herald

Thursday 14 December 2017

Go native is one in a million

Champion Hurdle

Racing is a fascinating sport for so many reasons. Trying to pick a winner, the tight finishes, the runaway performances of some of the greats, the agonising misses -- it is like any sport with its edge-of-the-seat moments at the best of times.

Tomorrow's feature Champion Hurdle is set to be one of those fascinating few minutes in the sport. It would be as easy to fancy Go Native as it would be to fancy Solwhit or Punjabi, or Celestial Halo or Binocular. Khyber Kim and Medermit have their keen followers, while Zaynar was once the raving favourite and has only one defeat to his name over hurdles. Bring in Starluck, and outsiders Won In The Dark and Jumbo Rio, and it is just wide open.

In fairness though, it is hard to knock the favourite Go Native and how brilliant it would be to see his connections earn a £1m bonus after wins in the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles.

A winner over the course and distance in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last season when, unusually, Paul Carberry could have been accused of getting there too soon, while Davy Condon admitted to doing something similar at Kempton.

He won on both of those occasions and his only flaw is that of his Down Royal performance, when going down to Voler La Vedette when clearly there was something amiss, and Noel Meade has since admitted to being at fault for running him that day.

Excuses regarding the pace of the Newcastle race were used to suggest that was how he overturned Solwhit on that occasion, but he is hard to oppose and gets the nod here for another Irish winner on day one.

Solwhit is a fair performer and has been an absolute credit to connections, winning six of his last seven -- five Grade Ones -- although a major cloud has to be cast over him being at his best following last week's setback.

Regular rider Keith Schous reported him to be as good as ever and Charles Byrnes is happy enough to let him take his chance, but the horse is facing into his toughest ever assignment having only come off a course of antibiotics on Friday morning. It is far from ideal and it surely makes him hard to fancy.

Binocular was ruled out of the race, but a rethink has seen last year's bronze medallist from this race come back into contention. While it would be no surprise to see one of eight or nine win this race, I would say he has a mountain rather than a hill to climb if he is to follow Istabraq's footsteps even just once for JP McManus.

Last year's winner Punjabi, who was only touched off by Solwhit when going back to Punchestown, crept under the radar 12 months ago and returned a 22/1 winner of the race. He hasn't been at his sparkling best to date this season, but a return to Cheltenham and nicer ground means he cannot be written off.

All the pros and cons mean that this is a race to savour, and a proper race where there is sure to be a number in contention jumping the last. That's what real Championship racing is all about and, at a push, Go Native is the one selected to lead them past the winning post.

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