03/12/2011 10:53AM

Four-day Cheltenham meet begins with Stan James Champion Hurdle


The four-day Cheltenham Festival – the world’s preeminent jumps racing meeting – gets under way on Tuesday with the $590,000 Stan James Champion Hurdle as the opening day highlight.

Binocular, last year’s brilliant winner of this 2 1/16-mile event, has won two of his three subsequent starts and is set to defend his crown. But he faces strong opposition, especially from Peddlers Cross, who has won all seven of his career starts, including a Novice Hurdle over 2 5/8 miles at this meeting last year, and who comfortably beat Binocular at Newbury in November.

Another leading candidate is Menorah, who won a two-mile novice hurdle here 12 months ago and has triumphed at this course twice since, winning two early season Champion Hurdle trials in fine style.

The top Irish-trained challenger is the French import, Hurricane Fly, who missed most of last season with injury and has never raced in Britain but has won eight of his nine career starts in Ireland.

The other raider from across the Irish Sea is Dunguib, who was favored to beat Menorah here last year but went down by two lengths after receiving a less than optimal ride from Brian O’Connell. He may be the best outsider.

Khyber Kim finished 2 1/2 lengths second to Binocular in this race last year and it is difficult to see him reversing those placings.