Hurricane Fly heads Champion Hurdle Hopefuls


Tagged under: 3.20 Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)

Hurricane Fly heads a field of 27 hopefuls entered for the Stan James Champion Hurdle which will be the feature of the first day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival.

The eight-year-old will be defending the crown he won last year and is 9/4 favourite with Coral to become the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2005 to win back-to-back Champion Hurdles.

Willie Mullins' charge was last seen at Punchestown in May when he followed his Champion Hurdle victory with another Grade One success to end the season unbeaten in five starts. Hurricane Fly’s return has been delayed this term and is set to make his seasonal debut in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on 29 January.

The reigning Champion Hurdler could be up against Dermot Weld’s mare, Unaccompanied, at Leopardstown. The five-year-old finished second in the Triumph Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and is going for a hattrick following wins in a Listed race at Naas in November and in the Grade 1 Istabraq Festival Hurdle over Christmas. Unaccompanied is generally available at 12/1 to emulate two other mares, Dawn Run in 1984 and Flakey Dove in 1994 by winning the Champion Hurdle at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.

Paul Nicholls’ Zarkander defeated Unaccompanied in the 2011 Triumph Hurdle and is set to re-oppose at Cheltenham along with third horse Grandouet who is trained by Nicky Henderson. Lightly raced Zarkandar is unbeaten in three starts since joining Nicholls stable last winter and is yet to feature this season. Despite his inexperience Zarkandar is among the leading fancies for the Champion Hurlde at 8/1, a similar price to Grandouet who beat Overturn in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.

Grandouet will be joined by stablemates, Binocular, Spirit Son and Oscar Whiskey. Hurricane Fly will be accompanied by stable companion Thousand Stars while Nicholls holds a strong hand with Brampour, Celestial Halo and Rock On Ruby providing the supporting cast to his young hurdling star. Donald McCain will return with last year’s Champion Hurdle runner-up, Peddlars Cross accompanied by Overturn.

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