(Class 1) (Grade 1) (2m 87y)
Tuesday 12th March 2019
The next of my Cheltenham Previews is one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the week and that’s of course none other than the Champion Hurdle. A race that has the richest history and its fair share of fan favourites and champions throughout the years with the likes of Hurricane Fly, Istabraq, Faugheen and Annie Power to name but a few. This year’s renewal see’s the defending champion of the past two year’s Buveur D’Air attempt to retain his crown, however it will far from be a walk in the park. As ever, sit back and enjoy the preview!
The Champion Hurdle is the feature race on Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival and it’s a Grade 1 affair that’s designed for the best hurdlers around to come together and do battle over two miles. The last two renewals have both been won by Buveur D’Air (13/8) and he rightfully sits at the top of the market to defend his crown successfully for a third time this time around. His journey to this year’s festival hasn’t been completely plain sailing though, he started his season in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in a mouth watering clash against Gordon Elliott’s Samcro. Buveur D’Air made the so called ‘second coming’ look incredibly ordinary by dismantling him with minimal fuss. It was then off to Kempton to defend his Christmas Hurdle crown where he started as the 1/4 favourite. It was not to be on this occasion however as stalemate Verdana Blue gets the better of him under Nico De Boinville in what turned out to be one of the shocks of the season so far. Following that shock defeat to Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle Buveur D’Air then went to Sandown to attempt to retain his crown in the Contenders Hurdle. This time he made no mistake putting away Vision Des Flos with ease who’s since gone on to frank the form. Will it be three in a row in March? He’s 13/8 currently.
It’s an Irish duo that follow the reigning champion in the betting and the first of this star studded duo comes in the form of the Gordon Elliott wonder mare that is Apple’s Jade (7/4). Following a disappointing end to her season at the Spring Festivals last year she has returned to the track this season in scintillating form winning three Grade 1’s in a row by dismantling each field. This all culminated with a win in the Irish Champion Hurdle the last day at the Dublin Racing Festival which propelled her to the top of the betting here. Just behind her in the betting is another potential star and that’s of course the Willie Mullins trained Laurina (7/2). She’s taken all that’s come before her so far and claimed a Grade 1 at the back end of last season, she made her reappearance with a stroll around Sandown when beating just one opponent and followed up with a similarly straight forward victory against her own sex in Listed company at Punchestown the last day. We really don’t quite know the limit of her ability and we’ll certainly find out when she takes on the best of the boys here.
Willie Mullins has a fairly strong hand here as you’d probably imagine and the rest of his string look to come in the form of Melon (10/1), Sharjah (10/1) and Saldier (33/1). As many of you will remember I put Melon up on here for last year’s Champion Hurdle at a decent price and he ran an absolute belter of a race only to be denied close home by Buveur D’Air. However since then things haven’t gone quite to plan, he fell at the Punchestown Festival on his final start of last term and followed up with two pretty lacklustre efforts this term. It’s likely a return to Cheltenham could well spark a revival though. It’s a completely different story for Sharjah however, he really has come into his own this season winning a Galway Hurdle, Morgiana Hurdle and a Ryanair Hurdle. The latter two races both being Grade 1’s. He seems to of built up quite the partnership with Patrick Mullins and it will certainly be interesting to see if the partnership is renewed here. We haven’t seen Saldier since he fell in November, so his participation is very much an unknown.
Buveur D’Air’s conqueror Verdana Blue (8/1) also looks set to take her place here in the line up for Nicky Henderson, she hasn’t been seen over obstacles since that win in the Christmas Hurdle in December and it’s likely Nico De Boinville could well take the ride again. That’s if he doesn’t side with Brain Power (20/1) who’s also down to go here, he bounced back to form when back over hurdles with a win in the Grade 2 International Hurdle here back in December. Espoir D’Allen (16/1) will be a popular each way fancy for many people here, he’s been in top form this season winning all three starts and all three came within Grade 3 company. Another horse who will likely be a popular each way fancy is another Irish raider and that’s Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae (16/1). He’s a very likeable sort who has had to settle for second placed efforts this term behind Apple’s Jade and Sharjah, he has very strong festival form however finishing runner up in the Stayers last year behind Penhill and winning the Coral Cup in 2017. A couple more interesting contenders this time from the home challenge look to be Global Citizen (20/1) and Silver Streak (40/1). These two faced off last time at Haydock in a trial race for this with the Ben Pauling charge Global Citizen coming out on top. Silver Streak made a vital mistake though close home that day and still ran on strongly, the Evan Williams six year old also has course form with two solid second here this season in the Greatwood and the International.
“This year’s renewal seems to revolve around the top three in the betting, however the order that three will finish in is the question. I’ve actually took the chance on Laurina to win as I’m a big fan of hers. Obviously she has it all to prove against the boys and in this calibre of race however we just don’t know quite how good she is. It’s likely Apple’s Jade will try to make the running as she’s done all season but its going to be a complete different proposition trying to dominate this field at Cheltenham. Buveur D’Air will likely try to sit off the pace and take advantage of the other two taking each other on in front. Geraghty will most likely play his hand quite late which really does set up a fascinating contest.”
1st: LAURINA (7/2)
2nd: BUVEUR D’AIR (13/8)
3rd: APPLE’S JADE (7/4)
WIN: LAURINA (7/2)
(I really like Laurina and think she could be something quite special. Granted she’ll need to be to win this and I can understand the reasoning by those who can’t side with her. I do think the seven pound pull is a big factor though and really hope she can replicate Annie Power.)
EACH WAY: SALDIER (33/1)
(Bit of an out there one this but I put this bet on a good while ago at the beginning of the season. And just like the majority of my antepost bets we haven’t seen him since I placed it. He’s a very well thought of sort and looked to be getting the better of Espoir D’allen before coming down in November. It’s likely he’ll be rerouted if he does actually turn up to The Festival though.)