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The 2008 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle has attracted 38 entries - 10 more than in 2007 - with a record 19 hailing from Ireland for the £360,000 event, run on the opening day of The Festival, Tuesday, March 11.
Last year's victor Sublimity is engaged once again, along with the 2004 and 2005 hero Hardy Eustace, who also finished third in 2006 and fourth last year. Afsoun (third in 2007) is also entered along with Kawagino (sixth in 2007).
Trained in Ireland by John Carr, Sublimity has only raced once since his three-length triumph over Brave Inca last year, when finishing fourth on his seasonal debut behind Osana in the Boylesports.com International at Cheltenham on December 15.
The Irish challenge also includes Al Eile, winner of the Grade One December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown last month when he was a length too good for Hardy Eustace with Jazz Messenger third, Ebaziyan fourth, Farmer Brown fifth and Clopf sixth.
The revitalised Harchibald, runner-up in 2005, is one four entries for Ireland's champion trainer Noel Meade along with Aitmatov, successful in the Grade One Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, the 2006 Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle victor Nicanor, not seen out since winning at Punchestown in April, 2006, and Jazz Messenger.
Other leading Irish contenders include Silent Oscar, winner of the Grade One Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April, 2007, and Sizing Europe, who looked to be a progressive performer when landing the Grade Three Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham on November 18, proving four lengths too strong for Osana. The mare Lounaos, trained by Eoin Griffin, started favourite for the 2007 JCB Triumph Hurdle but only finished 10th. However, she looked back on track with a comfortable victory at Limerick on December 26.
The trainer with the largest number of entries is Nicky Henderson, who sent out the great See You Then to success in 1985, 1986 and 1987. In addition to Afsoun, the Seven Barrows sextet includes Amaretto Rose, third in the 2007 Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Blue Shark, who was last seen on a racecourse when winning the Grade One Finale Hurdle at Chepstow in December, 2005, Chomba Womba, a winner of both her starts so far this season, Khyber Kim, a Listed class performer on the Flat who put up an impressive display on his hurdling debut at Newbury last month and Punjabi, successful in Grade One company at Punchestown in April.
One of the best novices of last season was Katchit, who gained his biggest success in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival. The Alan King-trained five-year-old was successful on his seasonal reappearance at Aintree before coming third behind Harchibald and Al Eile in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle. Last time out he returned to Cheltenham, going down by eight lengths when second to Osana in the Boylesports.com International.
Straw Bear came close to Festival glory when runner-up in the 2006 Anglo Irish Bank Supreme Novices' Hurdle but broke a blood vessel when disappointing in last season's Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle. The Nick Gifford-trained gelding looked right back to his best last time out when scoring a brave head victory over Harchibald in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Two entries with useful Flat form are Blythe Knight and Blue Bajan. Blythe Knight was a Group Three winner at Epsom on Derby Day, having already proved his ability as a hurdler by taking the Grade Two John Smith's Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree last season. Blue Bajan, Group-placed on the Flat, was a smooth winner at Leicester last month although his trainer Andy Turnell has stressed he is more likely to go down the novice route this season.
There are two entries from France, Cybergenic and Majadal. Both are trained by Richard Chotard for Kent-based owner Fergus Wilson but look short of the class required to win the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle.
SMURFIT KAPPA CHAMPION HURDLE RESULTS
2007-WINNER-SUBLIMITY 7-11-10 Owner-Bill Hennessy; Trainer-John Carr
IRE; Jockey-Philip Carberry; SP-16/1
2006-WINNER-BRAVE INCA 8-11-10 Owner-Novices Syndicate; Trainer-Colm
Murphy IRE; Jockey-Tony McCoy; SP-7/4 Fav
2005-WINNER-HARDY EUSTACE 8-11-10 Owner-Lar Byrne; Trainer-Dessie Hughes
IRE; Jockey-Conor O'Dwyer; SP-7/2 Jt Fav
2004-WINNER-HARDY EUSTACE 7-11-10 Owner-Lar Byrne; Trainer-Dessie Hughes
IRE; Jockey-Conor O'Dwyer; SP-33/1
2003-WINNER-ROOSTER BOOSTER 9-12-00 Owner-Terry Warner; Trainer-Philip
Hobbs; Jockey-Richard Johnson; SP-9/2
2002-WINNER-HORS LA LOI III 7-12-00 Owner-Paul Green; Trainer-James
Fanshawe; Jockey-Dean Gallagher; SP-10/1
2000-WINNER-ISTABRAQ 8-12-00 Owner-J P McManus; Trainer-Aidan O'Brien
IRE; Jockey-Charlie Swan; SP-8/15 Fav
1999-WINNER-ISTABRAQ 7-12-00 Owner-J P McManus; Trainer-Aidan O'Brien
IRE; Jockey-Charlie Swan; SP-4/9 Fav
1998-WINNER-ISTABRAQ 6-12-00 Owner-J P McManus; Trainer-Aidan O'Brien
IRE; Jockey-Charlie Swan; SP-3/1 Fav
1997-WINNER-MAKE A STAND 6-12-00 Owner-Peter Deal; Trainer-Martin Pipe;
Jockey-Tony McCoy; SP-7/1
1996-WINNER-COLLIER BAY 6-12-00 Owner-Wally Sturt; Trainer-Jim Old;
Jockey-Graham Bradley; SP-9/1
1995-WINNER-ALDERBROOK 6-12-00 Owner-Ernie Pick; Trainer-Kim Bailey;
Jockey-Norman Williamson; SP-11/2
2007 SMURFIT KAPPA CHAMPION HURDLE RESULT IN DETAIL
2m 1/2f Old Course, £360,000 guaranteed For 4yo+ which are allotted a rating of 130 or more by the Senior BHB Jump handicapper following a review of the horses entered and after taking account of races run upto and including March 6; horses which are not qualified for a rating in Great Britain, Ireland or France may also be entered; such horses may be eligible providing the handicapper is satisfied that the horse's racecourse performances up to and including March 6, would merit a minimum rating of 130; the decision of the Senior BHB Handicapper shall be final. Weights 4yo 11st 2lb; 5yo+ 11st 10lb Allowances FILLIES AND MARES 7LB Entries 28 pay £405 First Forfeit 20 pay £810 Confirmed 16 pay £405 Penalty Value 1st £205,272; 2nd £77,004; 3rd £38,556; 4th £19,224; 5th £9,648; 6th £4,824
1 SUBLIMITY (FR) (Bill Hennessy) John Carr 7-11-10t Philip Carberry
Winning Trainer: John Carr Based: Maynooth, Co. Kildare Background: Former dairy farmer from Kildare. Scored his first Cheltenham Festival success when Sublimity landed the 2007 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle. Cheltenham Festival Winners (1): Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle (2007 Sublimity) Winners in Britain (2003/04-2005/06): 3; 2; 5 Winners in Britain this season: 2
Winning Jockey: Philip Carberry Date of Birth: November 1, 1980 Background: Brother of Paul and Nina Carberry. Spent summer holidays working for Aidan O'Brien and Dermot Weld. First Winner: Native Status, Bellewstown, 01/07/1998 Cheltenham Festival Winners(1): Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle (2007 Sublimity) Aintree Festival Wins: Cordon Bleu H'cap Hurdle (2000 Sharpaten) Other Big Race Wins: Irish Grand National (2006 Point Barrow), Kerry National (1999 Lanturn), Prix la Haye Jousselin (2006 Princesse d'Anjou), Grande Steeple Chase de Paris (2006 Princesse d'Anjou) Other Details: Has ridden in Australia as part of annual Irish Jump Jockeys Tour.
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