Hurricane Fly and Paul Townend celebrate their win in the Festival Hurdle (Grade 1) at Leopardstown in December. ©INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Starter's Orders

Champion Hurdle Preview: who will step into Binocular's shoes?

With this year’s Cheltenham Festival about to get underway, we take a closer look at the first day’s big race – the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

When: Today, 15:20

Distance: 2m 110yds

Prize Money: £210,000 (winner)

Who won in 2010: Binocular (9/1)

Latest Odds: 7/2 Hurricane Fly; 4/1 Menorah; 9/2 Peddlers Cross; 15/2 Dunguib; 8/1 Oscar Whisky; 11/1 Khyber Kim; 12/1 Mille Chief; 20/1 Bar

This year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle is an incredibly open race. Up until last weekend, last year’s defending champion Binocular was at the head of the betting and strongly-tipped to defend his crown. When it was announced on Sunday that Nicky Henderson’s charge would not be taking part, the race was blown wide open.

To be perfectly honest, any one of seven horses could realistically expect to take the Champion Hurdle title this afternoon. Currently at the head of the betting is the Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly, who has been in brilliant form of late, scoring four telling successes over Solwhit since April of last year.

Anyone who has seen him race in Ireland in recent months cannot but be impressed, and the quality of the competition which he has beaten shouldn’t be called into question. However, he has never raced at Cheltenham and doubts remain over his ability to carry his form into the festival – particularly as each of the Champion Hurdle’s last 12 winners finished in the top four at the festival on a previous occasion.

In what is likely to be a lightning-paced renewal, there is every chance that a fluid jumper such as Menorah will lead the field home. The winner of last year’s Supreme Novices hurdle, Menorah is unbeaten in three runs at Prestbury Park and is two from two this season.

He did beat Cue Card last time out, but there is a chance that the highly-rated novice was not fully fit at the time. One interesting nugget comes from jockey Richard Johnson who has recently compared Menorah favourably to Rooster Booster, the horse he guided to Champion Hurdle success in 2003.

The third horse with convincing claims in the race is Donald McCain’s Peddlers Cross, winner of last year’s Neptune Hurdle. The six-year-old is unbeaten in his six starts to date, and form-watchers will be trying to interpret his win in the Fighting Fifth in November, a race in which he saw off Starluck and a sub-par Binocular.

He will love the good ground, though there have been a few suggestions that he would like a slightly-longer race – three of his wins have been at distances longer than two miles.

Others will give rightly chances to Oscar Whisky, Mille Chief and Dunguib. One horse who has a very good outside chance is last year’s runner-up Khyber Kim. He was second to Binocular by three-and-a-half lengths in last year’s Champion Hurdle. In fact, Binocular is the only horse to beat Khyber Kim in the last two years – make of that what you will.

The nine-year-old was available at overly-generous odds of 25/1 early last week and, despite his lowered price of 11/1, may still represent good value for an each-way bet.

TheScore says: We’re putting on the green-tinted glasses and going for Hurricane Fly to pip Peddlers Cross and Menorah.

Want more? Check out Mark Hobbs’ preview of Tuesday’s card >

Read more of’s coverage of the Cheltenham Festival here >