The 2014 Champion Hurdle

Why Our Conor looks to be a poor bet.

Our Conor was the most impressive winner of the Triumph in living memory last year but does that mean he can become only the 2nd five yo to win the Champion hurdle since 1985. 90 have tried since, only Katchit was successful; since 2007 a total of 19 five-year-olds have taken part in the champion hurdle. Katchit won and a further 6 have made the frame, so the recent record is good and if successful, Our Conor will become only the second reigning Triumph winner since the great Persian War in 1968.

So how does Our Conor rate compared to recent Triumph winners? If the time of the race is a reliable barometer, which it should be as it is always run at a breakneck pace, on the same course, over the same distance and all of the runners carry the same weights year after year. It’s a reliable model to work with and the only variable is the Going, but if we take the average winning times of the winners on G/Soft ground and Good ground, it averages out at about a 4 seconds advantage on Good ground, not perfect but it should be close enough.

Given the nature of his win last year it will surprise most people to learn that Our Conor is actually the poorest winner on the clock since Katchit in 2007, who was the outstanding horse by far on the clock, when the going is taken into account. Only Zarkander could match Katchit’s winning time of 3.54, but whereas Zarkander raced on Good ground Katchit raced on G/S ground

As the table below illustrates, even allowing for Going differences Our Connor’s time was poor, a full 2 seconds inferior to the next least impressive winner Soldatino and a massive 17 seconds slower than Katchit. Our Conor and Katchit both raced on G/Soft ground, which illustrates just how good a horse Katchit was and why he was able to take the Champion hurdle in 2008.

Mick Fitzgerald surprisingly feels last year’s Triumph was a good race and the horses in it have come out and franked the form. Utter balderdash, and that’s being kind. Eleven runners from last year’s Triumph have since contested Grade 1 and Grade 2 races, only Diakali has won and only 2 others have even made the frame. The only Grade 1 winner has been Diakali who won the perennially weak Irish version of the Triumph. A further eight dropped into Grade 3 races, which should have been theirs for the taking, yet only one of them managed to win. It was a very poor Triumph, the winner excepted, but even he does not look that impressive compared to recent winners.

The Triumph is over 17 furlongs and takes approximately 4 minutes to run, that averages out to 15 and a half yards a second. That figure is very imprecise of course because the pace of the race varies so much, but what isn’t imprecise is the final race times.

Recent Triumph winners

3m 54s
Our Conor (IRE)
Good To Soft
Countrywide Flame
Zarkandar (IRE)
Soldatino (FR)
Zaynar (FR)
Good To Soft
Celestial Halo (IRE)
Good To Soft
Katchit (IRE)
Good To Soft

Can Our Conor win?

The table above would appear to show that Katchit would have beaten Our Conor by a very comfortable margin. Using the winning times as a guide the only horse who would have even got competitive with Katchit was Zarkander.

Yet all is not lost if you do fancy a bet on Our Conor. Hurricane Fly should have been too old to win the Champion Hurdle as a 9yo last year and the fact that he has a good chance of winning it this year as a 10yo shows just how weak the Champion hurdle is at the moment, but why?

You would expect the Fly’s main rivals to have come older peers from the last two or three years and the young Turks making the grade from the top novice races and that’s the crux of the problem. There hasn’t been a credible novice progressing through the ranks for quite a few years now, but there have been three very good novices who should have given Hurricane Fly a run for his money.

2009 Supreme Novice winner Go Native won a Fighting Fifth and a Christmas Hurdle the following year and was the favourite for the 2010 Champion Hurdle won by Binocular. He injured himself badly during the race and after a 30 months break he returned to the track and was upside Hurricane Fly when he fell at the final hurdle. Sadly Go Native broke down on the gallops a few weeks later and had to be put down.

Two years later Al Ferof took the Supreme (but went chasing) having beaten a certain Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card. But Sprinter Sacre wasn’t the Henderson first choice; the runner up to Al Ferof that year was Spirit Son who marked himself out as a truly exceptional novice a month later in the Mersey. He slaughtered a high class field including (next year’s Champion hurdler) Rock on Ruby by 21 lengths and runner up Cue Card by 13 lengths. Sadly Spirit Son suffered a freak neck injury in his stall and he never raced again. Nicky Henderson’s bad luck with Novice hurdlers continued with 2012 Supreme runner up Darlan, who looked the real deal after winning at Aintree. After winning the Christmas Hurdle in taking fashion he was vying for favouritism for the Champion hurdle and in his final prep race at Doncaster he approached the last on the bit with reigning champion Rock On Ruby comfortably held but sadly took a crushing fall and had to be put down. The three most promising novices in recent years have all been prevented from fulfilling their potential and any one of the three would have given Hurricane Fly a run for his money.

The Neptune has been the Novice race that provided the established stars with their biggest threat. Hardy Eustace and Istabraq both won the Champion Hurdle 12 months after their Neptune successes, furthermore Rock On Ruby was only beaten a short-head and Peddlers Cross finished 2nd in the Champion Hurdle. Sadly Rule The World and Pont Alexandre, who finished 2nd and 3rd last year are both on the long term injury list and time will tell if last year’s winner The New One is top class.

Hurricane Fly suffers from Best Mate syndrome, despite his incredible record, questions persist as to the quality of the rivals he has faced, despite his truly remarkable record. With Rock on Ruby, Rule The World and Pont Alexandre missing, this year’s renewal once again looks far from a vintage renewal and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a shock winner this year.

Un De Sceux is the dark horse of the race, he has been winning his races with imperious ease and although his rating of 156 leaves him with 19lb to find, if he wins the Red Mills easily today, you will see his mark rocket and his price drop

Jezki was beaten three lengths by Hurricane Fly a couple of weeks ago, but even the great AP admitted he made a mistake that day by holding him up. He pulled hard early on and you knew he was beaten from the 2nd hurdle, they won’t hang around in the Champion and I don’t think he will be far away.

Recommended bets:

Un De Sceux 12/1 EW Ladbrokes (No Runner No Bet)

Jezki 12/1 EW Ladbrokes and paddy Power (No Runner No Bet)

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Comments 4 comments

markfo profile image

markfo 2 years ago from Middlesex, England Author

Un De Sceux won very easily today against 2nd grade opposition.

Eamon 2 years ago

An interesting read Mark and a sad recollection about Darlan's fall. It would have been great to see him face the Fly...Ruby v Mc Coy; The Fly v Darlan. I don't think he would have beaten HR but we'll never know.

Un de Sceaux won easily today and is indeed a dark one. Will Hill is still offering 14's but I cant see him beating HR or The New One. The New One and The Fly are proven Cheltenham there a changing of the guard?!

I hope not but I wonder if the ground this year will be a bigger factor than in recent years and with UdS racing on our heavy ground tracks, he's definitely worth a squeak.

Time to dig out your Cheltenham Ebook...can you believe it's nearly a year ago already!!!


markfo profile image

markfo 2 years ago from Middlesex, England Author

Hi Eamon

How's it going, it's scary how quickly the last year has flown by.

I'm aiming to get there for the Gold Cup day, if you're going this year, it would be good to meet up.

Three big priced winners in the champion Hurdle since 2009 and all three were the stable's 2nd choice. The race usually goes to one of the market favoutites or a fast improving horse.

All the best Mark

Eamon 2 years ago

All good, Mark...just manically busy with work!

Would be good to catch up but I am actually away for a stag wknd from the Friday. I am not even sure I'll get across for any of the meeting at all this year. Last year's Gold Cup day was torrential rain and my worst day (weather-wise) at Cheltenham so I hope it's better for you this year.

I know we mentioned it last year but we should get a meeting in for one of the tracks near London.


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