Is Raya Star the joker in Champion Hurdle pack?

rayastarALAN King must have walked under a few ladders this season. It is fair to say his luck has been out and his vets must be among the busiest in racing. Consider some of the King big guns who will be absent from the Cheltenham Festival: Medermit, Montbazon, Invictus and Batonnier to name a few. He has also lost a couple of nice horses recently, notably the talented Salden Licht. And although he is still among the 22 left in the Champion Hurdle, another King absentee will be Grumeti, who is back in work although the big one will come too soon. But few trainers have a better each-way record at the Festival in recent years and King could provide the value of the race in the Champion Hurdle.

RAYA STAR is one of the most improved hurdlers in training. Since the start of last season his handicap mark has soared from 120 to a lofty 159. That’s effectively ruled out running in handicaps and a novice chase career beckons next season. But first up is the small business of the Champion Hurdle and from a strong group of hurdlers he has emerged as King’s number one stable choice. The fast gallop and likely good ground will be perfect for Raya Star, who stays two-and-a-half miles but is at his best over a strongly-run two miles on decent ground as we saw when he won last April’s Scottish Champion Hurdle.

He is as big as 66/1 for the Champion Hurdle, mainly because of a disappointing run in the Kingwell at Wincanton behind Zarkandar the other day. But connections have urged punters to put a line through that run as Raya Star hated the heavy ground and also made a terrible mistake three out.

If you take his four lengths second to the ill-fated Darlan in the Christmas Hurdle or his second to Oscar Whisky at Ascot, both on unsuitably soft ground, the 66/1 looks a silly price.

To nick a place he has to shake up the big four in the betting. I still think Zarkandar will win and Rock On Ruby looks a solid each-way bet, but there will be doubts surrounding Grandouet and I can’t help recalling Hurricane Fly’s poor run last season.

Also, keep an eye out in case any of the major bookmakers introduce a betting without Hurricane Fly market: Raya Star’s price will definitely be worth an each-way look.

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