Champion Hurdle A-Z guide
Our man Andy Charles weighs up the nine runners in the Stan James Champion Hurdle and selects The New One to score.
- Related Content
CAPTAIN CEE BEE
Trainer: Edward P Harty
Jockey: Mark Walsh
A late supplementary entry for the race, the venerable 13-year-old was surely added to the field to ensure a sound pace for owner JP McManus' other runners, My Tent Or Yours and Jezki.
It would make a lovely story if he were to win but this is 2014, not 2008 when he was at his peak in winning the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Trainer: Alan King
Jockey: Wayne Hutchinson
Grumeti has struggled since his juvenile season, when he finished third to Countrywide Flame in the 2012 Triumph Hurdle and won well at Aintree after that.
Based on his form since, it would take a massive flight of fancy to see him winning what looks like a really competitive Champion. Better ground will suit but well held by some of the chief protagonists in this contest.
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Jockey: Ruby Walsh
Undoubtedly the sentimental pick, the record-breaking Irish challenger goes in search of a third Champion Hurdle crown and an incredible 20th victory at Grade 1 level.
Some wrote him off after his defeat by Rock On Ruby in this race in 2012, but he claimed revenge on that rival last March and has won all three of his races this season, including a game defeat of Our Conor in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January.
But, and there has to be a but, this looks like being one of the strongest Champion Hurdles in recent memory and, should the ground dry out enough by Tuesday afternoon, there is more than a chance he could find himself getting outpaced at the wrong time, just like in 2012. Many would love to see him make it three, but it looks like a near-miss this time.
Trainer: Jessica Harrington
Jockey: Barry Geraghty
Handy spare ride for Barry Geraghty to pick up and it would be no surprise to see this talented, but headstrong, type at least pick up some of the lower place money.
Usually travels well (perhaps too well) and will definitely appreciate the strong pace if Captain Cee Bee, as expected, sets one.
Better ground should also be in his favour but the manner of his defeats by Hurricane Fly on his last two runs suggest it is unlikely he will be turning around the form with the reigning champion unless the ground - or the first-time application of a hood - has a huge effect.
Trainer: Jeremy Scott
Jockey: Nick Scholfield
The apple of his trainer's eye, Melodic Rendezvous seems to be the one horse in the Champion Hurdle field who won't be particularly suited by the recent improvement in weather.
He adores soft ground, the softer the better in fact, and although he should remain competitive you wonder if he has the gears to challenge those opponents with a sharper turn of foot.
A very disappointing effort in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, where he jumped poorly on quicker ground and returned injured, remains fresh enough in the memory to leave him alone this time.
MY TENT OR YOURS
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: AP McCoy
Big drifter in the betting over the last week after Nicky Henderson revealed his hurdling star was suffering with a punctured sole on his near-fore hoof. While he remains in the line-up you have to worry about that injury affecting the usually keen six-year-old when the speed increases at the business end of the race.
On form alone, his stacks up among the best in the field and his defeat of The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton showed he has the guts for a battle, even though plenty believe his victim that day will be seen in a much better light at Cheltenham.
Definitely goes in as the race's biggest question mark and the recent scare is just enough to knock confidence in him being able to win such a competitive renewal of the race despite being the pick of the champion jockey.
Trainer: Dessie Hughes
Jockey: Danny Mullins
Probably the most impressive - visually at least - winner of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival when careering away with the Triumph Hurdle, although it has to be said the form of the race has not exactly worked out and leaves him with a bit to find strictly on the figures.
The five-year-old has not won since the Triumph but he was a big-money purchase soon after by owner Barry Connell with this race in mind. It's been softly, softly for him since and he ran a fine race when only succumbing by one-and-a-half lengths to Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion last time out.
A little bit more improvement from that run and you could well see him beating Ireland's main hope this time around. Will that be enough?
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Jockey: Daryl Jacob
The only runner from the powerful Nicholls yard this year, and he comes into the race as one of the big outsiders after being well beaten by Melodic Rendezvous last time out.
The French import went home to Auteuil for his big pay day in November and he would rate as a surprise winner of this race based strictly on his British form.
THE NEW ONE
Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies
Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies
Another Cheltenham winner from last season, this time over five furlongs further than the Champion in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle. That form could lead you to think the two miles will not be a sufficient stamina test but connections are certain speed is The New One's main strength.
A strikingly impressive winner at Kempton over former champion Rock On Ruby in October, he went on to beat Zarkandar at Cheltenham before Christmas, overcoming a slow jump at the last to storm clear in the last furlong in the manner of a rapidly-improving type.
Since then he has been beaten by My Tent Or Yours at Kempton, but that race came pretty quickly after Cheltenham. He had to go to the front much earlier than Sam Twiston-Davies would have wanted to, and his chances were not helped by a serious mistake at the last. Is that too many excuses in one paragraph?
Sure to be suited by the return to Cheltenham (form figures 161211), his potent combination of turn of foot and stamina will be a massive bonus. His trainer will not hear of defeat and who are we to disagree?
VERDICT: There is every chance the Champion Hurdle will prove to be the best race at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival with three winners from last season's Festival going head-to-head (to-head) in what looks sure to prove a thrilling contest.
While Hurricane Fly will have his supporters, you just wonder if this new phalanx of younger hurdlers will have too much speed for him, with The New One taken to prove best of them at a track which plays to his strengths.
If he jumps just a little bit better than his last two runs you could see Sam Twiston-Davies waiting until the last hurdle to pounce before sending his charge clear in the closing stages to land a first Champion for father Nigel, who had a near-miss with Khyber Kim in 2010.
1: THE NEW ONE
2: Our Conor
3: Hurricane Fly