The highlight of the opening day at Cheltenham is the Champion Hurdle and another typically high-class field is being aimed at the race. Alan Thompson sifts through the form and the prices to bring you his take...
"Rock On Ruby has plenty of pace and will trade much shorter in-running, while I think the ground will be in his favour too."
Trends and Stats
Horses aged 6-7-8 are best
Twenty-four of the last 29 winners won last time out
Twenty-one of the last 23 winners won a race previously that season
Eighteen of the last 22 winners started in the first five of the betting
No Northern trained winner for 31 years
My Leading Contenders
Has won his last two races effortlessly, but the question is what has he beat? I'd be concerned that Thousand Stars isn't the same horse as he used to be and that a mark of 163 flatters him somewhat this season. True, Hurricane Fly has beat him in style but the fact Thousand Stars is better over 2m4f+ than 2m probably tells its own story. Is obviously top-class, won 16 of 19 hurdle starts, but I'm not of the opinion his Champion Hurdle win came in a field as strong as this year's. In short, his price is too short.
Finished second in the International behind Zarkandar and ahead of Rock On Ruby. Got the run of the race and I'm of the opinion that he'll find it hard to confirm places with both those rivals. Will travel well throughout the race so a back-to-lay strategy could pay dividends.
Won the International in dogged fashion and if this race had been run over the New Course I'd give him a squeak as it plays more to his strengths. The shorter run from the turn-in on the Old Course will mean he has a shorter run-in to play catch-up and its this factor that is probably most detrimental to this horse's chances. If any strategy could work come race day is possibly a lay-to-back play in the place market as I think he may get outpaced on the turn for home and we'll probably get a much bigger price in-running.
Rock On Ruby
At the prices this fella is the play. In the International he made a move at the business end that showed he is a very classy individual. He put in a spurt which sent him clear only for a lack of fitness to take its toll. He definitely came out of that race as the best horse in my opinion and the Old Course will play to this horse's strengths. He has plenty of pace and will trade much shorter in-running, while I think the ground will be in his favour too. That could see him kicking off the home turn and grabbing a few lengths which would make him hard to catch.
Cinders And Ashes
Won the Supreme well but ran below form this season. Hard to see how his running style will make much impact in this race against this calibre of opponent.
Shapes like more of a stayer and his Christmas Hurdle run when sent off favourite proved that emphasis on speed is not his thing. His Triumph Hurdle win was gained on the New Course and he only really got on top close home on that occasion. If he were mine I would have entered him in the World Hurdle and as such I can't have him for this.
Is he the same horse that won the 2010 running? Has a poor record first time up which makes his Irish Champion Hurdle run excusable, but given the question marks over his ability and well being he's best left alone.
Who I'm Backing
I think the winner comes from Hurricane Fly and Rock On Ruby and at the prices - 8.07/1 to back - I think the latter is the value and will offer plenty of room for a position.
The other horse I think is worth backing is Pearl Swan. If he wins the Betfair Hurdle like I think he will then the current 80.079/1 on offer could look huge.
The other play I like is a place lay of Grandouet @ 2.47/5. I think Rock On Ruby will reverse form and Zarkandar will confirm the International form, while Hurricane Fly has his beating.