There is only one safe bet at Cheltenham this week: the Champion Hurdle crown will stay in Ireland. Depressing to say, but it is hard to believe any British horse will even run into a place. The favourite is reigning king of the timber toppers Hardy Eustace and it will be hard to keep the champ out of a place. However, the best form of any horse coming into the race belongs to Harchibald and he is the selection.
Everyone knows that Harchibald ran appallingly in a racecourse gallop at Navan, beaten out of sight by some mediocre chasers. The bookies have been laying the horse since and at 5/1 he is the biggest price for the race at any time since Boxing Day, when he galloped Rooster Booster into the ground, gaining more than thirty lengths between the last three hurdles at Kempton Park.
The price makes Harchibald irresistible. Sceptics will point out he finished weakly in the County Hurdle last year but at the age of six a huge horse like Harchibald is entitled to strengthen up. Back In Front has won four times from five runs at Cheltenham and he and Hardy Eustace will make it an Irish top three.
Jockey Paul Carberry can score a quick double by following up on Frenchman’s Creek in the William Hill Trophy Chase. Horse and jockey won this race in 2002 and lightning can strike twice. Henrietta Knight could gain a smidgen of compensation for Best Mate’s enforced absence from the Gold Cup with Only Vintage in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
In the Arkle Paul Nicholls has a great record and My Will looks the best of the homegrown talent in a race where Irish raiders again dominate the betting.
2:00 Only Vintage (each-way)
2:35 My Will (each-way)
3:15 Harchibald (win)
4:00 Frenchman’s Creek (each-way)