a Festival hat-trick after wins in the bumper and the Supreme, will need to force things along over this two-mile trip and could again be hard to pass but he made a bad mistake when only third at Leopardstown last time and ideally, I believe, needs stepping up in trip while former Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby lacks competitive experience over the larger obstacles and is a late convert to fences.
Dodging Bullets has more solid credentials than most as he jumps well and was trying to concede 3lb to the smart Module when narrowly beaten at Newbury last month. On that form, he has a major chance but of slight concern is the fact that he struggled last spring when running poorly here and at Aintree. If still on top form, he must go close.
Trifolium, third here in the Supreme (behind Cinders And Ashes in 2012), jumped well when scoring at Leopardstown last time and looks another leading contender who will appreciate any drying of the ground.
In the closing Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase, ATTAGLANCE is worth a second look in recollection of his victory here in 2012.
Fourth in the Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course and distance in November, he was disappointing here next time but returned over hurdles at Musselburgh early last month, performing respectably under top weight.
Rated 8lb lower over fences, Attaglance has a good record in the spring and looks to have been trained with this race in mind.