The Champion Hurdle is renowned in the industry as being the flagship event for two-mile hurdlers, and is the feature race on Champion Day, the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Jamie Taylor looks through the form and looks to bring you closer towards locating the best betting opportunity in the 2017 renewal.
With no defending champions in the race this year with both Annie Power and Faugheen ruled out through injury, the race has certainly lost somewhat of its sparkle and this year’s renewal is certainly more competitive than those we’ve been used to in recent seasons. We have been treated to some brilliant equine heroics over the last few seasons and although we are low on quality this time round, we still have an interesting and most importantly competitive puzzle to solve.
Champion Hurdle 2017
Kalanisi x Blonde Ambition (Old Vic)
Notes: A product of advancing through the handicap system is Brain Power who after a below-par showing on return at Cheltenham in the Greatwood Hurdle, has put together a couple of excellent wins in handicap company from marks of 142 and 149, giving connections every hope he can throw-down against the big boys. When he won at Ascot he beat what they thought was a handicap ‘good thing’ in Consul De Thaix. He does however return from what will be an 87-day break which isn’t an ideal fit for this race, but Nicky Henderson has proven time and time again he can get them to perform on the big occasion.
Crillon x History (Alesso)
Notes: Has had a very unconventional campaign with a view to winning the Champion Hurdle, starting this season over fences before going back over hurdles when it was announced that both Annie Power and Faugheen were out, and the possibility of Yanworth missing it also looked a possible outcome. He won hard on the snaff at Sandown as he was entitled to do in what was essentially an egg-and-spoon race and it’s difficult to get a handle on his form. He finished a staying-on third in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle behind imperious stablemate Altior, and the Willie Mullins trained Min so he must be respected.
Creachadoir x Willamina (Sadler’s Wells)
Notes: Has spent the recent part of his career racing back at Auteuil after a third in last season’s Triumph Hurdle, and improved on his initial return at Leopardstown when fourth to Petit Mouchoir by getting 13 lengths closer to that rival over the same C&D in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the end of January. He improved on all his previous form on his most recent start and would certainly be an outside threat to pick up the pieces if they go too hard out in front, but needs to improve to figure.
Milan x La Noire (Phardante)
Notes: Returned from almost a two-year layoff to take a small conditions hurdle at Navan, before disappointing when expected to follow that up in the Red Mills Trial (Grade 3) at Gowran Park on his most recent outing. Those two starts have been around a stone below his best and it’s hard to imagine he’ll improve enough off the back of those to catapult himself back into contention here. He isn’t getting any younger at the age of 9, and the Stayers Hurdle looks a more logical target for him at this stage.
My Tent Or Yours
Desert Prince x Spartan Girl (Ela-Mana-Mou)
Notes: A real likeable veteran now entering the latter stages of his career at the age of 10, and was prepared exceptionally by Nicky Henderson off a mammoth layoff to finish second to Annie Power in this race twelve months ago. He clearly isn’t the force of old and is around a stone lower but that doesn’t mean to say he can’t have a say in this, based on what we’ve seen so far this season a place would be his likely best outcome.
Authorized x Zam Zoom (Dalakhani)
Notes: Hasn’t had an ideal prep heading into this falling on his most recent start at Leopardstown at the end of January, but was held at the time by winner Petit Mouchoir. He was an excellent third in this race twelve months ago and a repeat of that effort will see him go close here, but I suspect there are one or two in the line-up that’ll have his measure and there is a chance he’ll run elsewhere or skip Cheltenham altogether.
Al Namix x Arnette (Denham Red)
Notes: Has certainly improved leaps for the switch to Henry De Bromhead and has won a brace of Grade 1’s over hurdles this term, including the Irish Champion Hurdle and heads to Cheltenham carrying the hopes of the Irish with him. He has nothing to prove based on his last two efforts, however he has beaten small fields and has had an easy time of things on the front-end in both of those races, and I suspect this will be a completely different test all-together. That isn’t to say he won’t be able to adapt to that but for me it would be a concern.
The New One
King’s Theatre x Thuringe (Turgeon)
Notes: An admirable and ferociously consistent sort from the Nigel Twiston-Davies camp, a regular in this race since 2014 and arguably would have won that renewal were it not for the bad interference suffered as a consequence of the tragic fall of Our Conor. Fifth in the race behind Faugheen in 2015, he finished fourth behind Annie Power twelve months ago and looks every inch as good as he has been throughout his career at the grand age of 9. This is a weaker renewal than that he has encountered for the last couple of seasons and he is certainly a decent price based on this and his retained ability. If he were to win he would become the first 9-year-old since Hurricane Fly to win the Champion Hurdle, with Rooster Booster before him in 2003.
Norse Dancer x Yota (Galetto)
Notes: The Orange Machine has been workmanlike in all performances this season but has done so on terms which wouldn’t have bought the best out in him. He is a strong galloping sort who wouldn’t be seen to best effect at the flatter tracks of either Kempton or Wincanton and was visibly carrying condition when winning the Ascot Hurdle on his comeback. The configurations of Prestbury Park will be much more to his liking, especially at championship pace over the minimum distance.
To Be Supplemented…
Peintre Celebre x Her Grade (Spectrum)
Notes: Has yet to be confirmed for this race but with the mares allowance would have a real say in this year’s renewal. She improved out of all recognition to hand defeat to Apples Jade on her return, but was ridden more optimally than the Gordon Elliott runner. That said she has plenty of upside and should the Mullins team supplement her into the race, you’d have to fancy her chances.
Wicklow Brave hasn’t been seen since running down the field in the Melbourne Cup at Flemington in November, and hasn’t been seen over hurdles since November 2015. Not an ideal campaign for this type of contest and although this once high-class operator who won the County Hurdle off 138 in 2015 by 8 lengths has been running with credit on the flat, this really is a tall order.
Diakali is another from the Mullins ‘long-layoff’ camp and made his return on the 5th of March after almost 2 years off the track. He was well beaten behind Hidden Cyclone into fourth on that comeback outing and it is hard to image he will be lining up here.
Cyrus Darius returned from an injury enforced absence when beaten 26 lengths by The New One at Haydock on his return, but showed the benefit of that experience when readily accounting for his rivals when winning the Grade 2 Morebattle Hurdle on his next start, after the fall of favourite Born Survivor when neither had been asked for their efforts. This however is a massive rise in grade and although you have to respect his record it is very hard to imagine him finding the requisite improvement to play a hand in the finish.
Mister Miyagi also holds an entry in the Coral Cup and from a perch of 149 will be much better suited to that contest. His form over hurdles to date suggests he’ll be very much on the back foot were he to run in this contest, and his recent outing at Cheltenham when beaten 68 lengths by The New One in December did little to enhance his claims.
Moon Racer is unbeaten over hurdles in his two starts so far and also won the Champion Bumper in 2015 when winning a really strong renewal of the race. Based on what I’ve seen of him so far he isn’t quite at the level needed to win a race of this nature, and the Supreme Novices’ would be a much more sensible option at this stage of his career.
Sceau Royal was a most taking winner of his first start of the campaign when routing a field at Cheltenham by 11 lengths, before following that up with a 9 length win in the Elite Hurdle. The ground was against him when below-par at Newcastle and his trainer expected a bold showing from him at Wincanton in the Kingwell Hurdle in a couple of weeks ago. The fact he was beaten by Yanworth who clearly needed the run after a recent injury scare suggests he’ll not quite be up to this level but will run with credit as always.
Ch’Tibello won the Scottish Champion Hurdle back in April of last season, and returned with a close fifth to Sternrubin in a competitive Listed handicap hurdle off 144, before winning a Class 2 event at Haydock in November. No match for Yanworth in either of his two most recent starts, and the galloping nature of Cheltenham will further add to the strengths of Yanworth.
Whilst we may be lacking the raw talent of the likes of Faugheen or Annie Power as we progress towards the 2017 Champion Hurdle, the competitive nature of this renewal makes it an intriguing contest with various pretenders each having designs on the Champion Hurdle crown.
Petit Mouchoir has been most impressive winning a brace of Grade 1’s over in Ireland this winter, but has done so when getting the run of things out in-front, at a tempo suited to his running style. The generous gallop expected of this contest will potentially be his undoing in the big one in a week’s time, but he cannot be discounted based on what we’ve seen so far but is priced about right in the market.
Buveur D’Air was third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle twelve months ago, and has had a bizarre campaign in terms of Champion Hurdle prep, starting off over fences before switching back to hurdles prior to his easy Sandown success, in what was a mismatch. For me he has plenty of potential but hasn’t really done anything on the track to warrant his current position in the market and is one I’ll be looking to take on.
Footpad is looking to become the first horse since Katchit in 2008, and See You Then in 1985 to be winner of this race at five-years-old, and he probably doesn’t quite have the class to trouble the judge in this.
The New One will always be dangerous but at the age of nine his chances of winning this race has more than likely gone. That said he is admirably consistent and is quite a big price in the current market, but again there are one or two in this who should have his measure.
Brain Power is an intriguing prospect advancing into this grade after a brace of successes in handicap company, he is one not to be dismissed but the value ship has long sailed on this one and at the current prices he cannot be advised.
The one I keep coming back to for this is the Alan King trained YANWORTH, who despite a marginally troubled prep, has done really well on tracks which wouldn’t have played to his strengths on his most recent two starts. Whilst he wouldn’t be the best winner we’ve seen in this contest in recent seasons, he has been admirably consistent since his return running within 5lbs on RPR’s in his three runs this campaign.
He looks best equipped to take advantage of any chinks in the armour of Petit Mouchoir who in my opinion is his biggest danger in a week’s time, and at the current prices remains a fair option in a wide-open race.
It would be great to see the veteran My Tent Or Yours roll back the years, along with The New One in this race but the younger legs of Yanworth should have the measure of his rivals.