Time: 2.08pm Course: Auteuil
Distance: 3m 1f 110y
Full Race Name: Grande Course De Haies D’Auteuil (Hurdle) (Grade 1)
The Haies D’Auteuil Grade One Hurdle at Auteuil tomorrow is an absolutely fantastic renewal of the three mile and one furlong contest across the waters of the English Channel in France. With fifteen runners entered it looks sure to be a stern test but this year the race is plunged into further intrigue with the entry of one of the greatest superstars in racing – Hurricane Fly. The dual champion hurdle winner has won 23 of his 29 starts, an incredible feat to say the least and having made way for the quicker two milers, he’s now looking for opportunities over the longer distances. However, as much as it pains me, I will be taking on the mighty Fly tomorrow at prohibitive odds of 6/4 and look elsewhere for some value.
Why am I taking on the Fly? Well he certainly needs no introduction. Any self-proclaimed horse racing fan can recite the achievements of the Irish superstar like it were a bed time fairly tale. However, this is perhaps part of a wider problem in that his reputation has stood in the way of the actual evidence and forced his price into an unbackable 4/5. Hurricane Fly has extremely limited form in such company for obvious reasons, his last start at the Punchestown festival when beaten just over a length by Jezki serves as his only form line in this contest. He clearly stayed three miles when seen that day and it is no disgrace to finish behind Jezki who had won a point to point over the trip previously. However, this contest is over a furlong further and I am fairly confident that the zip that proved so devastating when rattling up insurmountable victories in the UK and Ireland will be somewhat thwarted by conditions. We must remember that Hurricane Fly only finished six and a half lengths behind Faugheen at Cheltenham which is obviously extremely good form and perhaps illustrates that the old boy deserves to be kept at his best distance than over stretched in inadequate conditions.
The one I am really sweet on is the English raider Zarkandar for master trainer Paul Nicholls. He finished six and a half lengths behind Cole Harden in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle but made a shuddering error when travelling very well on the bridle. I think it’s generally agreed he would have been much closer to the winner that day had he not made that error and perhaps reflects why he started as short as 5/2 for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Aintree. He was seriously disappointing that day but the old adage that Cheltenham form doesn’t translate to Aintree perhaps holds true in this instance. I think his run was so bad that day that he has to be forgiven for that effort. He’s a whopping 10/1 and I think that makes him extremely good value and I am sure Mr. Nicholls has been hard at work fine tuning him for this race.
Ballynagour (8/1) is another English raider and he’s a very interesting contestant in this fascinating renewal. He won over two miles and five furlongs on his last start at Auteuil when routing a field of fourteen. You’d have to think he’d need to step up again on that but he has a clear liking for the track and shouldn’t be too far away at all. Voiladenuo has rattled up a hat-trick and is on a steep upward curve of improvement. However, he is untested at this trip and you would have to take it on confidence that he would handle the conditions going for the four timer.
Thousand Stars (16/1) won this race in 2012 but it’ll be tough for him to regain his crown in this field. He’s been campaigned for a tilt at this race by Willie Mullins but you would have to be surprised if he has sent the Fly here knowing Thousand Stars has his measure. Un Temps Pour Tout is an interesting one and is likely to be a market leader especially given his unexposed profile. He beat Zarkandar eleven lengths at Aintree but was behind him at Cheltenham. Perhaps he is suited at a flatter track given his third at Punchestown and having won at Auteuil on only his second start as a racehorse, he is well within the ‘improvers’ category.
It is a truly fascinating Haies D’Auteuil renewal and a race with a lot of depth. The French form is not always the easiest to assess and I would question to what extent the French runners match or outweigh the firepower of the English raiders – although I would say that as an Englishman. However, one thing is for certain and as much as I love him, I am steadfast in my opposition to Hurricane Fly. The eleven year old may even bow out after this race and so it would be fitting to see him win. However, given the longer trip and stronger race, I have to oppose him at a short price. I am therefore sticking with the double figure price of Zarkandar EW and put my confidence behind Mr. Nicholls sparking some improvement out of the eight year old. I think he has a touch of class about him that he has not yet been able to bring to the racecourse for whatever reason and I think on the flatter track of Auteuil with a good break under him, he’ll be bang there at the finish.