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Jamie Lynch's Cheltenham Day One Preview: Context is king

Hurricane Fly: a victim of 'quote mining'?

"The enthusiastic Hurricane Fly... has never worn blinkers, but his knockers seemingly do, not seeing the wood for the one, solitary tree planted on Champion Hurdle day last year."

Our Chief Correspondent looks at day one of the Festival, in which he thinks punters have been twisting the big-race favourite's words and getting too attached to working-class heroes.

'Energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry' was the testimonial blazoned across the posters and billboards. Who wouldn't want to have seen Sinatra At The London Palladium, a video presentation of the late singer's greatest recordings, staged in 2006, on the back of such an ardent endorsement? Only it wasn't.

The Observer reviewer's complete line, from which the promotional extract was craftily taken, was in actual fact: 'I couldn't help feeling that, for all the energy, razzmatazz and technical wizardry, the audience had been shortchanged.' I'm not sure whether Accentuate The Positive was part of the Sinatra posthumous setlist. 

Selective editing is the game and contextomy is its name, the dangerous art of quoting out of context, and it's rife, including in the highly-interpretive world of horse racing analysis. Besides painting a potentially misleading picture, 'quote mining' can also serve to contaminate subsequent interpretation of the original testament, and that's more or less the crux of it with Hurricane Fly, the horse around which the Champion Hurdle.

The critics who are unconvinced by Hurricane Fly tend to pull out one excerpt in particular: he didn't win the race last year when expected to. The 2012 Champion Hurdle, as evidence, is case closed as far as the prosecution is concerned, concluding that why now if not then, especially as, at the age of nine, two years older than the average winner, he must be looking down the hill if not quite over it? 

A persuasive enough argument, but based on an isolated incident, and last year's Champion Hurdle is out of context as well as out of character for Hurricane Fly.

His complete bio, from which the pejorative phrase was extracted and distortedly magnified, reads: Hurricane Fly, successful in 14 Grade 1 events including the 2011 Champion Hurdle, didn't win the race last year when expected to, but his odds of 4/6 that day reflected his superior standing over much the same horses he faces this time, and, unsurprisingly for a horse who's had half the racing of most nine-year-olds, there has been no sign of age catching up with him this season with three easy top-level wins from three starts.

Admittedly, this season's three wins do themselves need to be contextualised, as he's beaten nothing yet of the calibre he'll meet at Cheltenham, but the point is that, unlike in 2012, when he had just the one warm-up race amidst some doubts about his well-being, his preparation has gone smoothly, very smoothly, this time.

It's the nature of the racing game that interpretations fluctuate, individually and retrospectively, and, Hurricane Fly apart, there's been a certain amount of revisionism over the 2012 Champion Hurdle. Rock On Ruby, for example, whose win was, at the time, tinged with a touch of enterprise and opportunism, has suddenly become the unsung hero and reincarnation of Hardy Eustace, the back-to-back Champion Hurdler (2004/5) who was cut from the same uncompromising cloth, while everybody seems happy - and rightly so - to overlook Zarkandar's disappointment that day and accept that he's a different horse this different season. So why not Hurricane Fly? 

The enthusiastic Hurricane Fly, who settles better in his races these days and therefore isn't beholden to tactics as he once was, has never worn blinkers, but his knockers seemingly do, not seeing the wood for the one, solitary tree planted on Champion Hurdle day last year. 

Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar are solid, but solid has won fewer Champion Hurdles than a sharp turn of foot over the years, and Hurricane Fly has something else that, on his day, none of his rivals can match: a Timeform rating of 173, making him the best two-mile hurdler since the legendary Istabraq. It may come across as trite that I'm defending a horse who needs little or no defending - after all, he's clear favourite to take back his Champion Hurdle crown - but the purpose is merely to bring, or bring back, a bit of perspective to Hurricane Fly, bruised from a few cheap shots. 

The short-lived production Sinatra At The London Palladium reportedly built to a crescendo of Come Fly With Me, which is what I'm asking of you with Hurricane. This is my official quote on the matter: 'Will Hurricane Fly win? He can't get beat.' Putting it that way gives me some room for contextomy manoeuvre after the event. 
 
That's the Champion Hurdle spleen vented, but what about the other issues up for discussion on the first day of Cheltenham?

The Make-Or-Breaker

On the Tuesday it's a source of fun, on Wednesday it gets mildly annoying, by Thursday there's steam coming out of my ears, and on Friday I'm throwing stuff at the telly. We're talking the phoney-baloney "war", and reporting thereof, between bookies and punters. Bookies rep after bookies rep is wheeled out to tell us, the punters, whether we won that day or not, based on the horrific assumption that all punters back the same horse, always the favourites, and all bookies lay the same horses, always the favourites.

I can't wait for the boy Jiwani to inform that, despite having done £300 in cold blood on the first day according to my account, I'm actually on the winning team because four favourites went in. 

There is, however, a make-or-break horse on day one who will, realistically, decide a punters vs. bookies battle, if not the war. It will certainly shape the whole meeting let alone day for me, as I'm going in and going in big on My Tent Or Yours. Odds of 2.89/5 might not sound juicy, but as far as I'm concerned he's a 2.8 chance to post a higher rating than the Champion Hurdle winner. 

It's a straightforward case: you just don't get horses of My Tent Or Yours's proven ability running in novice hurdles. He's already bearing down on Golden Cygnet, winner of the 1978 Supreme, whose rating of 176 remains the highest for a novice hurdler in Timeform history, and to get in that bracket prior to the championship races of Cheltenham, as My Tent Or Yours has, is almost unheard of. 

Make sure you back him, if only to shout 'Damn right, you're damn right I'm a winner, Jiwani' during the inevitable update at 13:37 on Tuesday.

Match of the Day

There's another war brewing here, and it's something of a class war. In the blue (and yellow) corner, representing the working classes, from the North, we have Overturn, for whom phrases of hearts on sleeves and old-boots toughness were designed. And in the red (with white and navy bits) corner, representing the South, we have Simonsig, the private jet of thoroughbreds. 

My analytical head rules my proletariat, Hartlepool heart in this instance. Even the staunchest Overturn supporters can envisage Simonsig, full of running, looming upsides approaching two out. The closer to evens Simonsig gets, the more I'm likely to play up my Tent winnings. Toffs 1-0 Tradesmen. Punters 2-0 Bookies.

Tuesday's C.H.I.L.D. Must Be Replaced

Loving a second child as much as the first is a valid concern, or so I'm told, and that's the way I feel about Tuesday's second C.H.I.L.D. (Cheltenham Handicapper Imploring Large Down-payment) after my first, Attaglance, was withdrawn from the newly-named Rewards4Racing Handicap on account of the softening ground. In the same race, the child I now intend to sponsor heavily is The Druids Nephew, for whom the positive of his own form to some extent cancels out the negative of his stable form, The Druids Nephew its only winner of the season so far. So far...

The promise of his second at Ascot in November, where he split Hadrian's Approach and Rolling Star, was confirmed when he slammed Grandioso - successful twice and much improved subsequently - by 10 lengths at Wincanton. He ran above himself at the Cheltenham Festival last year when sixth in the Albert Bartlett, and The Druids Nephew will be, for one day only, my adopted child, before I abandon him for Attaglance when Aintree comes around.   

Read Jamie's Previews of days Two, Three and Four.

Get Timeform data for Cheltenham for just £2.50 a day with Timeform Race Passes. It's like a Form Book, Black Book & Race Card all in one! Find Out More!

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11 March 2013

Cheltenham

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