Belfast Telegraph

The Punter: A Hurricane warning

Cheltenham's three-day Open meeting is always a gathering not to be missed as it provides the starting point for the classier horses aiming for glory at the Festival next March.

And while Friday, Saturday and Sunday stages top class events, so too does Punchestown on Sunday with Hurricane Fly making his seasonal return in the Morgiana Hurdle.

The son of Montjeu is only 4/1 to regain the Champion Hurdle crown he lost last March when only third behind Rock On Ruby and Overturn before taking the Rabobank Irish Champion Hurdle at his favourite Punchestown track where he has only been beaten once in six starts.

Trainer Willie Mullins has dominated the Morgiana in recent years and has also entered last year's winner Thousand Stars, Zaidpour and So Young. The latter is unlikely to run after being withdrawn at Navan due to a temperature. Expect the Hurricane to raise another winning flag for Willie.

Back to the Cheltenahm three days and Saturday's Paddy Power Gold Cup will be watched with great interest with Grand Crus all the rage this week in the betting market. And no wonder as he's trained by David Pipe who makes a habit of taking this race and has a very classy bold-jumping grey on his hands in Grand Crus who is thrown in at the weights off a mark of 157.

There will be plenty of support for Hunt Ball, the most improved handicapper last season and a winner here back in March but he hasn't met anything of the class of Grand Crus.

Beaten just once in four starts over fences — he was defeated in the RSA Chase at the Festival — Pipe's grey will be ideally suited to the two and a half miles and also goes well fresh.

He has twice finished second to the mighty Buck Buck's over hurdles and showed his liking for fences when successful in Kempton's Feltham Novices Chase last Christmas.

Expect Grand Crus to shorten even further before Saturday so any 5/2 available should be snapped up.

It'll be a something of a surprise if Paul Nicholls does not emerge with a winner of two over the weekend and one to give strong consideration to is his easy Chepstow winner Far West. The trainer has him in the Triumph Hurdle Trial which Nicholls won last year with Hinterland.

Darlan will have to carry top weight in Sunday's Racing Post Hurdle but if taking his chance as expected, is more than capable of giving Nicky Henderson and Tony McCoy reason to dream about Champion Hurdle glory next spring. Take him with Grand Crus for a weekend double.

Henderson will have no worries about Sprinter Sacre in Sunday's Shloer Chase for which he'll be long odds-on favourite for what should be an easy prep before next month's Tingle Creek at Sandown.

Belfast Telegraph


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