03/10/2007 12:00AM

Detroit City favored in Champion Hurdle


The indomitable Detroit City heads a high-class edition of the Grade 1, $695,000 Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday, opening day of Britain's National Hunt Festival.

The winner of his last eight starts, seven of them over hurdles, including the Triumph Hurdle at the Champion distance of 2 1/16 miles last March and the Aintree Novice Hurdle three weeks later, Detroit City is the 2-1 favorite with Ladbrokes. So good is Detroit City, trained by Peter Hobbs, that he led home a field of 31 last October in the 2 1/8-mile Cesarewich Handicap on the flat at Newmarket. He prepped for the Champion with a 1 3/4-length victory in a listed hurdle at Sandown on Feb. 3 over Straw Bear, who will challenge him again on Tuesday. Richard Johnson has the call.

Detroit City, who never does more than necessary, must repel the challenges of a pair of strong Irish invaders in defending champ Brave Inca, the Colm Murphy-trained jumper who has won eight Grade 1 hurdles in his career but was second last time on Jan. 28 in Leopardstown's Irish Champion Hurdle. The winner of that race, Hardy Eustace, will seek his third Champion Hurdle victory for trainer Dessie Hughes, having won in 2004 and 2005.

There is little to separate the first three, but longshot players should note Jazz Messenger, the Kempton's Christmas Hurdle winner who was fifth behind Hardy Eustace in the Irish Champion.