Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdle Preview
With Architect Tips
With just a few days to go until the roar of the crowd for the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival, we take a look at the Champion Hurdle which is the feature race (Tuesday) on day one of the biggest four days in National Hunt racing. The Champion hurdle is run over 2 miles on the old course and is recognised as the most prestigious hurdle race of the jumps calendar.
The 2018 renewal sees current and defending champion Buveur D’air try and become the first horse since the classy Hardy Eustace to win back-to-back champion hurdle races and give champion trainer Nicky Henderson a seventh win in the race. He has strong opposition to overcome despite being described as a “banker” for many followers out there.
We will now take a look at the race in further detail to see exactly where the value lies and go through most of the leading contenders and other bits and pieces of information to take on board in order to try and nail a decent bet.
CAN BUVEUR D’AIR WIN BACK TO BACK CHAMPION HURDLES?
Here we go, Buveur D’air is currently around the 4/9 mark in the betting so in all fairness if he stands up, he should win the race again. He has won 11 of his 12 starts over hurdles and since finishing third in the 2016 Supreme Novices Hurdle, he has won 9 consecutive races including when a decisive winner of this race 12 months ago. Since that success, he has won all four outings on path to coming back to defend his crown and although the opposition hasn’t exactly been the strongest, all he can do is what is required, which is to win. The division does seem to be lacking this season, so it’s pretty obvious why Buveur D’air is so short in the market. There is every chance this slick hurdler can win back-to-back champion hurdles like Hardy Eustace did back in 2004 and 2005, but do you really want to be backing him at 4/9 in a Grade one where plenty of things can go wrong? In my opinion, I just can’t have him unless you are doing a multiple bet because there is plenty more value in the race at an each-way price. Either way, it would be great to see if this wonderful 7 year old can win the race again which would put him into the history books without doubt.
IS THERE ONE LAST FAIRYTALE FOR FAUGHEEN?
Now ten years old, age is pretty much against “Faugheen the machine” as there has only been two winners aged 10 or older to have won this race since 1927, which is a massive negative for Faugheen. However, this horse was pretty much unbeatable for three years since joining Willie Mullins back in 2013. His electric speed, jumping, travelling ability and turn of foot killed off many top-class opposition over the years and he showed that when slamming a classy field in this very race back in 2015, with horses such as former champions Jezki and Hurricane Fly left trailing in behind. Unfortunately he suffered an injury which kept him off the track for nearly two years but he returned with a bang in the Grade one Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, destroying Jezki by 16 lengths and showed he is still the machine.
However, it all went wrong next time out when sharply pulled up for the first time in his career and still to this day we don’t know what went wrong and to many out there, he did not look the same horse we witnessed in the Morgiana. That is a big question mark as to whether age is catching up with the once superstar. He ran much better last time out when second in the Irish Champion Hurdle. But, you can easily say he was still not at the level he was two years ago because despite making most of the running and making a bold bid to hold off Supasundae late on, the Faugheen two years ago would have accelerated away off the home bend and put the race to bed in a matter of strides. The simple matter of the fact is, the turn of foot just wasn’t there which is another downfall on the former champion hurdler heading into the race for a second time.
The good news is that Faugheen is unbeaten at the track (2-2) and that could well sparkle him back to his brilliant best. It would be interesting to see if Willie Mullins does apply headgear and you know he will be ridden up with the pace from the outset. It probably doesn’t help with the fact his stable companion Yorkhill will be in the race but if Ruby Walsh does choose Faugheen over the horse he said “could win any of the 4 championship races” then that has to give you confidence and belief that this 10 year old can at least give Buveur D’air a race of it from the home turn. But we all know if the Faugheen from two years ago turned up, he is without doubt good enough to win a second champion hurdle, especially if Buveur D’air fluffed his lines. All being well, Faugheen lines up fit and well ready to prove the doubters all wrong and run a very big race at a track that clearly suits him. I think his current odds of around 6/1 offers a decent each-way bet because he is sure to be popular on Tuesday and will no doubt be shorter in the market.
WILL MY TENT OR YOURS FINALLY GO ONE BETTER?
As I mentioned previously, age is against horses aged older than 10 so with My Tent Or Yours being 11 years old, then that’s a negative. However, who can knock this talented horse who has Cheltenham track form of 2-2-2-2-2-1 and has finished second the champion hurdle three times in a row he has contested in 2014, 2016 and of course last year 2017. Many will see him as a cracking each-way bet to place once again and you can easily see why he is so popular and has placed in the top three 19 of his 20 hurdle starts which is hard to knock. He has finished second in four consecutive Cheltenham Festival appearances which is seriously impressive and no doubt Nicky Henderson will have him cherry-ripe again. Despite winning last time out I just have a slight suspicion he will be found out this time around because he did get the run of the race last time and has been put in his place by Buveur D’air a few times previously, on a line through some other previous form, Faugheen has the beating of My Tent Or Yours. I know it’s very hard to dismiss a horse with a great record like this 11 year old has but at the prices, I just can’t have him this year although he might prove me wrong!<
DOWNHILL OR YORKHILL?
Well, what can be said about this talented but frustrating horse. Yorkhill was thought of as a potential superstar according to Ruby Walsh after winning the JLT Novices Chase last year and is 2-2 at this track, winning at the last two Cheltenham Festival’s. He has beaten top-class opposition each time but things have gone down ever since and his last two runs have shown he has lost the love for the game. Yorkhill has been tried over various trips so now he reverts back to hurdles after a far from impressive chase campaign. There is no doubt if on his A game he would play a big part in the finish for this but I just can’t have a horse who has been so poor the last twice on the track. Plus, it would take one hell of a performance to bounce back in the hardest hurdle race of the season. He is overlooked from my point of view but I would not be surprised to see him fare better back over the smaller obstacles, especially if for some strange reason Ruby Walsh decided to ride him over Faugheen, but that is very doubtful.
IS ELGIN UP TO THIS LEVEL?
What a season it has been for Elgin, he has gone from strength to strength and is already a winner over C&D, having landed the Greatwood Hurdle, luckily I selected him that day. He did not run badly next time under a big weight at Ascot but got back to winning ways when landing the Grade 2 Elite hurdle last time out, beating Ch’tibello. I absolutely love this horse and is definitely a dark contender at each-way odds but I just feel as though Ch’tibello wasn’t at his best last time having been in a dog fight with The New One not long before that race and I can see the form being reversed. Take nothing away from this improving youngster, who travels and jumps well and a strong pace in the Champion hurdle will suit him extremely well. He acts well at the track and although he has a lot to find with the market leaders, I doubt he will disgrace himself at all and could be good enough to finish 5th or 6th place and anything above that will be a great achievement.
HAS WICKLOW GOT A CHANCE?
On his best form, Wicklow Brave would have an outside squeak. This 9 year old smart dual purpose horse has good form on the flat and over hurdles. He has been keeping to a high level on the flat, running in races such as the Melbourne Cup and all other staying events but is also a Grade one winner over hurdles having landed the Punchestown champion hurdle, beating My Tent Or Yours and a few other good ones. He missed the start in this race last year by a wide margin and did well to get into contention two hurdles out before seemingly blowing up late on and that effort to get back into the race took its toll. However, Wicklow Brave ran much better than the result suggested and if getting away on terms this time around, he could finish thereabouts. But, he is possibly Willie Mullins third hope here and i can’t see him winning. I don’t see any value in his price either for an each-way bet so is passed over.
WHAT ABOUT MELON?
Personally, I can’t see him winning this. I think he has been over hyped time and time again and he ran an absolute stinker last time when well supported for the Irish Champion Hurdle. I know he finished a good second in last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle but it wasn’t the best renewal and Melon hasn’t even won at the highest level, let alone win a Champion Hurdle. However, the good thing is that he is still a young horse who is lightly raced and has some strong form to his name, especially the way he travelled in the International hurdle here behind My Tent Or Yours, where he did well to finish third having raced keenly throughout. I must admit, Melon is much better then the way he raced last time and if they go hard enough up front, that could help this strong traveller and if he does settle better back at this track, he could snatch a place at a decent price.
CH’TI CH’TI BANG BANG FOR THE SKELTONS?
I think this horse is really interesting, hence why I tipped him up Antepost for this race a while back. Ch’tibello is such a strong jumper/traveller and has done virtually nothing wrong in any of his races over hurdles. He has only been out of the frame twice in 11 career starts and was a very useful novice hurdler (almost beat Altior) and landed the Grade two Scottish champion hurdle on good to soft at Ayr in 2016 and then also won at Haydock over 2miles on heavy beating the likes of My tent or yours and Old guard, so is clearly ground versatile. Ch’tibello ran to a decent level when a five-length third in the Christmas hurdle at Kempton. There was no hiding back the disappointment of the Skeltons at Haydock, where there horse travelled all over The New one up the Haydock home straight in the champion hurdle trial and actually led over the last and on the run-in but The New One was galvanised for one last rally and got up near the line.
It didn’t help matters with the fact that The new one had a really long run-in for his stamina to kick into play in a race he has won for the past three years on heavy ground he relishes. That race took its toll last time when Ch’tibello could only manage second behind Elgin in the Elite hurdle but a good rest since will have done him the world of good. A truly run 2 miles at Cheltenham will be right up his street as he travels strongly and although he probably won’t beat Buveuir Dair, I do think he has the class to give him some sort of race if all goes to plan. He looks a massive price to be honest because he will be one of few on the bridle coming down the hill which is always a plus in a championship race, especially with the fact trainer Dan Skelton has had this race laid out for him all season.
THE REST OF THE FIELD
The rest look well out of there depth but a quick mention to a couple who are overpriced. Identity Thief should not be the price he is currently. Don’t forget this horse two years ago was thought of as a leading contender for this race and probably would have won the Fighting fifth hurdle (Apples Jade just pipped in the race) but for falling late on. He hasn’t been the same horse since but ran much more like his old self last time out and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this once high-class horse run better than his current odds suggest. Mick Jazz has improved leaps and bounds this season and got his breakthrough success at the highest level when landing the Ryanair hurdle. He ran well behind Supasundae and Faugheen last time out and a strongly run 2 miles will suit this strong travelling hold-up horse.
So all eyes will be on the clash we have wanted for a very long time. The 2015 and 2016 champions collide, as both Faugheen and Buveur D’air go head to head in what should be a thrilling contest. Buveur D’air will take the world of beating if turning up in the same form he did 12 months ago. He is aiming to win this back-to-back years but if Faugheen returns to his brilliant best then the current champion will need to be on top form. I have already selected Ch’tibello at each-way odds Antepost a while ago and I still feel as though he can run a very big race. I won’t be touching Buveur D’air at the prices and if I did to decide to have a further bet, it would possibly be on Faugheen each-way. However, it is going to be cracker and I simply cannot wait to see who wins and runs well in the 2018 renewal of the champion hurdle.
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