I’m surprised that Hurricane Fly is the slight favourite going into the Morgiana Hurdle on Sunday as Jezki is the reigning Champion Hurdler.
The prices represent sentiment over reality to me at this stage. We beat Jezki twice before Christmas last season but as the season wore on he turned the tables on us in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and also at the Punchestown Festival.
In the past I would have been full of confidence that Hurricane Fly could see all challengers when he was the top dog in the hurdling division, But Jessica Harrington and Jezki’s connections are entitled to be confident about their champion now.
Sunday’s race will tell us a lot because if Jezki beats us out the gate then the Fly is going to have to step up in trip to win races this season. But if the Fly wins …
Hurricane Fly has won the Morgiana Hurdle for the last two seasons as part of his world record 19 Grade One victories. Paul Townend rides him in his homework and he’s happy with him.
He’s in good form and is enthusiastic in his work at Closutton. The Fly can be a bit like Luis Suarez at times and will give you a nibble if you’re not careful.
Form is form though and at this moment in time Jezki has it. Hurricane Fly has to regain his mojo and come back to his very best to beat him on Sunday.
I’ve been given the day off by the stewards so I’ll miss his return in the Clonmel Oil Chase on Thursday.
Sizing Europe is a good yardstick – he beat Road to Riches who went on to win at Down Royal – so he sets a fair test.
That said, if Champagne Fever is going to develop into a Grade One chaser you’d be hoping he’ll go very close – even though he’s bound to come on for the run.
He’s a big horse who takes plenty of work but this looks a good opportunity ahead of a possible tilt at the King George VI Chase at Kempton on December 26.
Would Irving have won?
Would he have won if he didn’t tip up at the last at Wincanton last Saturday? You never know – the hurdles are there to be jumped.
The one thing I would say is that he wasn’t putting up a Champion Hurdle performance at the time. He was carrying 10-12 in a handicap and has questions to answer now. I know Paul (Nicholls) was a little disappointed when he was beaten at the Festival last March.
Even if Irving won at the weekend that’s all he was going to do – just win. He wasn’t going to bolt in or anything like it.
All novices have to improve in their second season to make the grade as a Championship horse and Irving is in that category.
You’d think that in 2014 either Weatherby’s or the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) would have a software system that could identify qualifiers for a race like the Badger Ales Trophy. There’s no racing without owners and it looks like connections are going to get a penalty for winning without the prize money – and that’s very unfortunate for them.
It was a hell of a performance by The Young Master who was obviously a blot on the handicap as he bolted in. On the plus side, trainer Neill Mulholland looks to have a good one there and I wouldn’t rule him out of Welsh National calculations over Christmas if that’s his target. He’s entered at Cheltenham on Friday (1.15pm).
Theatre of Dreams
I was impressed with Southfield Theatre. He jumped like a buck and followed up his Chepstow win in style. The Feltham Novices Chase at Kempton over Christmas looks like a likely target with the RSA Chase at Cheltenham next March in mind.
Horses to watch:
As a hurdler Gilgamboa was beaten behind Vatour in last season’s Supreme Novices after making a mistake but always looked destined to be a chaser. I was on Blood Cotil on Sunday and this fella was as good as playing with him down the straight at Navan. It’s three weeks to the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse and I was really taken with his performance. He’ll improve too because there’s not many miles on the clock.
The Irish Novice chasers seem to be strong at the moment after Dessie Hughes’ The Tullow Tank’s win at Punchestown last week and Noel Meade’s Apache Stronghold scoring up North. Un de Sceaux and Vatour are high up in the Arkle Chase market and are schooling away at home.
But there’s a few tasty novices out there already and they’re going to have to be up to their job when they do reappear.
Free Impression was impressive at Naas on Saturday. Gordon Ellot’s winner of the maiden hurdle came from the point-point ranks so to win a maiden hurdle over two miles shows he has a lot of ability. You’d imagine he’d improve for a step up in trip too.
He travelled very strongly, jumped very well and I loved the way he ran to the line. He could improve again if upped in distance and looks to have a bright future. He could play his part in the major novice hurdles this season.