Nicky Henderson must wonder to himself how he keeps churning out the quality of talent in the top class 2 mile hurdle division.
With dual Unibet Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air sadly ruled out until next season, Nicky Henderson has successfully navigated his progressive youngsters to become market leaders for this year’s renewal of The Unibet Champion Hurdle on Tuesday 10th March, Day One of Cheltenham Festival 2020.
The mare Epatante and last year’s JCB Triumph Hurdle winner, Pentland Hills, are expected to run bold races for the Seven Barrows team.
However, the pair potentially face a dangerous challenge from over the Irish Sea as the mares Benie Des Dieux and the vastly improving Honeysuckle are yet undecided in their final race destinations.
Epatante could be regarded as the default favourite (9/2 with Betfair and Paddy Power NRNB) as her closest rivals have perhaps fallen a little short of Unibet Champion Hurdle winning form.
Her Christmas Hurdle victory, the chief reason for her market leader occupation, was mightily impressive considering how strongly run the race was run.
It is debatable what she actually beat however: Silver Streak, third in last year’s Unibet Champion Hurdle and Verdana Blue who loves Kempton are worthy rivals although one wonders what legendary Christmas Hurdle battlers The New One and My Tent Or Yours might have offered as opposition at the height of their powers.
Nevertheless it was a 5 lengths emphatic victory and wins of that distance are rare in the Christmas Hurdle. Further improvement is highly likely and Seven Barrows think very positively of her. The 7ib mares’ weight allowance is always a meaty factor to add to the case.
Therefore, Epatante is our verdict to land a record 6th Unibet Champion Hurdle for trainer Nicky Henderson.
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Pentland Hills has yet to absolutely fire on all cylinders so far this season.
Excuses were aplenty in The Unibet International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December where connections believe he ran too freely. That was almost certainly down to exuberant youth.
His next run in the Unibet Hurdle at Haydock was unlucky, narrowly losing out to the improving Ballyandy although again his enthusiasm was perhaps his downfall with the horse pulling hard throughout the race. Pentland Hills will need to improve further to figure prominently here but he is learning with every race.
5/1 with Betfair, Bet Victor, Paddy Power NRNB.
The ultimate destination for Henry De Bromhead’s Irish Champion Hurdle winner is entirely dependent on Benie Des Dieux’s entry decision, with the idea that De Bromhead would not fancy taking on the Mullins trained mare in The Mares Hurdle.
Unbeaten now in 7 races, Honeysuckle is probably the biggest danger to Epatante and will also be able to take advantage of the 7ib pull at the weights.
9/2 with Bet Victor, Betfred NRNB.
BENIE DES DIEUX
Would have won The Mares Hurdle last year at The Festival if not for an uncanny repeat of Annie Power’s last hurdle capitulation from 2016.
The mare has every chance, considering how open this renewal is and again, has the 7ib weight allowance. However, trainer Willie Mullins is characteristically keeping his cards to himself on Benie Des Dieux’s participation.
This is a risky one and NRNB must be taken as I strongly suspect she will settle for the Mares Hurdle option where she should win easily..providing Honeysuckle doesn’t show up there as well. 3/1 Betfair, Paddy Power NRNB.
Sharjah is a little hard to assess and has had a mixed season. Best performance was a 4 length win over Petit Mouchoir at the end of last year.
Almost certainly guaranteed to take his place with all the fuss surrounding Benie Des Dieux. Therefore the risky 14/1 full ante post bet with William Hill is worth taking.
Supasundae (14/1 William Hill) could figure in the each way calculations.
A very open and slightly puzzling race to solve with so many participants uncommitted at this stage.
Epatante, despite some worrying news regarding his health at Seven Barrows, just about gets the vote.
Pentland Hills is not travelling like a potential Unibet Champion Hurdle winner although he will be there or thereabouts.
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Please note all odds are correct at the time of publishing (1pm 28th February 2020) and are subject to change.