Twiston-Davies Sweet on Kim for Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle
With now less than a week until The Festival 2010 gets underway, the countdown intensifies with the unveiling of the acceptors for the six races on day one, Tuesday, March 16.
Topping the bill is the £370,000 Grade One Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle (3.20pm), for which 17 horses stand their ground. Defending champion Punjabi is one of three possible starters for trainer Nicky Henderson along with Binocular, who finished third 12 months ago, and Zaynar, victorious in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival in 2009. If Henderson were to win the hurdling championship this year, he would join Peter Easterby as the most successful handler in the race’s history with five wins, following Punjabi’s victory and the hat-trick achieved by See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987).
Irish-trained horses account for 10 of the 17 entries remaining in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle and include last year’s Spinal Research Supreme Novices’ Hurdle victor Go Native and Solwhit, who headed the ante-post market in the past few weeks but is now facing a battle to make the final line-up following a dirty scope at the weekend.
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls is set to be represented by last year’s runner-up Celestial Halo while Khyber Kim, trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, will attempt to maintain his 100 per cent record at Cheltenham this season. Twiston-Davies has unerring faith in the eight-year-old, who laid down his championship claims in the autumn. After clinching a course and distance victory in the Grade Three Greatwood Hurdle at The Open in November, Khyber Kim saw off last season’s Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle runner-up Celestial Halo to take the Grade Two Boylesports.com International, with Medermit third and reigning champion Punjabi back in fourth.
The Naunton handler revealed today: “Khyber Kim is in tremendous form and we are very confident going into the race. In my opinion, he is the forgotten horse but never mind, let’s go and win.”
The progressive gelding’s three successes over hurdles have all come with ease in the ground but Twiston-Davies believes that to be incidental.
He said: “The first day of The Festival will probably be the softest ground anyway but he doesn’t need soft. He has a lot of class and I’m very happy with him. I don’t think Paddy Brennan or I would swap him for any other, in fact I’m certain we wouldn’t.”
Final declarations for the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle take place on Sunday, March 14, while the remaining five races on Tuesday, March 16, have 24-hour declarations on Monday, March 15.
The Festival gets underway with the traditional curtain-raiser, the £100,000 Grade One Spinal Research Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (1.30pm), for which there are 34 acceptors, headed by Dunguib. The seven-year-old, triumphant in the 2009 Weatherbys Champion Bumper and unbeaten over hurdles, had been given an entry in the Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle but now has the Spinal Research Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as his sole target following today’s acceptance stage.
A vintage renewal of the £150,000 Grade One The Irish Independent Arkle Trophy (2.05pm) is in prospect with 17 possible starters at the six-day confirmation stage. Currently heading them is Captain Cee Bee, trained in Ireland by Eddie Harty and seeking a second success at The Festival following his victory in the Spinal Research Supreme Novices’ Hurdle two years ago. Another leading contender Sizing Europe also hails from Ireland and the former top-class hurdler is unbeaten in four starts over fences. Henrietta Knight, trainer of the triple totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup hero Best Mate, looks to have another star on her hands in Somersby, who finished third to Go Native at The Festival last year and is unbeaten in both his outings over fences so far.
The handicap action on Tuesday, March 16, consists of the £80,000 Grade Three William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase (2.40pm), for which there 55 acceptors, while day one also plays host to the £45,000 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeplechase (4.00pm) over Cheltenham’s unique Cross Country course. All of the previous five renewals of this race have fallen to horses trained in Ireland, with four of those going to horses owned by J P McManus and trained by Enda Bolger. Irish-trained horses account for 12 of the 25 acceptors with five hailing from the Bolger stable including Garde Champetre, the winner for the past two years as well as L’Ami and Drombeag, the second and third in 2009.
Day one of The Festival draws to a close with the third running of the £90,000 Grade Two David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle (4.40pm), for which there are 21 entries going forward including Quevega, the imperious 14-length victor in 2009.
The going at Cheltenham is currently:
Old and New Courses: Good to Soft, Good in Places
Cross Country Course: Good, Good to Soft in places
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