The Champion Hurdle is the main attraction on the opening day of the Festival. With a roll of honour containing the likes of Persian War, Sea Pigeon, Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca, it is of no surprise the best hurdlers are targeted at tasting success in this race. Open to 4yo’s and upwards, run on the old course over an extended two mile trip and worth £370,000, let’s take a look through the main contenders of this years field.
Firstly, I am not a person who takes much interest in trends but even the most naïve of gamblers must know you can’t preview the Cheltenham Festival without outlining the key trends associated with each race. With that in mind:
22 of the last 26 winners have won last time out.
Katchit, winner of the 2008 renewal, became the first 5yo to emerge victorious since 1985.
Just 3 winners since 1951 have been older than 8.
Since Beech Road won at 50/1, 17 of the last 19 winners have been in the first 6 in the betting.
14 of the last 18 winners had finished first or second in a previous festival race.
The first three home in last years renewal look set to return, along with one or possibly two other previous champions but the top of the betting is taken up by the new brigade.
Daylami (IRE) – Zainta (IRE) (Kahyasi (IRE)
Notes: Undefeated in 5 runs so far, he never truly impresses but always gives the impression there is plenty left in the tank. It’s probably fair to say his only true test so far came in last years festival, but he passed it well holding of the challenge of Walkon up the famous Cheltenham hill to win the Triumph Hurdle, with Starluck back in fourth. Equally effective on good and soft ground, he has one of the key attributes I look for in a Champion Hurdle bet; The ability to win over further than 2 miles. He’ll compete in the VC Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso on the 18th February as a prep for the showpiece. He has never been far away from antepost favourite and it’s hard to argue that he isn’t the one to beat despite hitting the occasional flat spot.
Solon (GER) – Toowhit Towhee (USA) (Lucky North (USA)
Notes: A smart and improving horse, he has won five Grade 1s in his last six races and is successful in 8 out of 11 starts over hurdles. Having missed Cheltenham last year, after landing his first Graded race with ease, he lowered the colours of Willie Mullins highly regarded Fiveforthree in the Aintree Hurdle before beating last years Champion Hurdle winner, Punjabi, at Punchestown. After tearing away from Hurricane Fly with a devastating turn of foot to begin this campaign, he was undone by a slowly run race in the Fighting Fifth. Behind Go Native and Sublimity that day, he has comfortably reversed his placings with the latter since. He has smoothly moved up the antepost market to become current joint favourite, when confirming that form with Sublimity, along with handing out defeats to two likely re-opposers, Donna’s Palm and Celestial Halo, during a bloodless success in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He ticks a lot of boxes and has massive claims of becoming Champion Hurdler but I can’t help but feel he might just find one too good.
Double Eclipse (IRE) – Native Idea (IRE) (Be My Native (USA)
Notes: A classy horse, only once out of the first two over hurdles, with 7 wins from 11 starts. 4 Grade 1s in the bag including the Supreme Novices’ last year when holding of the fast finishing Medermit. Well beaten by Hurricane Fly at Punchestown, before beating very little at Tipperary. Below par performance at Down Royal saw him go off 25/1 when cutting through the field in a slowly run Fighting Fifth but confirmed his well being when beating Starluck and Binocular in the Christmas Hurdle. These two wins have put him high up in the betting but more importantly for connections, in with a shot at the one million pound bonus on offer for completing the treble. He ticks a lot of boxes and brings arguably the strongest form to the race, making him a serious contender.
Enrique (UK) – Bleu Ciel Et Blanc (FR) (Pistolet Bleu (IRE)
Notes: Second in the Supreme Novices’ to the clearly talented Captain Cee Bee, before finishing third in this race last year when warm favourite. Highlighted for his effective hurdling style, he was unable to match Katchit in victory as a 5yo, when doubts of stamina up the Cheltenham hill were confirmed. Form of last year’s renewal is doubted by the performances since of the first three home, and Binocular has looked nothing like the horse who headed last years market. Hard to see him reverse the placings with Go Native and can take nothing from his Sandown win in a 3 runner field. Currently at best odds of 8/1, I’d rather donate my money to the bankers bonus fund.
Binocular has been ruled out due to a muscle problem – 17.02.2010
Mujahid (USA) – Jungle Rose (UK) (Shirley Heights (UK)
Notes: Well beaten in two previous Festival appearances, but has won last two at the track. Last time out he won the International Hurdle, with Celestial Halo, Medermit and Punjabi in behind but too hit or miss and doesn’t strike me as good enough to beat main three contenders, even if putting best foot forward.
Key Of Luck (USA) – Sarifa (IRE) (Kahyasi (UK)
Notes: Four from eight over hurdles, and fourth to Zaynar last year followed by a third to Walkon at Aintree. Seasonal return impressive, and fair to say few will travel better come ‘the off’ but despite showing more promise when finishing strongly in the Christmas Hurdle, big doubts when push comes to shove. Hard to see him finally getting the better of Zaynar so place claims only.
OF THE OTHERS
Medermit came close to beating Go Native last year but has been behind Khyber Kim last twice and hard to take massive encouragement from his defeat of an out of form Punjabi.
Reigning champ Punjabi was the forgotten horse last year but I don’t see lightning set to strike twice with his two performances this season.
Another previous winner in Sublimity has been brushed aside twice, by Solwhit, this season and last years second Celestial Halo will find this years renewal a lot tougher.
I expect the front three in the betting to provide the winner, and while it’s hard to knock what Solwhit has achieved so far, I thoroughly believe we haven’t seen ZAYNAR pushed to the max and although not as straight forward as some, I think he will be the Champion Hurdler 2010. Not an outsider by any means, but at a bigger price, I would fancy Starluck to run his race and sneak a place.