Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+).
Distance - Two miles half a furlong on the old course.
The first of the four major races at the Festival, the Champion Hurdle is open to horses of four years old and upwards who have been allocated a rating of 130 or more.
10 year key trends:
The last 10 winners had an adjusted RPR of at least 163.
The last 10 winners were rated within eight pounds of the RPR top rated.
9 of the last 10 winners had no more than 12 starts over hurdles.
9 of the last 10 winners had won a Grade One Hurdle.
8 of the last 10 winners were aged between six and eight.
8 of the last 10 winners had run within the past 51 days.
7 of the last 10 winners won last time out.
7 of the last 10 winners had a Topspeed figure of at least 151.
Other trends to consider:
8 winners this century went off 9/1 or bigger.
12 of the last 19 winners were trained in Ireland.
Since 1995 five year olds are 1 from 100.
All 27 horses aged 10+ to have run since 1981 have been beaten.
4 of the last 14 winners made nearly all the running.
Horses unbeaten in handicaps that season are 3 from 26 this century.
This race normally doesn't bear much resemblance to the Trials which are usually steadily run small field affairs. Horses need to have the ability to quicken off a fast gallop and it's not surprising that the form book in this race sometimes go out of the window. Previous Cheltenham Festival form has been a bigger asset in this race than most other Festival races and upsets are more common in this race than either of the other three Championship races. Only two horses since 1992 have won this race without winning a Graded race prior to the Festival. Five year olds have an appalling record in this race with only one winning from 100 entries since 1985, but in recent seasons there have been a number who have placed. Horses that started their career on the flat have won 13 of the last 22 renewals, including 6 of the last 11. Surprisingly, given the normal fast pace of this race, prominent racers fare well. Key races to note are the previous season's Champion Hurdle, Neptune Novices and Triumph Hurdle, The Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, The Punchestown Champion Hurdle, the Hatton Grace at Fairyhouse, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, The Fighting fifth at Newcastle, The Kingwell at Wincanton and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
We were fortunate to support Buveur D'Air Ante-Post last season and his classy win plus four successes since have seen the layers running for cover. His only defeat in 10 starts over hurdles came in the red hot Supreme Novices' of 2016 won by Altior. Testing conditions are no barrier to his success and the only slight chink in his armour is his lack of a racing edge, having won all three starts this season without coming off the bridle. He seemed to race lazily last time out but he's likely to be perked up by this better opposition and he is going to be very difficult to beat.
If Faugheen were back to his best then he would set a very high standard and he could even bustle up the favourite were he to repeat his victory in the Morgiana at Punchestown in November. However he hasn't shown the same level of form in two starts since. He was pulled up in the Grade One Ryanair at Christmas and, although producing a solid effort in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he was readily beaten by a horse who is much better over further. Connections haven't been radiating positivity and the fitting of the cheekpieces, an unusual move for this Trainer, seems to suggest that Faugheen hasn't been setting the gallops alight. He has won both his races at the Festival, including this one in 2015, but the return to this venue and the spring climate will need to revitalise him to a significant degree if he is to get competitive with the favourite.
My Tent Or Yours has been an admirable servant. He has been second in four of the five Festivals he has competed in, including three previous renewals of this race. He is now an eleven year old but showed when winning his first race for four years on his reappearance here in December that there is no major sign of regression. He has won on soft but his best performances have tended to come on quicker ground. Given his record at this meeting he is likely to give his running and that could still be good enough to gain a place in a race which lacks much depth.
The enigma which is Yorkhill rocks up here and it's anyone's guess what he will produce. What cannot be disputed is the quality he showed in winning on both his previous visits to this meeting (winning the Ballymore in 2016 and the JLT Chase in 2017). He has stacks of inherent ability but he doesn't always harness it in the right direction. He comes into the race without having run over hurdles for almost two years and having shown nothing in two outings over fences this season. It may be no coincidence that his best performances have come under Ruby Walsh and his absence could mean this task is beyond him.
There aren't many horses who have won a Grade One over hurdles and a Group One on the flat but Wicklow Brave has. He hasn't been seen since finishing in midfield in the Melbourne Cup last November. He came into last season's race without having raced over hurdles for 17 months and, given he chucked away any chance he had at the start of the race he did quite well to get within 15 lengths of Buveur D'Air. His form in winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in first time blinkers last April puts him within hailing distance of the favourite but, although he handles testing conditions, quicker ground would've inconvenienced many of his rivals rather than him. The blinkers are re-fitted and it wouldn't be the biggest surprise were he to run well.
Based on this season's form it takes a leap of faith to support Melon. It's not hard to make excuses for his three average performances in this campaign because they all came on soft ground, something he hadn't encountered in previous starts. He was also said to resent the hood last time out and that's disposed with today. He is bred to appreciate a quicker surface and that's not something he is going to get here. He has the ability and probably the potential to get competitive but there's the nagging doubt that there will be more than a few who handle conditions better than him. He was a good second in the Supreme last season on just his second start over hurdles and that experience will hold him in good stead.
Elgin was well beaten in the Supreme last season and started this campaign in handicap company. Having progressed in four starts in that sphere he took in the Grade Two Kingwell hurdle at Wincanton last time and ran out a two and half length winner giving Ch'tibelo four pounds. He has improved 21 pounds this season and he may be capable of better yet. He will need to be if he is to get competitive with the best of these but his current rating is higher than the second, fourth and sixth place finishers in last season's race so he more than deserves his place in the field. He has a C/D win to his name and has proved to be versatile regarding ground conditions so far.
Of the others Mick Jazz has produced a Grade One winning performance and the tongue tie/blinker combination are applied for the first time in two and half years. He could run well but he has ground to make up with both Faugheen and Melon, even on this season's form
Buveur D'Air is by a fair way the most likely winner of this race unless Faugheen returns to former glories. That looks a tough ask at ten years old. Yorkhill has the ability to outrun his odds but he isn't currently a betting proposition. It looks doubtful that any of the others have the current ability or enough potential for improvement to beat the favourite. That only leaves two places for e/w purposes if the 'without favourite' market is ignored. If there is one horse who is likely to run his race then it's Elgin and he comes here on an upward curve. He may not be good enough but he is a big price and look worth a small investment.
Selection: (outlay - 1.5 pts)
Elgin - 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 20/1. (Betfair, Sportingbet).
« Back to index | View thread »