The highlight of day 1 of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival the Champion Hurdle has attracted a small but select field of 9 headed by last years winner Rock On Ruby alongside 2011 winner Hurricane Fly who bids to become the first horse to regain his crown since Comedy Of Errors back in 1975 while Binocular the brilliant 2010 winner also bids to reclaim the blur ribbon of hurdling on a vintage day of NH racing on Tuesday.
Its looking like for the first time since 1995 the horses will be faced with soft ground which will not suit Rock On Ruby but Hurricane Fly has demonstrated that he revels in the mud and hasn't put a foot wrong since finishing 3rd in last years race winning his last four races but he will face much stronger opposition than he has over in Ireland here but with heads to Cheltenham as a worthy favourite. Paul Nicholls who broke his Champion Hurdle duck last year bids to follow up this year with the tough and consistent Zarkanda who took the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December and looks to have cast iron credentials but its just a case of is he good enough which could well be the case. Nicky Henderson trainer of Binocular also saddled Grandouet who put in a very encouraging reappearance after a year off the track behind Zarkanda in the International but hasn't been seen on the racecourse since but lets not forget the trainer sent Sea You Then to win the 1985,86,87 Champion Hurdles after very light campaigns and on good ground he would be my selection but with the ground looking to be testing it may well hinder his chances. Khyber Kim completes Nicky Henderson's team for the race but at the age of 11 his best days are most likely behind him. Donald McCain who has saddled Peddlers Cross and Overturn to finish 2nd the last two years this year relies on last years Supreme Novice Hurdle winner Cinders And Ashes but he is another who's chances have been reduced by the prospect of soft ground. Last years Triumph Hurdle winner Countrywide Flame is one who will have no issues with the ground but his form has regressed since his impressive win in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December but if returning to the level he showed that day he could well be a major player in a wide open renewal of this years Champion Hurdle.
Last year I was confident Hurricane Fly would follow up one last years win but he put in a laboured effort behind Rock On Ruby and I believe 7 of the 9 runners here have realistic chances but I'm not going to pin my colours to any horse until the day of the race thou the tough Zarkanda could be the answer if the race becomes a real slog while it would be foolish to right of Hurricane Fly as he bids to put his name in the record books while I wouldnt right of Countrywide Flame in a wide open renewal of this years Champion Hurdle