Champion Hurdle preview: Identity Thief can put name in lights
Henry de Bromhead’s horse is on up with extent of his potential still unknown
Identity Thief ridden by Bryan Cooper winning The StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle race at Newcastle in November. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
We haven’t seen Identity Thief since the turn of the year but considering this horse made his debut only 15 months ago, and has raced just eight times, it’s no big stretch to imagine that even if his rate of progression has slowed it can hardly have stopped.
It may be counter-intuitive to view the Stan James Champion Hurdle in handicap terms but looking at the 2016 renewal with an eye on potential rather than the proven leads towards Identity Thief as a winner of hurdling’s greatest prize.
Put simply, we don’t know how good Henry De Bromhead’s horse could be: in contrast we know the limits of the other principals. And often it pays in racing to side with the horse on the up.
Since it is the outsider Camping Ground which boasts the highest official rating in the race it could be dangerous to focus too much on figures, but nevertheless it is a fact that the handicapper reckons Identity Thief improved a stone and a half in just the two months to the turn of the year.
We haven’t seen him in the two-and-a-half months since but considering this horse made his debut only 15 months ago, and has raced just eight times, it’s no big stretch to imagine that even if his rate of progression has slowed it can hardly have stopped.
And since he doesn’t have much to find with his rivals in handicap terms anyway that should make him a powerful presence in the Day One festival highlight.
Of course, many will reckon the most important figure of all is the 7lb sex allowance Annie Power receives from her male rivals.
But it is still a reality that Willie Mullins’s hugely popular mare is rated 3lbs less than a couple of years ago when she ran in the World Hurdle. Now she is substituting for Faugheen over two miles on the back of a single outing that was little more than a school-around.
Annie Power has quality to burn but will carve out a singular status for herself should she land a Champion Hurdle as a relative after-thought. Even with Faugheen’s absence robbing the race of its title-holder and outstanding candidate, it is still a big ask for her.
Nevertheless, Ruby Walsh hasn’t hesitated to opt for the mare over Nichols Canyon which, considering the gelding is the only horse ever to beat Faugheen, is some tribute.
Nichols Canyon ground out a victory over Identity Thief last Christmas on very soft ground and is the sort of non-showy performer ideally suited to the final hill. The sense remains though that Willie Mullins wouldn’t have been brokenhearted to see him tackling the hill in Thursday’s World Hurdle instead.
Since Identity Thief is in his form-line that’s hardly an obvious encouragement to the Henry De Bromhead contender but ground conditions are going to be very different here and Bryan Cooper looked to get caught between two stools in that Leopardstown race in terms of when to commit.
The principal home defence appears to consist of the My Tent Or Yours and The New One, who filled the placings behind Jezki in 2014, and who both look exposed in handicap terms. In theory we know what to expect from them.
Should Nicky Henderson successfully bring My Tent Or Yours back from over 700 days off it will rank with his handling of the former triple-Champion Hurdle hero See You Then, a horse so fragile he became known as See You When.
The New One looked to have had his chance two years ago when he was badly baulked by the ill-fated Our Conor’s third-flight fall. It’s hard to believe he is any better now.
In contrast, the best is surely still to come from Identity Thief. That best could see him successfully step up to the Champion Hurdle plate.