Bookmakers braced for Hurricane

Bookmakers are likely to be running for cover if the mighty Hurricane Fly can strike a blow for punters and successfully defend his crown in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The Willie Mullins-trained superstar will be the first of four horses putting their titles on the line in the championship races at the Festival, with Champion Chase favourite Sizing Europe, World Hurdle 'good thing' Big Buck's and Gold Cup hero Long Run completing the quartet over the week.

It is far from inconceivable all four could collect, a thought that has the layers quivering on the eve of the Prestbury Park jamboree.

Coral's David Stevens said: "We can't remember a Festival where so many fancied horses were in action, especially in the big championship races, and these reigning champions, along with the likes of Quevega and Sprinter Sacre, will be written on thousands of betting slips.

"Wins for all these hot favourites would ensure bookmakers endured their most painful payout since Frankie Dettori went through the card at Ascot 16 years ago, a day that saw £40m returned to punters.

"It's fair to say we are approaching this year's Festival with more than a little trepidation, as the age-old battle between bookie and punter is likely to rage fiercely over the next four days. Hopefully we'll still be standing at the end of it."

Mullins was on course at Cheltenham to watch Hurricane Fly go through the motions and is confident his charge is in the same form as when making a hugely impressive seasonal return in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.

He said: "He travelled over well, he rode out nicely this morning and seems in nice form. He seems much more relaxed on the gallop over here than he was last year. I think he's just holding his form and I'm happy with that.

"They are watering the track, which I think is a good thing. They are calling the ground good, good to soft in places, but after walking the track I'd say there is a lot of good."

The Irish champion trainer also saddles Zaidpour, who is unbeaten in his last four starts. He went on: "The ground is probably too dry for him, but he has Grade One form over two miles, so we have to give him his chance to do it. He wasn't right last year coming to the Festival and we think he's in good order this year."

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