Hurricane Fly Heads Champion Hurdle Dozen
Last year's winner Hurricane Fly heads 12 remaining entries for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on March 13 at the six-day confirmation stage.
Willie Mullins' excellent hurdler had question marks over his wellbeing after missing his first few possible engagements this season, but he returned to action with a stunning victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January and is odds-on to defend his crown.
Ireland's champion trainer has also left in Thousand Stars, fourth last year, and Zaidpour, who has gone unbeaten this season.
Oscar Whisky, who was third to Hurricane Fly in last year's renewal, has been taken out by trainer Nicky Henderson and will instead take on Big Buck's in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Henderson is now represented solely by the 2010 hero Binocular after Spirit Son and Grandouet got injured.
The champion trainer's Zarkandar extended his unbeaten run to four with a battling display to land the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 17.
Last season's Triumph Hurdle winner had not been seen since completing a spring double at Aintree last April, but emerged victorious on his seasonal bow under an inspired ride from Ruby Walsh.
Jessica Harrington will hope Oscars Well has more luck than at Cheltenham 12 months ago when he finished an unfortunate fourth in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
Sabrina Harty's Kalann and the Tom George-trained Olofi are the other possibles.
Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE FACTS
1. The Champion Hurdle was inaugurated in 1927, with a value to the winner of £365. The race was abandoned in 1931 due to
persistent frost, in 1943 and 1944 because of the Second World War, and in 2001 because of foot and mouth disease.
2. There have only been three sponsors of this great race since its inception. Waterford Crystal backed the contest from 1978 to 1990, while the Smurfit Group sponsored the race from 1991 to 2010. Stan James took over the sponsorship in 2011.
3. The largest field has been 24 (1964 and 1991) and the smallest three (1932). The first five runnings of the race saw a total of only 24 runners between them. The current safety limit is 28.
4. The Stan James Champion Hurdle is a contest for multiple winners. Peter Easterby and Nicky Henderson are the race’s most successful trainers, with five wins each. Easterby’s victories came courtesy of Saucy Kit (1967), Night Nurse (1976 and 1977) and Sea Pigeon (1980 and 1981). Nicky Henderson’s five victories so far have come with See You Then (1985, 1986 and 1987), Punjabi (2009) and Binocular (2010).
5. Among jockeys, Tim Molony won the race most often with four victories, on Hatton’s Grace (1951) and Sir Ken (1952, 1953 & 1954). A P McCoy is the most successful current jockey with three wins aboard Make A Stand (1997), Brave Inca (2006) and Binocular (2010).
6. The most successful owners are Dorothy Paget, who won the race four times thanks to Insurance (1932, 1933), Solford (1940) and Distel (1946), and J P McManus, who owned triple winner Istabraq (1998, 1999 and 2000) and Binocular (2010).
7. Istabraq, successful in the three Champion Hurdles from 1998 to 2000, was retired after failing to become the first horse to win the race four times in 2002. The four other three-time winners are Hatton’s Grace (1949-51), Sir Ken (1952-54), Persian War (1968-70) and See You Then (1985-87).
8. The race has been won seven times by entires, but only twice by mares - Dawn Run (1984) and Flakey Dove (1994).
9. Four greys have won, the most recent being Rooster Booster in 2003. The others were Kribensis in 1990, Our Hope in 1938 and Victor Norman in 1936. Only one roan horse has won the Champion Hurdle, Anzio in 1962.
10. Istabraq’s success in 2000 in a time of 3 minutes 48.1 seconds beat the previous Champion Hurdle record time, set by Make A Stand in 1997, of 3 minutes 48.4 seconds.
11. Dessie Hughes, who trained Hardy Eustace to win in 2004 and 2005, is only the fourth person to have both ridden and trained a Stan James Champion Hurdle winner, having partnered Monksfield in 1979. The others to have achieved this double were Fred Winter, Fred Rimell and Gerry Wilson.
12. As part of the Stan James sponsorship, the bookmaker is backing three races leading to the Stan James Champion Hurdle: November 26, 2011 – The StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle – Newcastle – won by Overturn
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