Cheltenham 2016 Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham 2016 – Champion Hurdle

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The Champion Hurdle is the top two-mile event for horses tackling timber, and bar being barged off the calendar due to couple of snow storms, a war & the more recent foot and mouth crisis, the race has been run annually since 1927. The loss of the 2001 renewal denied the brilliant Istabraq his chance to claim an unprecedented fourth Champion Hurdle victory, and as such he stands alongside legendary names Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War & See You Then as a triple winner of the race.

Since the Istabraq domination the Terry Warner-owned/Phillip Hobbs-trained Rooster Booster has put in probably the most memorable effort, following up his County Hurdle win off 144 in 2002 with an 11-length demolition in the main event a year later, a margin of victory rarely seen in a top-level two-mile event. Dual winners Hardy Eustace & Hurricane Fly have each won a pair of solid but not spectacular renewals since the turn of the millennium – the former’s second being one of the most memorable races for years thanks to Harchibald & Paul Carberry – while it was widely expected that Faugheen would be joining them on a brace before his unfortunate, but not career-threatening, injury.

Of the eight horses who faced the tape in the 2015 renewal just one – Nigel Twiston-Davies’ The New One – will be called into line on Tuesday, with the betting market changing radically from around the new year thanks to the defections of Faugheen & runner-up Arctic Fire. Below are some of the prices – taken from the Betfair exchange- that the market principles have touched prior to the shake up:

Annie Power: 200+ (980 for pennies!)
The New One: 44
Identity Thief: 120
Nichols Canyon: 70
My Tent Or Yours: 55
Top Notch: 180

It would be a bit unfair to compare this renewal to the Coca Cola Cup, but second strings are very much the order of the day!

Cheltenham 2016 – Champion Hurdle Contenders

Annie Power
(W.P.Mullins)
Shirocco (GER) — Anno Luce (Old Vic)
Even when the debate was raging about whether Annie would/should take the World Hurdle or Mares route there were those who were keen to point out they’d fancy her in a Champion Hurdle against the big boys. Whether her supporters imagined her being around the 9/4f mark is another matter, but in a low-key race that’s the price being banded about, and to be honest it makes very little appeal. Nothing at all should be made of the mare’s two defeats coming at Cheltenham as her 2nd to More Of That was probably her best performance of the lot. The last flight capitulation in the Mares’ race last season is just one of those things, however it’s the overall strength of her form that is the concern when it comes to taking the kind of prices on offer – since a couple of defeats of the limited Zarkandar has she won a race of merit? She’s been sparingly campaigned for sure, but a lack of match practice against proper horses makes her pretty much still an unknown quantity at the top-level, and having run only once over two miles since February 2013 there are enough doubts about her to consider. It is worth remembering that the mare is only an eight-year-old and Ruby Walsh could find he’s sat on a Ferrari that’s been coasting along against Fiat Puntos without needing to turn on the after burners – at the price I’d rather watch and find out.

Nichols Canyon
(W.P.Mullins)
Authorized (IRE) — Zam Zoom (IRE) (Dalakhani (IRE))
Seemingly forever the Robin to Mullins’ choice of Batman, Nichols Canyon remains the only horse to have beaten Faugheen in a race, having overturned the 1/6 favourite in an odd-looking race back in November. It was undoubtedly a solid effort from Nichols Canyon that day, but there’s little doubt now that the form cannot possibly be taken at face value with Faugheen just throwing in a shocker of an effort – the proximity of Wicklow Brave to both of them made it look that way at the time – and the Graham Wylie-owned six-year-old was in the right place at the right time to take advantage. The Authorized gelding probably ran better than that when overcoming a mistake to beat Identity Thief just before the New Year, although plenty of judges have seemingly taken the lightly-raced second as the one to keep onside from the race. Nichols Canyon in a way highlights the current programme book issues over jumps – he’s clearly very talented, but already as a six-year-old he’s managed to win six Grade Ones without really threatening to be top class. A winner of six genuine top-level Grade ones wouldn’t be available at an each way price in this renewal of the Champion Hurdle! A slightly disappointing effort in last year’s Neptune is a slight concern, although his capability of staying further while having plenty of flat speed is a definite plus.

The New One
(Nigel Twiston-Davies)
King´s Theatre (IRE) — Thuringe (FR) (Turgeon (USA))
Two seasons ago a six-year-old The New One came into this race as one of the exciting young things, despite a Christmas time reversal at the hands of My Tent Or Yours at Kempton, and having been badly hampered at just the third flight that day at Prestbury Park he could be considered genuinely unlucky not to be crowned champion. Grade One success followed at Aintree (by a head at 4/9), but since then it’s been a fairly low-key couple of years for the King’s Theatre gelding, with a succession of victories at odds on against inferior animals combined with a couple of 7L+ beatings by Faugheen. Although there’s no Faugheen blocking his path on this occasion, like Annie it’s tough to gauge how much The New One has in reserve after consistently beating up lesser opponents, and there’s a nagging feeling his big chance of being champion went as he was hampered two years ago.

Identity Thief
(Henry De Bromhead)
Kayf Tara — Miss Arteea (IRE) (Flemensfirth (USA))
It wasn’t until October of last year that Gigginstown’s Identity Thief managed to win his second race over hurdles, so for him to be lining up in the Champion Hurdle as a general 6/1 shot says something about his improvement, the lack of depth in the race, or most likely a bit of both. That Down Royal Grade 2 success came in a typically weak Grade 2 in which he was highest rated at just 137, yet his performance suggested he was by far the best of them and that, with considerable scope to improve further, Grade 1 challenges would become the norm. In two attempts at that level the Kayf Tara (also sire of Thistlecrack and Special Tiara) six-year-old has won a moderate Fighting Fifth despite a couple of sketchy errors, and only gave best to Nichols Canyon late on in a heavy ground Ryanair Hurdle. His level of form is not yet that of a Champion Hurdle winner, yet he has better form than the rest of the dark horses with an unexposed profile and remains an exciting horse.

My Tent Or Yours
(Nicky Henderson)
Desert Prince (IRE) — Spartan Girl (IRE) (Ela-Mana-Mou)
A former Champion Hurdle & Supreme second, It’s been 703 days since My Tent Or Yours let even money backers down by refusing to settle in the Scottish Champion Hurdle, yet he is highly likely to go off single figures here. He’s almost certainly the most talented of these, a powerful traveller who is worth watching just for the way he goes around on the bridle, but his inability to control his headstrong tendencies make a nearly two-year absence a major concern. On pure ability he would be favourite – in reality it’s a major leap of faith in the ability of Nicky Henderson to be taking the current prices.

Top Notch
(Nicky Henderson)
Poliglote — Topira (FR) (Pistolet Bleu (IRE))
French import who won three low-key juvenile hurdles in 2014-15 before finishing runner-up to Peace And Co in the Triumph, Irving at Haydock & Identity Thief in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth. Way behind Camping Ground upped in trip on New Year’s Day, he was back on track in a small race at Kelso (4/11f) but his level of form isn’t yet up to winning even this standard of Champion Hurdle and he’s be a surprising victor.

Camping Ground
(Robert Walford)
Goldneyev (USA) — Camomille (GER) (Pennekamp (USA))
Another arrival from over the Channel & a dark horse with plenty of social media admirers – if bookmakers’ liabilities were based on positive tweets they’d be making this six-year-old a shade of odds on for this. Extremely impressive in the Relkeel Hurdle (Top Notch way behind but below par) on bad ground over 2 1/2 miles, Robert Walford’s diamond found little upped to three miles in the Cleeve, yet unbelievably he comes into this race as the top rated in the field at 163. If that can be taken at face value then 25/1 is indeed a generous price.

Peace And Co
(Nicky Henderson)
Falco (USA) — Peace Lina (FR) (Linamix (FR))
Three from three as a juvenile in Britian, he’s 0-2 – both at odds on – this time around and has been bitterly disappointing. It would be a quite incredible if he turned up on Tuesday and improved a stone and a half and I can’t have it at any price.

Hargam
(Nicky Henderson)
Sinndar (IRE) — Horasana (FR) (Galileo (IRE))
A third runner for Henderson, and a third with no real Champion-worthy form in the 2015/16 season. Widely expected to improve for the better ground, he was a major disappointment in the 4yo Grade 1 at Aintree, and although he’s run pretty well in a Grade 1 & C&D Grade 2, he doesn’t look obviously ready to step his form up another level .

Sempre Medici
(Willie Mullins)
Medicean — Sambala (IRE) (Danehill Dancer (IRE))
Mullins’ third string with a couple of soft/heavy ground victories in small field Irish Graded races to his name this year, as well as a decent one-length second to Old Guard over the Champion Hurdle course & distance. The least likely Mullins winner.

Verdict:
With a 25/1 shot top rated with a mark 163 achieved over half a mile further, the most rose-tinted of spectacles would be required to see this as anything other than a below average renewal. Despite her undoubtedly being a quality mare I didn’t think I’d ever see the day Annie Power was sub 2/1 for a Champion Hurdle, and although it would be unwise to dismiss her, she still looks too short despite the moderate nature of the race. I’ve never been a big fan of The New One & his 5th last season is probably as good as he is, however the top four from that race don’t line up here and he’ll never have a better chance. Nichols Canyon & Identity Thief clashed in what’s probably the best piece of form left after Faugheen’s withdrawal, and it’s a toss-up as to which I’d rather be with as Identity Thief surely has more to come. My Tent Or Yours comes with huge warning signs attached despite his ridiculous engine, so as with plenty of more shrewd judges I’m happy to take a punt at the 20/1 CAMPING GROUND in the hope he can return to – and improve on – the level of form he showed on New Year’s Day. Still lightly raced for a horse who made his first start nearly three years ago, he wouldn’t need to be a superstar to take the crown back up north.

0.5pt each-way Camping Ground @ 20-1 with 10Bet.

Introduced to the world of horse racing as a teenager by his grandad, Charlie has gone from 25p lucky 15s to working a summer as a Sports Writer for BSkyB & being a regular part of the Student Racing team. His stakes meanwhile haven't increased. Charlie has a strong preference for the summer game but - anyone who turns their nose up at hurdlers and chasers - he can't resist those four days in the Cotswolds every March. He thinks Jezki will win the Champion Hurdle, but also backed Laughing Jack for the Derby which highlights the value of his opinion. Can be found at either @sutts109 spouting off about Chelsea FC and Andy Murray, or sleeping in a Sharm El Sheikh hotel room.

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