The last horse to win back to back Champion Hurdle’s was Hardy Eustace back in 2004/2005, Buveur D’Air will be aiming to emulate him when he lines up in the race on Tuesday 13th March, currently around the 4/9 mark it appears he’ll have little trouble doing so. Since finishing third behind Altior and Min in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the son of Crillon hasn’t looked back, gaining 9 victories on the trot and the 7 year old still seems to be on the up. His jumping is unbelievably slick and to be honest with you I don’t think I need to say much more, he has to be the most likely winner.
Like many people, I am a big fan of Faugheen and to see him romp home in the Morgiana back in November was a joy to behold and I was very pleased with the 6/1 antepost I got on him for this race about an hour before that contest. But it’s safe to say my confidence in that wager has dwindled somewhat. To see him pulled-up on his penultimate start was hard viewing, as we thought, the machine was back in full working order, but sadly that wasn’t the case. His second in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time was much more encouraging, but he still only looked a shadow of his former self and unless Willie Mullins performs some sort of miracle (which I wouldn’t put past him) I’m struggling to see Faugheen regaining his crown. I will however still be cheering him home and I really hope he produces a race alike to when Sprinter Sacre won the Champion Chase in 2016. If he does I can’t fathom what the atmosphere will be like, but my god do I want to find out.
Aside from the aforementioned pair, I don’t believe there is anything else good enough in here that should be winning a Champion Hurdle. That may be a bit harsh, but this is a game full of opinions. There is however what could be the each way bet of the festival in here and that is the ever-present My Tent Or Yours. To be honest I’m not his number one fan, I’ve referred to him in the past as a ‘professional runner-up’ as a festival win has eluded him and he’s finished second in all of his 4 appearances. But he showed that he still possesses plenty of ability when winning the International Hurdle in December when ahead of The New One and Melon. We know he can’t beat Buveur D’Air, but we know he’s extremely likely to run his race and in a race which appears to lack any strength in depth I can see him filling the places once again. Another way to go with ‘Tent’ would be either the betting Without Buveur D’Air market at 13/2 which does look good value, especially if Faugheen fails to fire. Alternatively in the place only market which just above the 2/1 mark does make plenty of appeal.
Melon has been a horse that has split opinions over the past year or so, but he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. He’s been sent off favourite in every race for Mullins except for last time out in the Irish Champion Hurdle, but has only won twice for the master handler. I wasn’t convinced with his Grade 2 win over stablemate Coquin Mans on his seasonal reappearance at Down Royal and even though he has drifted to a backable each way price, I just don’t fancy him.
Onto another Closutton inmate, this time in the shape of last seasons Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner, Wicklow Brave. This Group 1 winner on the flat won’t be the first name on many people’s lips when talking about the Champion Hurdle, but when the favourite is so short and when searching for some value elsewhere, he is not one to be taken lightly. After finishing twenty second in the Melbourne Cup in November 2016, his next appearance came in this race last year. He was reluctant to start and gave the field about 6 lengths at the drop of the flag, but he travelled into the race strongly and was arguably going as well as anything coming to the second last, but didn’t quite have the finishing kick and trailed home in eighth (subsequently placed seventh). However, he went on to showcase his talents at Punchestown in first time blinkers to gain his first Grade 1 victory. He took in the Melbourne Cup again this season and bettered his prior effort to finish tenth. Currently a best priced 25/1 for this years renewal of the Champion Hurdle, I give him a place chance in a race that lacks depth, especially so if the blinkers are re-applied.
As solid and as admirable as The New One is, I think the past few years have told us that he sadly just isn’t good enough to win a Champion Hurdle. So I think along with many others, I’m pleased to see that his target at this seasons festival is the Stayers’ Hurdle! Defi Du Seuil unfortunately hasn’t looked anything like he did last season, then again we know how difficult it is for 5 year olds to compete in open company at this level so I’m more looking forward to seeing him again next season. Then we move on to the likes of Ch’Tibello, Mick Jazz and Call Me Lord who in my opinion just aren’t good enough to be involved at the business end, with the case of Call Me Lord it’s also the fact that Nicky Henderson really thinks he has to go right handed.
Buveur D’Air probably wins there is no two ways about that, but I’m living in hope that Faugheen discovers that special spark again and produces some kind of extraordinary show that leaves me running out of superlatives. In terms of place chances, I don’t think you can go too far wrong with the evergreen My Tent Or Yours and at a bigger price Wicklow Brave could enter the reckoning if everything falls into place and the pace collapses late on.