Moon Racer to go for Champion Hurdle rather than Supreme
Moon Racer will line up in the Stan James Champion Hurdle rather than the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, trainer David Pipe confirmed on Saturday.
The lightly raced eight-year-old won the Champion Bumper in 2015, but has only had three starts since then - two of which came over hurdles - but his age, and the lack of any intimidating opposition, were more convincing factors for connections than his inexperience.
Trainer David Pipe exclusively told the Racing Post on Saturday: "We discussed all the options open to Moon Racer with the horse's connections as he had entries in the Supreme and Champion on the opening day. It has been decided that we will go for the Champion Hurdle."
The winner of a Grade 2 at Cheltenham's November meeting when last seen, Moon Racer will now go to hurdling's top table for an open Champion Hurdle for which his price now ranges from 8-1 to 10-1.
Part-owner Bryan Drew added: "We're going to have a go at the Champion Hurdle. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and I don't think I'll get a better chance of winning it."
Last year's Neptune runner-up Yanworth heads the Champion Hurdle betting at 3-1, with the switched from novice chasing Buveur D'Air - who like Yanworth is owned by JP McManus - next at 9-2 with Petit Mouchoir at 7-1 and Brain Power at 15-2 the only other runners shorter in the betting than Moon Racer.
For Tom Scudamore it will be a first ride in the Champion Hurdle since he partnered Osana to finish second to Katchit in 2008 and he said: "It is very exciting going for the Champion and a sporting decision by Bryan and Caroline - it's a once in a lifetime opportunity for them.
"I schooled him around Wincanton in the week and he was very professional and slick at his hurdles. He did everything I could have asked. For a horse who has had only a couple of runs over hurdles he is very mature and he should thrive on the challenge of the Champion."
Scudamore believes his charge is ready and added: "It doesn’t matter whether it is a Supreme or the Champion in either race jumping is at a premium as they will go a decent clip. Field sizes make no odds to him - he has won the Champion Bumper in a big field round there and handled the atmosphere.
"I am not sure there is any such thing as a bad Champion Hurdle but it's open and many of the runners at the beginning of the season weren’t being talked of as Champion Hurdle horses and probably not their yard's number one. But it's still going to be a high-quality race."
Victory would make Moon Racer the first novice to win the day one feature this millennium and just the fourth in total after a glut in the 90s, joining Royal Gait in 1992, Alderbrook in 1995 and 1997 winner Make A Stand - who was trained by Pipe's father Martin.
Elaborating on the reasoning behind the decision, Pipe said from Sandown: "We wouldn't be running unless we thought it was an open race. If Faugheen was in it or something like that then we wouldn't be running in the race and he may well be back next year. Will we be sound and ready to go next year? Nobody knows the answer to these questions so that's the way we've gone.
"He hasn’t got as much experience as other horses in the race having only run six times but it will be a smaller field than the Supreme − there are so many pros and cons. He has shown he can cope with a strong pace before in winning the Champion Bumper and he's been away round Wincanton, schooling round there the same way the Irish horses have been schooling after racing."
Moon Racer's presence in the race could also influence connections of Neon Wolf, who are debating whether to run in the Supreme or Neptune Novices' Hurdle.
The Neptune favourite's task in that race was made easier earlier on Saturday following the news that Finian's Oscar will miss out through injury. But Moon Racer was third-favourite for the Supreme at around 4-1 and his absence could make the opening race of the festival a more attractive proposition for trainer Harry Fry and connections.
Fair play to connections for chancing their arm, although they probably didn’t take much persuading given the make-up of the final field, and the alternative Supreme might end up being just as competitive.
However, for all that Moon Racer has impressed in winning both hurdle starts - and beating Ballyandy twice isn’t to be sniffed at - he still comes out second bottom on official ratings and bottom on Racing Post Ratings.
There could be a lot more to come from such a lightly raced contender who has been beaten only once in six starts, but this is a whole new ball game stepping out of novice company after beating the 136-rated Mirsaale by just over two lengths into a Championship race against hardened campaigners.
While I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to nick a place (that would probably be more than satisfactory to his owners) I will be staggered if he improves enough to take a Championship contest.