Cheltenham '10: Champion Hurdle

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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.


Zaynar
5-y-o Gelding
Daylami (IRE) – Zainta (IRE) (Kahyasi (IRE)
Nicky Henderson
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.

Solwhit
6-y-o Gelding
Solon (GER) – Toowhit Towhee (USA) (Lucky North (USA)
Charles Brynes
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.

Go Native
7-y-o Gelding
Double Eclipse (IRE) – Native Idea (IRE) (Be My Native (USA)
Noel Meade
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.

Binocular
6-y-o Gelding
Enrique (UK) – Bleu Ciel Et Blanc (FR) (Pistolet Bleu (IRE)
Nicky Henderson
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

Khyber Kim
8-y-o Gelding
Mujahid (USA) – Jungle Rose (UK) (Shirley Heights (UK)
Nigel Twiston-Davies
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.

Starluck
5-y-o Gelding
Key Of Luck (USA) – Sarifa (IRE) (Kahyasi (UK)
Alan Fleming
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.

Verdict
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.

2pt win – Zaynar @ 5/1 with Ladbrokes, William Hill, PaddyPower or Bet365 (plus others).
0.5pt e/w – Starluck 16/1 with PaddyPower, Stan James or William Hill (plus others).

Racing and breeding enthusiast, racehorse owner, semi-professional gambler and an opiniated, verbose, pain in the arse, now trying to make his way in the murky world of law. To be honest, I'm far more interested in flat racing, particularly the Juddmonte Farms operation and the juvenile division; As such, the race that most interests me at the Cheltenham Festival would have to be the Champion Bumper. You 'could' follow me on twitter and facebook, but it really wouldn't be worth your while!!

30 Comments

  1. Have to agree with the columnist. Zaynar is a cracking bet for the Champion Hurdle with stamina assured and has done nothing wrong whatsoever in all his starts.

    Plus we know how well he goes up the cheltenham hill.

    Tom

  2. Nicely written preview with some interesting views. I think Zaynar is a massive threat but I have backed Solwhit who is similarly stamina assured and has an impressive turn of foot that may be the difference maker.

    I take your points over Khyber Kim but I do feel some of her lesser performances can be excused and the true Khyber Kim is starting to show through. Must be a great each way bet but I will closely watch the performance of Harry Tricker on Saturday before splashing out.

  3. Im with Solwhit in this one having taken into account the likely fast pace, ground conditions, and the fact Charles Byrnes can get them to peak at the festival. At least we know with Solwhit he has done it in the top grade and is still improving, hell have to much class for Zaynar I think.

  4. I’ll be waiting to take my bet closer to the race and get a look at the weather and ground. Completely agree with all of you in your comments, but the wetter the ground, the more I’ll be siding with Solwhit, otherwise Zaynar.

  5. Will stick with my choice all the way through. Sublimity who may have been brushed aside by Solwhit and Go native l still hold out that the race will pan out perfect for him fast and he will be staying on hopefully in front

  6. Cant see how you can fancy Sublimity Mike. Has come up short every time hes run of late and Solwhit has his measure as do a few others.

  7. Yes Richard can see how you say this but in some places as short 4/1 compared to 20/1 for what was only a 2 length victory 2 runs back. Plus correct if im wrong but dont think Solwhit has ever run at cheltenham which could be undoing and with decent field and pace Carberry (hopefully will ride) can ride how he likes, drop him out and pick them off which to be fair Sublimity due to field sizes aint benn able to do this. You may be right and l might have egg on my face but l suppose thats why bookies are so rich with people like me keeping the faith

  8. Well I can see a decent enough case for Sublimity to place; But for a mistake a couple out in his penultimate race, he may well have been a lot closer than 2 lengths to Solwhit. You could also argue the very soft ground last time was against him, but I feel a lot of horses would have to disappoint for him to win this.
    I will be a little surprised if at least two of the front three in the betting aren’t two of the front three home.

  9. Think out of the front three, I would back Zaynar, but I don’t think there is much between them and I’m more interested in Medermit.
    We know he can charge up the hill, and he is just beginning to get near his best. He should be just about perfect come the day and is too big a price for me to ignore.

  10. Couldn’t agree more Damien about Medermit, he seems to be peaking at the right time and has an upwardly mobile profile in a race which has a few questions about it.

    The only worry would be the dismal performance of Harry Tricker in yesterdays Totepool Trophy at Newbury where he was always in the rear before falling 5 out. His form of splitting both Khyber Kim and Medermit (albeit in receipt of about a stone or more)entitled him to go well yesterday despite being increased 12lbs in the handicap for that run.

    At the present stage I’m still unsure as to the likely winner. Kybher Kim is clearly improving, as is Medermit, Solwhit has done nothing wrong either over in Ireland and Sublimity has been thereabouts (although in a truly run Champion, I struggle to see him lasting home).

    Celestial Halo is appealing to me at the current price of 16/1, okay his last effort was poor but he’d benefit from the faster pace of a truly run race. If you look at last years Champion Hurdle, I know they’ve finished in a poor time but they went fast early and finished tired. Celestial Halo was hot on the pace for the whole race, and was the only horse to continue running all the way to the line. He clearly likes Cheltenham and would have gone alot closer to Khyber Kim last time out but for making a mistake and losing momentum at the last, and he was giving him 4lbs aswell.

    Starluck was one I’d backed at the start of the year at 33/1 but I quite wonder if he has the class to win a Champion Hurdle, I’m beginning to think otherwise.

    To sum up, I think if I was to have a bet now, I’d be looking towards Celestial Halo at 16/1, which granted some decent ground, and a true pace, he should at least make the frame if he runs to his known form.

  11. Have to agree with the writer all the way on this. Zaynar hasn’t given the type of performances Binocular did last year, that had everyone so excited, but yet you still feel he has kept a load in reserve. He is my main fancy of this years festival. Well……. excluding Kauto.

  12. I would not be too quick to discount Punjabi. He has clearly not been ready for his two races this year, and was bowling along as well as anyone before his lack of fitness told in his first outing. He has got 1st and a 3rd from his two attempts at this race and I cant see him being out of the picture. 14/1 looks like an each way steal for a horse that is bound to be right on the day and ready to compete.

  13. “Currently at best odds of 8/1, I’d rather donate my money to the bankers bonus fund.”

    Well Funny!!

    This a well good website with some wicked previews.

    Go Native to win Champion Hurdle.

  14. Punjabi certainly has every chance of going well Tim and his Cheltenham form is very high class in all three times he has visited the festival.

    However I think Medermit would have needed the race last time out when beating Punjabi in some style and he is on an upward curve which should see him go mighty close at Cheltenham in March.

    Medermit for me

    Michael.

  15. It seems that everyone is keen on Zaynar as he has won over further than 2m, but the one thing he hasn’t done outside of juvenile company is win over 2m. If you ask me that’s a fairly important thing to do. He’s achieved naff all this season in terms of form and I honestly see him getting outpaced. Add the 5 year old trend into boot, he looks a lay for me more than anything!

    For me, the reformed Khyber Kim, or Go Native are the horses to watch.

    Khyber Kim has C&D form in a variety of race conditions, off a slow pace and a quick pace and seems to have it all. Forget the horses career before this season, he is a different animal. Perhaps glance back at his flat record to see the class of this animal!

  16. i cant understand why nobody is really keen on go native,he has done nothing wrong all year especially considering he would have raced on ground he didnt like. he is a spring horse for sure and loves good ground and is a proven festival winner. i agree there shouldnt be much between him and medermit wherever they finish. zaynars trial at kelso will tell us nothing only that he stays 2.2 miles something we all know already.in fairness none of his oppenents would win a champion hurdle,so it should just be a formality. it just could be that last years novices are better than there elders. for me though if zaynar is 3 or 4 to 1 the value has to lie with go native or medermit

  17. I’m in the Starluck camp. Would have beaten Go Native in another two strides so when you compare the two prices, Starluck has to be the value in the race.

  18. I was one of the few sticking with Binocular from last year so bit disappointed he’s out but at least and explanation to his below par efforts this season. Think I’ll have to move to the Go Native camp now.

  19. Loving my ante post bet now on Sublimity with Binocular out and Zaynar being unable to beat a Quwetoo

  20. Although you have to say a disappointing performance, as he was obviously expected to win comfortably, I wouldn’t be too worried about the defeat. The ground at Kelso was desperate and plenty of horses couldn’t deal with it. It should be totally different conditions at Cheltenham and the reaction of the bookmakers to push him out to the degree they have, makes him that bit better a bet at 8/1.

  21. i hope wincanton survies on sat,pujabis run will tell us about his well being although he wont like the ground,but it will also frank the medermit form or dismiss it

  22. I’m happy to ignore Zaynar’s last performance on that ground and Nicky Henderson said the horse wasn’t as fit as they had thought so the defeat will probably be a good thing. The bookies have over-reacted and with the cheekpieces back on, is an even better bet now than before.

  23. Considering his two wins already, the form from those and his general profile, I am surprised at how little support there is for Go Native out of the main three at the top of the market. He is my fancy of the festival.

  24. It has been reported today that Binocular’s seemingly non participation in this race may take a U-turn and that he will have a schooling and workout next week. If connections feel he is over his muscle problem, they may reverse their decision and run him. Not my fancy by a long way, but anybody with an antepost bet on him, you may still get a run for your money.

  25. The merry-go-round of Festival in’s and out’s has continued to spin today with Sublimity the latest headline maker. The former winner has been ruled out of contention due to a leg injury. Unlucky Mike.

  26. From missing the race to winning it and didn’t he win it well. Congratulations to those who stuck with him after last season narrow defeat at short odds, and you certainly got some decent value this time. The forgotten horse strikes again. Not a horse I fancied last year or this, even before his set back so congratulations to Nicky Henderson for getting him back to his best. I am happy to admit I got this one totally wrong regarding the front two.
    Certainly an oddly run race of which few landed a blow. I still find it strange Solwhit turned up after his set back so near to race day and I it was no great surprise to see him fail to deliver. Khyber Kim ran a blinder to reward her followers and Zaynar ran well enough to keep hold of third spot. May well follow Binocular’s path of going from third as a 5yo to 1st as a 6yo while go Go Native was undoubtedly a huge disappointment.

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