03/08/2014 11:57AM

Cheltenham: Hurricane Fly targets third Champion Hurdle victory


No horse has won more Grade 1 races than Hurricane Fly, the 10-year-old hurdler from Ireland.

From November 2008 until January of this year, Hurricane Fly has won 19 Grade 1 races for hurdlers in England and Ireland. By comparison, John Henry won 16 Grade 1 races in the early 1980s, the same number that the British steeplechase horse Kauto Star won in the late 2000s.

Two of Hurricane Fly’s wins were the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, a race he is favored to win for the third time Tuesday.

The four-day National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, 100 miles west of London, annually brings together the top hurdle and steeplechase horses from England and Ireland. The wildly popular meeting drew record attendance of 235,125 in 2013, a number that could be challenged from Tuesday through Friday.

Hurricane Fly is trained by Willie Mullins of Ireland, whose massive stable is expected to lead the trainer standings at Cheltenham. Hurricane Fly, by Montjeu, is unbeaten in the current steeplechase season, having won three Grade 1 stakes in Ireland – the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, the Ryanair Hurdle in December, and the Irish Champion Hurdle on Jan. 24. The latter two races were at Leopardstown.

Those races were over two miles, the same distance as Tuesday’s $669,000 Champion Hurdle. The Champion Hurdle field will negotiate eight hurdles during the race, which undulates to an uphill finish.

Hurricane Fly has run in the last three Champion Hurdles, winning in 2011 and 2013 and finishing third to Rock On Ruby in 2012.

Hurricane Fly is not a standout. The New One, a 6-year-old gelding who has won three of four career starts in hurdle races at Cheltenham, is considered a major threat to Hurricane Fly. The New One has not started since finishing second to My Tent Or Yours in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park outside of London on Dec. 26.

My Tent Or Yours, another contender for the Champion Hurdle, won a two-mile flat race on the Polytrack synthetic surface at Kempton on Feb. 16 as a prep for Tuesday’s race.

The richest race of the week is Friday’s $920,000 Cheltenham Gold Cup over 3 1/4 miles and 22 fences. Bobs Worth, the 2013 winner, is the 7-4 future book favorite over 3-1 Silvianico Conti, who fell while in contention three fences from the finish last year, but has since won the Grade 1 King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Dec. 26.