Melon Can Beat Two Old Champions
There are two former winners of the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle running in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown today. (Saturday). Faugheen won the hurdler’s crown in 2015 and Jezki was the champion hurdler in the previous year.
Jezki’s winning days at this level are behind the horse but Faugheen is a genuine contender for the highlight of the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival but another runner is preferred. There are seven Grade 1 races over the two-day meeting.
Melon is just out of novice company but ran a great race in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December when third to My Tent Or Yours and The New One. The form stacks up in the context of identifying the best two mile hurdler in Britain and Ireland.
My Tent Or Yours and The New One keep turning up in the Champion Hurdle and are never disgraced. It’s strange that neither horse has won the race but Willie Mullins often brings over his best hurdlers. Melon could become his fifth winner in the Champion Hurdle but the Leopardstwon race is his big test.
Mullins has recorded his four wins in the British race since 2011 and Ruby Walsh has been on board each time. The injured Irish champion jockey is not ready to ride this weekend but is aiming to be in action at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Depending on how the Irish Champion Hurdle pans out he could have to choose between any number of Mullins entries. The race revolves around Faugheen who at his very best would be an odds-on favourite.
The fact that Faugheen can be backed at 6/4 suggests connections and the betting public are not convinced that The Machine is back to his best. The run over Christmas was mystifying because the horse was pulled up and nothing seriously wrong was discovered.
You are basically betting on the real Faugheen running which is no given but Melon should run his race at a bigger price. Racing is never an exact science and Defi Du Seuil could be the fly in the ointment. However, hurdlers aged five do not have a good record in Grade 1 races.
Defi Du Seuil won the championship race for four-year-olds at the Festival last year. Since 2000 only one horse has won that race and the Champion Hurdle in a subsequent year. Our Conor won the Triumph in 2013 but then suffered a fatal injury in the Champion Hurdle twelve months later.
The other four runners in the Irish race are mainly handicappers running in graded company. There are eight horses declared to run so bookmakers will be settling each-way bets on three places. Mick Jazz could get in the shake-up and reward each-way backers. Identity Thief also looks a big price but is unproven at this level over hurdles.
The race could see an old champion come back or a new contender emerge. The heart might say Faugheen or Jezki but the head is winning the argument so Melon is the selection for the Irish Champion Hurdle.