Hayley O'Connor previews a massive weekend of National Hunt racing
“Pace yourself” are two words I generally don’t welcome, but I think this could be a prudent approach to racing this weekend.
One symptom of enthusiasm can be tunnel vision and I'm cautious that I may not be too objective as we welcome back some National Hunt heroes over the next 2 days.
My plan is two-fold; as well as some winning wagering, my Cheltenham form analysis will get under way as we’ll have our introduction to possible Champion Hurdle contenders on Sunday with the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Across the water, Vaniteaux will surely find himself in the antepost mix if he justifies his market-leading position in the Greatwood, and in doing so could also justify Barry Geraghty’s tough decision of not partnering with record breaking Jezki here in Ireland.
With AP McCoy sidelined, he was touted as the next option for the current champion hurdler Jezki, but his loyalty to Nicky Henderson, and perhaps regard for his exciting five-year-old, last seen when an admirable 3rd in the Supreme Novices, means he’ll be on Vaniteaux at Prestbury Park.
Among those taking him on is Clondaw Warrior who won the November Handicap, which very “Irishly” is run in October, on his last start and is undoubtedly an intriguing player. Barry has been spot on with his choice of rides of late however, and I think his decision will be rewarded.
I am much less decided about the Morgiana.
Jezki was utterly brilliant in the Champion Hurdle at the festival last season, (readers of my JOE.ie blog will remember I tipped him up, 9/1, BOOM!) and is the one to beat on form for Sunday.
BUT… “The Fly” is almost unopposable at Punchestown. Whatever the debate about him not delivering his best at Cheltenham, this is his stomping ground. Prior to Jezki beating him here last April, you’d have to go back to 2009 to find his last defeat at the Kildare track. Since then, he picked up 6 of his Grade One prizes here, and will be bidding for his third successive victory in this race. At 10 years old though, he’s getting on…
Jezki, on the other hand has beaten Hurricane Fly on his last two starts, despite chasing him home twice on the festival lead in. This is the start of his road to Cheltenham so defending his crown is surely the ultimate target.
The game mare Little King Robin has continued to rise to the challenge of tougher races and steps up again in her bid for a sixth consecutive win, and we know folks - never underestimate the fairer sex.
As Eleanor Roosevelt wisely said, “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong it is until it's in hot water” and the opposition would be silly to let her nab too much of an advantage in front.
I can’t honestly say whether it is my head or my heart, but my instinct tells me Hurricane Fly will use whatever is left in his tank to dominate here as the chances of him doing so at Cheltenham are less so. While Jezki could be on the rise, the Hurricane’s opportunities to blow us away again will be diminishing with age, and I think he could use those mighty lungs to do so on Sunday.
Regardless of my instincts being right or wrong, like the weather warnings this week, I am going to approach with caution.
It’s a long season ahead, and with that and the dreaded “pace yourself” in mind, I’ll be more interested in note-taking than staking this weekend.
The Morgiana Hurdle and Greatwood Hurdle are the first of a number of key races to follow to keep up to speed on the Champion Hurdle. Here are the dates for the other key races to follow.
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