The race of the day on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival is undoubtedly the Champion Hurdle (15:20), a grade one event run over two miles and a half a furlong.
When looking at results over recent years you can see that the Irish have had the upper hand over their British counterparts, winning eight times since 2002. It is never a race that is easy to call though and the favourites often struggle to live up to expectation.
When looking at the entries for this Champion Hurdle, you can see why it is regarded as the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar. Hurricane Fly is being tipped as the 2/1 favourite with the bookies at the moment. He was the winner of this event in 2011, but could only many third place last year.
Since then though, Willie Mullins’ charge has remained unbeaten and does look to be decent value for a favourite.
Last year’s winner, Rock On Ruby, is also in contention and is being offered at 6/1. No horse has managed back-to-back wins since Hardy Eustace in 2004/2005, so there is a chance for Rock On Ruby put his name up there with the best of them in this race.
Much like last year, Paul Nicholls’ Zakandar is an exciting entry in this Champion Hurdle and he is at 5/1. Nicholls’ charge was a winner of the International Hurdle earlier in the season and would have learnt a great deal after coming in fifth position in this event last year.
Also, many will keep an eye on Nicky Henderson’s Grandouet and Binocular, who are at 13/2 and 10/1 respectively. Henderson has been successful in this event five times, so certainly has the knowhow. An each-way bet might be the way to go for this pair.
Zakandar looks as though he is great value though and although it is going to take something special to beat Hurricane Fly, this exciting six-year-old is more than capable of doing just that, so he is our tip for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.