The guest list for this year’s Cheltenham Festival is pretty easy to sneak onto this time round. It’s turning out to be the party no-one wants to go to. Sprinter Sacre, Thistlecrack, Coneygree, Don Cossack, Valseur Lido, Min, Ar Mad and sadly Vautour have all picked up injuries (or worse) that puts them firmly on the side-lines. The Champion Hurdle is no exception. Antepost backers have had their fingers seriously burnt by the withdrawals of previous winners Annie Power and Faugheen. You can add Arctic Fire to that sad hall of fame as well. But the show goes on and we are still left with a fascinating puzzle that indicates a fairly open contest. We’ve selected six that deserve a mention starting off with another rising star from the Nicky Henderson yard, market leader Buveur D’air.
Annie Power, last year’s Champion Hurdler will not be returning to defend her crown.
Nicky Henderson is looking to score his first Champion Hurdle since Binocular in 2010 and with Buveur D’air, he may have something to unleash here. Originally aimed at the novice chase championship, the plan was changed at the end of January to enter him for the Champion Hurdle and now with the omissions of Faugheen and Annie Power, this looks to have been an unintentionally shrewd decision. His hurdling last season is solid enough: he holds second favourite Irish challenger Petit Mouchoir on two accounts, having finished ahead of him in the Supreme Novices and at Aintree the following April. He seems to have enough to land what looks like an ordinary renewal of the 2 mile hurdle championship, at best odds 100/30 with Paddypower -Bet Here! and Boylesports - Bet Here!. My only concern is that he may have to improve further and there maybe others with a swifter turn of foot to challenge him at the business end.
Buveur D’air, trained by Nicky Henderson, is the favourite for this year’s Champion Hurdle.
The Irish challenge is led by the Henry de Bromhead trained Petit Mouchoir who transferred from Willie Mullins’ stable last autumn. He hasn’t been off the bridle in his last two runs at Leopardstown which included a weakened field Irish Champion Hurdle victory. Nevertheless, he looks to be improving and despite being 15 lengths behind Altior in the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham and beaten by a neck by Buveur D’air, he looks the type to dominate if given the chance to do so. If he is rounding the final bend with a couple of lengths in hand, he will take some pegging back as he has shown he’s got stamina and speed. At best odds of 5/1 (SkyBet - Bet Here!, Paddypower - Bet Here!, BetVictor - Bet Here!), he is the selection for me to land the spoils. I just feel Petit Mouchoir has that extra touch of class over the others.
Petit Mouchoir winning the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Yanworth made fairly hard work of his latest victory in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton however his form this season has been noteworthy: seeing off the experienced The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and formerly touching off the very tough and consistent Lil Rockefeller at Ascot in November is good enough for him to be competitive in this heat. Interestingly, he has been niggled at in the market in the last week, coming in from 5’s to 4/1 best with SkyBet - Bet Here! and Stan James - Bet Here!
Another in with a shout is the Nicky Henderson second string entry, Brain Power. He bolted up in a valuable handicap at Ascot last November and Henderson feels he is a decent horse fresh and tanked through his handicaps. He looks fairly unexposed and has the scope for improvement. Ladbrokes - Bet Here! offer the best at 8/1 but with full antepost rules.
THE NEW ONE & LIMINI
Nigel Twiston Davies’ The New One has been the perennial underachiever down the years but there’s no taking away from the fact that he has won nearly £900,000 in prize money including 15 wins over hurdles. His last outing in The Champion Hurdle was disappointing, finishing a poor 5th behind Annie Power last season but he seems to be having a resurgence this season and his three runs (including a win at Cheltenham) have been mighty impressive. He has got 3 lengths to make up on Yanworth but he still has a lot of fight in him and that’s what needed for a strong finish up the Cheltenham hill. Definitely the each way outside option at 14/1 with a host of firms including SkyBet - Bet Here!, William Hill - Bet Here!, Betfred - Bet Here! and BetVictor - Bet Here!.
The New One has a point to prove and has had a decent season to date.
Finally, it is always worth giving Willie Mullins the last word in any predictions and despite losing his two juggernauts, it seems that Limini, last year’s novice mares champion, has worked her way into the Champion Hurdle market with a pleasing return at Leopardstown beating Apple’s Jade by 2 lengths. Stan James - Bet Here! certainly stand out here offering 12/1 (WARNING: FULL ANTEPOST RULES CURRENTLY STILL APPLY WITH STAN JAMES) which won’t hang around if Mullins definitely decides to pull the trigger with this improving mare.
This has to be the trickiest contest to unravel in years. Petit Mouchoir is the main selection but there’s plenty in with a shout. The New One and Limini for the each way option.
- THE NEW ONE: EACH/WAY (14/1 William Hill - Bet Here!, Betfred - Bet Here!, Ladbrokes - Bet Here!, Coral - Bet Here!)
Good luck with The Champion Hurdle and all your bets at the Cheltenham Festival! Visit our dedicated Cheltenham Festival page here to keep up to date with the action!