Cheltenham-Eve is upon us once again and all eight runners stand their ground for tomorrow’s feature Champion Hurdle, with Willie Mullins’ unbeaten ‘machine’ Faugheen the 11/10 favourite with BetVictor to make it nine wins from nine starts under Irish Champion Jockey Ruby Walsh. The New One was arguably an unlucky loser in last year’s renewal when severely hampered by the fall of the ill-fated Our Conor and is the 10/3 second favourite to make amends, whilst reigning Champion Hurdler Jezki is the 9/2 third favourite to successfully retain his crown, under soon-to-be retired AP McCoy in his last ever ride in the race.
There’s ample opportunity to swell the Cheltenham coffers this afternoon however with excellent National Hunt racing at Plumpton, Stratford and Taunton with Prince Tom (3.50) fancied to land the feature at the latter. The now 11-y-o boasts an excellent record fresh and sprang a 33/1 upset when winning a competitive handicap chase last summer at Newton Abbot. The selection proved that wasn’t a fluke when running an excellent second on his next start at Ffos Las and despite suffering a fall when last seen at Wincanton in October, should remain competitive from a 2lb lower mark.
Neil Mulholland’s string remain in good nick and his mare Midnight Sequel (4.20) should justify each-way support in a competitive renewal of the two and a half miles’ handicap hurdle. The selection has been progressive over timber, before putting her best foot forward last time out at Fontwell when making an eye-catching debut in handicap company, chasing home Warren Greaterex’s even-money favourite Detour Ahead. The winner has subsequently won since and despite the 6-y-o receiving a 8lb hike at the weights, remains unexposed and potentially well-treated.
This week should prove a massive one for Noel Fehily, booked to ride the favourites in the World Hurdle and Gold Cup; Zarkander and Silviniaco Conti the 9/2 and 3/1 favourites respectively for Thursday and Friday’s feature with BetVictor. Fehily heads to Plumpton this afternoon and should land the opener aboard Charlie Longsdon’s Simply the West (2.00). The son of Westerner made a pleasing debut over timber at Carlisle and has progressed well thereafter, winning a Novices’ Hurdle earlier in the season at Bangor in impressive fashion. He was out-classed when last of eight at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day but this looks a much easier task and he can return to winning ways en-route to presumably a career over fences thereafter.
Fehily can double-up aboard Gilzean (4.00) for trainer Alex Hales in the feature handicap hurdle over an extended three miles. The selection landed a gamble when hacking-up last month at Lingfield before finishing an excellent third under a penalty six days later at Southwell. The 9-y-o should relish the forecast testing ground and, despite a 16lb rise at the weights, can seal a third win from his last six starts.
Paddy Brennan is Stratford-bound and described tomorrow’s ride on Stellar Notion (16/1 with BetVictor for the Novices’ Handicap Chase) as ‘his best chance of a festival winner in a long time’ and he can warm up with success aboard Call me Vic (3.10) in today’s feature handicap chase. Tom George’s 8-y-o boasts C&D winning form at the track and has tumbled down the handicap to an eye-catching mark of 125. The selection finished second two starts back at Wincanton and can return to winning ways, giving weight and a beating to his seven rivals.
Mighty Concorde (4.40) is a fascinating runner in the bumper, coming across the Irish Sea for Gold Cup winning trainer Jim Culloty. He finished an excellent fourth on debut at Punchestown chasing home Champion Bumper candidate Livelovelaugh, with the form taking a boost from the second and third running with credit thereafter. Despite a blot on his copybook when finishing last of nine on Boxing Day at Leopardstown he should thrive on the better ground and get his head in front at the third attempt under Robbie McNamara.
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