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2011 Cheltenham Festival Marquee Match-Ups Part One


While some of the big races at this year’s Cheltenham Festival look to be extremely wide-open affairs, there’s a few other races (mostly the higher-profile ones) that involve a few very accomplished contenders that are expected to take the bulk of the money. We’ll be examining some of the big face-offs here today and trying to see if we can find any clues that might give one big name the edge over another.  

Big Buck’s vs Grands Crus

Big Buck’s the easily the best short-distance hurdler we’ve had on the National Hunt scene for quite some time. You can’t argue with a record like his – unbeaten since a UR back in November of 2008. The multiple Grade 1 winner is has been consistently hitting career-high figures for nearly two years and it’s going to take an awful lot to keep him from taking his third World Hurdle on the bounce.

Grands Crus steps up to the plate representing the David Pipe yard and there’s an awful lot to like about him as well. He scored on a seasonal debut at Cheltenham with Tom Scudamore up and then conquered a listed score at Haydock. He switched back to Cheltenham to dispose of a field of 14 in a Grade 2 contest. His last victory was especially impressive – achieving a 26 point jump in his official rating. All three victories this season have been impressive and, similarly to Big Buck’s, he can win races through a variety of different ways. Whether he tracks the leaders or sits mid-pack doesn’t tend to phase him and the ability to dictate a race as opposed to being forced to capitalize on the errors of others makes for a much more attractive wagering option. One of these two is significantly more experienced

Binocular vs Menorah vs Hurricane Fly

This three-way face-off is easily the key match-up of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival. Binocular disappointed through the opening phase of last season but came back to get the job done at Cheltenham. This year he was beaten on his seasonal debut once again but then stormed back to conquer a Grade 1 at Kempton and a listed contest at Sandown when sent off at a microscopic 1/10. He’ll get McCoy again for this one and he’ll be looking to take his Cheltenham record to 2/4.

Menorah made a huge statement last year when busting so many Supreme Novice tickets getting the better of Dunguib. 3/7 of his career races have come at Cheltenham and he remains undefeated over the surface with both of his efforts in the 2010/11 season being run there. His ability to find more in the final 100 yards or so has proven decisive and he looks to be a virtual certainty to hit the board if he runs error-free.

Hurricane Fly is the real wildcard in this one and many keen National Hunt observers know that if he takes to Cheltenham on his first run then he’s going to be supremely tough to beat. He has been campaigned exclusively in Ireland and spent the better part of the 2010/11 season beating up on Solwhit. Willy Mullins will have him raring to go in this one and, from a ratings stand-point, he looks more attractive than Menorah – he’s also more of a proven contender. Menorah must prove that he’s not punching above his weight while Hurricane Fly has pretty much already proven that he belongs at this level. He’ll likely try to come from mid-division if the going stays at good to soft and probably put on a big push 2 or 3 out. Phil Townend knows what he’s doing and you can expect Hurricane Fly to be heavily-backed by the Irish contingent.