Alex Hammond: It's Fly time
Happy New Year to you all, I hope you have had a restful (and winning) Christmas period.
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A few thoughts on the racing we have enjoyed over the past week or so.
Bobs Worth will be hard to oppose if he arrives at Cheltenham in the same determined form that saw him win the Lexus. He ran a shocker in the Betfair Chase at Haydock, too bad to be true, and bounced back in splendid style at Leopardstown. He has the sort of attitude you can't buy and in that form he will take some beating. He's 9/4 favourite with Sky Bet to win the Blue Riband once again.
With the jumps trainers' championship more open that we first expected due to a couple of setbacks for top class horses in Nicky Henderson's care, Paul Nicholls will be hoping he can win some valuable prizes on the big days.
Silviniaco Conti has already played his part with his win in the King George and Nicholls will be encouraged by the performance of Al Ferof on his first serious test since coming back from injury. With Big Buck's looking in magnificent shape ahead of his comeback in a racecourse gallop at Exeter recently too (9/4 favourite for the World Hurdle) and plenty of talent in his Somerset yard, Nicholls is odds on to win his title back this season.
Tidal Bay may be long on years now, but he is the sort of horse who could run a big race in the Grand National for the Nicholls team and he is currently one of the 20/1 joint favourites after his staying on third in the Welsh National at Chepstow.
Cue Card ran well in the King George and is 5/2 favourite to win the Ryanair Chase at the festival again, but the Tizzards must be tempted to have a bash at the Gold Cup and I think that gives Al Ferof a great chance of winning the Ryanair for which he is currently an 8/1 chance.
"The New One was beaten by a battling My Tent Or Yours in the Christmas Hurdle which caused great excitement in the nursing home that houses my 93-year-old Nan as I almost shouted the place down when my selection held off The New One in an exciting finish!"
As much as I hate to say it as I've put Jezki in my ten-to-follow list, Hurricane Fly looked in unstoppable form when winning the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown. For a record breaking championship horse, he attracts plenty of criticism, but you couldn't pick holes in that run (his 18th top-level victory) and, with further improvement to come as he gets fitter according to trainer Willie Mullins, he looks bang on course for a third Champion Hurdle win.
I have huge respect and admiration for the young pretenders that will be taking him on come March time, but don't think any of them have done quite enough consistently to beat him on the day if all the runners arrive in rude health and get luck in running. He is currently 3/1 joint favourite with The New One with Sky Bet. The New One was beaten by a battling My Tent or Yours in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton which caused great excitement in the nursing home that houses my 93-year-old Nan as I almost shouted the place down when my selection held off The New One in an exciting finish! My Nan is pretty deaf, but even she heard my encouragement and enjoyed the Kempton finish. I think that race will have made more of a man out of the Henderson horse, but Hurricane Fly still has bucket-loads of class and Jezki may be his biggest threat (even though he wasn't good enough to beat him at Leopardstown, even taking into account that he got hemmed in at a fairly crucial stage).
Another Mullins star, Annie Power, continues to impress and looks like a machine judging on her latest success at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. That took her unbeaten run to nine and gives Willie Mullins plenty of options at the Festival.
She is in the Champion Hurdle, but as Mullins has The Fly for that she could run in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle, but Mullins would surely like to win that with Quevega for an astonishing sixth time (5/4 favourite to win the race again).
So that leaves the World Hurdle as an option and she is currently 6/1 second favourite to beat Big Buck's. Ruby Walsh felt she had plenty of stamina when winning over two and a half miles at a rain-sodden Prestbury Park and it would be great to see her take on the king of the staying hurdlers.
"Another of those Sky Bet Supreme co-favourites is The Liquidator. David Pipe's gelding annihilated the opposition at Cheltenham, although that was on better ground he does have winning form on heavy. He is very good and I fancy his chances."
Finally, much has been said about Sprinter Sacre's demise in the Desert Orchid Chase and although it's always disappointing to see a champion floored, it was great to see him return in one piece - thanks entirely to the quick thinking of Barry Geraghty. It seems his heart problem has righted itself, so let's hope we see him back on the track when Nicky Henderson is happy with him again. It just goes to show that even the best are fallible and it somewhat overshadowed Sire De Grugy's second Graded-race victory of the season for the excellent Moore team.