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Cheltenham Festival 2011 

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By Dylan Jenear ValueChecker

Hurricane Fly and Realt Dubh Underline Festival Credentials

The Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly produced a polished display in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday (January 23) and has been trimmed in the betting for the English equivalent at the Cheltenham Festival in March by most firms, with 5.50 (Ladbrokes and Stan James) the best price available at the time of writing.

Sent off the 4-9 favourite for the Grade 1 contest, the son of Montjeu was always travelling extremely well and his pilot Paul Townend sat motionless in the saddle turning for home, while Davy Russell was hard at work aboard eventual runner-up Solwhit, winner of the race in 2010. Townend shook the seven-year-old up after the last flight and he readily drew clear to beat Solwhit by 3½ lengths.

It could be argued that in winning the Irish Champion, Hurricane Fly didn’t tell us anything new. Indeed, he has beaten Solwhit in their last four meetings now, and he will face an altogether sterner test when locking horns with the likes of Binocular, Menorah and Peddlers Cross in the spring. However, it was hard not to be impressed with the gelding, as he is a slick hurdler who possesses a potent turn of foot.

Another factor that augurs well where Hurricane Fly is concerned is his versatility in terms of underfoot conditions. Most of his racing has been on easy surfaces, but he has won on going ranging from good to firm right through to heavy. He has a fairly quick action and possesses so much natural speed, therefore if the ground is on the fast side of good at the Festival he could be seen in an even better light. I personally feel that he is the one to beat in the Stan James Champion Hurdle in March.

Another horse that impressed on the card at Leopardstown was Realt Dubh, who delivered a spirited display to see off Noble Prince in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase, registering his second Grade 1 win over fences in the process. The race lost some of its lustre when Flat Out fell as the race began in earnest, but it would be unwise to devalue the form.

Last spring when both Realt Dubh and Noble Prince were plying their trade over hurdles, the latter was rated around 13lb superior to Noel Meade’s charge, which serves as an illustration of how much Real Dubh has improved since switched to fences. It surprises me that, following his Irish Arkle success, he can be backed at 14s for the English equivalent, the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, at Prestbury Park in March.

Indeed, in the ante-post market for the 2m novice chasers championship race at the Festival Finian’s Rainbow and Ghizao are both priced up at half the odds of Realt Dubh with many bookmakers. Admittedly, that duo possess enormous potential, but Realt Dubh leaves the impression that he is crying out for the searing end-to-end gallop that he will get in the Arkle Trophy, and the battling qualities he showcased at Leopardstown will serve him well up the Cheltenham hill. He’s a cracking each-way bet in my opinion.


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