A number of Champion Hurdle hopefuls will look to bolster their claims of winning at the Festival in March when they line up for this weekend’s in the Grade 2 International Hurdle over 2m1f on the New Course at Cheltenham, a race that in the past has proven to be a very revealing trial for the Champion Hurdle and the winner will almost certainly be mover in the Cheltenham antepost market.
The favourite for the race is the Nicky Henderson trained, Grandouet, still only a four year old but who has already proved his class. He looked a promising type last season when hosing up in two Juvenile Hurdle races before taking on the Paul Nicholls trained Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival. However, he was beaten on that occasion but looked to have the beating of him at Aintree three weeks later in the Grade 1 4YO Anniversary Hurdle but was brought down at the last when looking the likely winner.
He made amends for that disappointment when next out in May when he absolutely thrashed the opposition in the 4YO Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival. The first of his two races this season saw him fall at the last when looking the certain winner in the Grade 2 Elite Hurdle at Wincanton in early November but was an emphatic winner last time in the Betfair Hurdle at Haydock Park, winning that race by 8 lengths from the very useful Marsh Warbler, who opposes again in this.
Grandouet is currently the 3/1 favourite to win Saturday’s and whilst he sets the standard, there is no doubt that he will be tested to the full by at least two other rivals. The first of those is the Donald McCain trained Overturn who has swept all before him so far this season. A big money winner on both the flat and over the sticks, the seven year old Overturn looks better than ever this season winning three from three including the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle a fortnight ago when he had 2010 Champion Hurdle winner, Binocular over four lengths adrift.
The other big name in the field for Saturday’s race is the Phillip Hobbs trained, Menorah. It would appear that Hobbs has put the intended chasing career for Menorah on hold for the time being, believing that he can still win in top grade company over the smaller obstacles. In fact Menorah won this race 12 months ago which encouraged Bookmakers at the time to make him favourite to win the Champion Hurdle. The six year old in fact was one of four being heavily backed to be the Champion Hurdler last season but he was not quite up to the standard and had to be content with a disappointing fifth place behind winner Hurricane Fly. Hobbs reports him in great form at home and believes that Menorah is still capable of “big things” in top company.
Brampour who also ran in last season’s Triumph Hurdle but could only finish in 9th place has been pleasing trainer Paul Nicholls at Ditcheat this season. The champion trainer has said that the four year old has made great progress over the summer and his two wins so far this season is testament to that. The second of those wins came in the Grade 3 Greatwood Hurdle at Newbury last month where he finished 2½ lengths clear of the second Olofi in a big field of 23 runners. Brampour will be hoping to complete the same Greatwood/International Hurdle double as Menorah had done 12 months ago and which Detroit City, also trained by Hobbs had done in 2006 but it is Grandouet that has shown more than any of these rivals and is the one to beat in this.