Looking at the Champion Hurdle entries for this year I can’t help having a similar feeling to last years Champion Chase. Every pundit you read or listened to last year was lambasting the Champion Chase as terrible outside the favourite and not worth any punter looking at. I wrote at the time that I found this slightly confusing as with an odds on favourite and the potential each way implications for a race that could cut up it seemed to me like a very appealing race to get involved in from an antepost perspective. This years Champion Hurdle looks very similar to me…. we have a short odds on favourite that no one can see getting beaten, and it being largely dismissed as a betting proposition.
To my eye though looking at the entries, we are looking at maximum field of 10 and there is the chance that it could cut up to 7 or less by the off. That makes it top priority for me when looking at Cheltenham antepost races!
Let’s go through the runners… (I’ve listed their best rating this season first, and their best ever after)
BUVEUR D’AIR (154,172) – The defending Champion was a brilliant winner last year and is the short odds on favourite to go in again this season. Similar to Douvan last year if he’s at his best and runs to it on the day, he will win. But, these are still animals and not machines so let’s see if we can find an angle in.
His only defeat over hurdles has come at the hands of Min and Altior in the hot Supreme from 2016, so we can tenuously take some comfort in the fact he has lost on this course. This season he has run three times in very slowly run races on soft ground beating a total of nine rivals. In the Champion he’ll likely face the quickest ground he’s raced on this season and as many rivals as his previous three runs combined! Henderson is on record as saying he takes plenty of work and is it perhaps possible that the ease with which he is winning could be detrimental come the big day?!
FAUGHEEN (165,179) – That 179 figure came in his Irish Champion Hurdle romp a few years ago and I don’t think it’s being controversial to suggest that he won’t be running to that mark again. I have rated him 165 on his run behind Supasundae and that is probably as good as he is now. That is actually the clear best piece of two mile form this season and at a general 6/1 for the Champion now I am probably keener on his chances than many are. However, he is now ten and I can’t help but think that they had him cherry ripe for the Irish Champion and I’m not sure how much more will be left in the tank considering the issues he’s had in the past. Also, I feel he may now be better on softer ground and I wonder whether he may end up getting taken off his feet in the big race.
MY TENT OR YOURS (149,166) – A year older than Faugheen the old stager My Tent Or Yours comes back for another crack at the Champion. Second in a Supreme and two Champions it was nice to see him gain a success at the track (albeit on the New Course) in December. That was a slowly run affair though and he was getting weight from most of his rivals. Now he’s eleven I’d be inclined to look beyond him this year.
MELON (154,156) – Was a big talking horse last year and posted a big figure on debut, but for me he hasn’t really progressed from that. I’m inclined to think the figures he’s been running to are just as good as he is and with that in mind I can leave him alone at the prices.
WICKLOW BRAVE (-,168) – One of my favourite horses in training I actually backed him for this race last year, and was feeling pretty smug as he travelled well down the hill but hope soon turned to despair as he faded into 7th. Of course he then came out and won the Punchestown Champion with a front running ride! He is again going to come here fresh (if at all) and his form off a ten week plus break reads 915027 with the only victory coming in a maiden hurdle when sent of 2/5. With that in mind I’m going to reluctantly pass him over, and he’s been found already this year given he is a best price of 20s.
ELGIN (155,155) – 7th in last year’s Supreme he has been a good horse for connections this season in landing a Greatwood and Kingwell Hurdle. However, I’ve only been able to rate him 155 and that doesn’t scream Champion Hurdle contender to me, for all that this is an open year behind the favourite.
MICK JAZZ (160,160) – The horse that picked up the Grade 1 hurdle at Christmas when Faugheen bombed he was then third behind that horse and Supasundae in the Irish Champion. I’ve rated him as a 160 horse and that puts him in the mix regarding the field in this race. Since moving to Elliott he hasn’t been out of the first three over two miles and was in fact only a length and three quarters behind Labaik in a novice hurdle last year. Still only seven and with the potential for better ground suiting he is a strong traveller that is of definite interest at 33/1.
CH’TIBELLO (146,161) – Was another that I’d backed at big prices last year only for him to be ruled out on the morning of the race. He’d run some big figures in defeat last year but unfortunately hasn’t reached the same heights this year on my numbers. There is the chance that better ground will suit him come the big day but I’d be inclined to say that injury and preparation have meant that he isn’t quite as good as last year this time round.
VERDANA BLUE (155,155) – With Apple’s Jade set to go for the Mares Hurdle, her sex looks set to be represented by Verdana Blue. She was actually fourth in last years Mares Novice Hurdle and has run to a decent level this season in good two mile handicaps. Getting 7lbs from the boys puts her in the mix for this race and her run last time out gives some cause for optimism as she travelled well but couldn’t pick up in the bad ground at Newbury. All her wins have come on good and good to soft ground and with that in mind she is worth considering for all that she had a hard race last time out.
JOHN CONSTABLE (150,160) – One of the horses to race against the favourite this year, John Constable is an interesting contender for this race. He was 6th behind My Tent Or Yours in the International and then runner-up when chasing Buveur D’Air at Sandown. But both those races were on soft ground and this horse thrives on better ground and the better weather! He won the Swinton Hurdle by 14 lengths last year, and the the Summer Handicap off a mark of 150. His form in two mile hurdle races on good ground with a five week break reads 17F11 (fell when likely to be second in hot handicap) and the fact he has been running good races on unsuitable ground this winter is encouraging. I reckon he’s a stone better on better ground and that will put him in the mix come the big day should the ground go his way. With Davy Russell the owners retained rider he’ll also have the ideal jockey to get him into the frame. He’s actually regally bred being a full brother to St Leger winner Leading Light, and as one of the younger horses in the field I’m interested to see how he goes in top company on good ground. In an open year he can go well at a big price.
Obviously Buveur D’Air is going to be tough to beat, but the shape of the race screams an each way angle and there are a few to focus on. I’m against the old boys My Tent Or Yours and Faugheen, and also Wicklow Brave first time up. Elgin and Melon haven’t posted a figure yet to suggest they can be competitive even in this open a renewal of the race. And Ch’tibello seems to be a bit below the horse that came into last years race with such promise.
With that in mind I’m left looking at Verdana Blue, Mick Jazz and John Constable. Verdana Blue had a very hard race in the Betfair Hurdle on bad ground, and with just a 31 day break I wonder if that will leave it’s mark as she steps up into Grade 1 company. Mick Jazz is of interest at 33/1 but at an even bigger price (and with the hope that Davy Russell rides him instead) I’m chancing JOHN CONSTABLE at 50/1 each way. He has a blue blooded pedigree, and has been running good races on bad ground this season. In the hope that he can step up on better ground I don’t think he is a 10/1 chance to hit the frame, and he is 20/1 in the w/o market (has been 33s though so maybe wait for the day of race special markets).
- BUVEUR D’AIR
- JOHN CONSTABLE
- MICK JAZZ
(Potential curveballs – there are three horses that should be running here in my opinion, namely Supasundae, Yorkhill and Apple’s Jade. It seems unlikely that any of them will show though, but they are the three horses genuinely capable of shaking up the favourite if he is in his best form)