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Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)
The Champion Hurdle is a two mile Grade 1 held at the Cheltenham Festival, this year on Tuesday 14th March. Each entrant must negotiate eight hurdles as they aim to take home the lion’s share of the £400,000 purse.
Our Champion Hurdle tip for 2017 is the J P McManus owned Yanworth, runner-up in the 2016 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and winner of eight of his 11 career starts. His narrow defeat to Yorkhill during the Festival last year is his only defeat in his last seven starts, but he has improved since then and posted a clear career best on Boxing Day. His jumping was a little lacklustre that day, but he still pulled clear of the rest – led by The New One – by over three lengths, staying all the way to the line. That extra stamina will stand him in good stead for the Champion Hurdle, which is normally run at a generous pace and plenty are left wanting coming up the hill.
With three Cheltenham runs under his belt, he has solid course form: a win on Trials Day in 2016 in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle by an impressive seven lengths; the aforementioned second place in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle; and a close fourth in the Champion Bumper in 2015 where he was denied a clear run and stayed on all the way to the line. The galloping track will help, as will the extra emphasis placed on stamina. Versatile groundwise, he was won on Good to Soft, Soft and Heavy, and has put in two strong performances on Good (both at this course).
Available Non Runner No Bet with a number of firms, this looks his most likely race, despite trainer Alan King having previously said he would look to step him up in trip to three miles. The way the race has cut up means this is far from a vintage Champion Hurdle, with the last two winners of the contest, Annie Power and Faugheen both notable absentees.
The Champion Hurdle betting trends are as follows:
- 8 of the last 10 winners were aged between 6 and 8 (the exceptions were 5yo and 9yo)
- 8 of the last 10 winners had placed previously at the Cheltenham Festival
- 8 of the last 10 winners had a run in the same calendar year (Faugheen and Rock On Ruby the two exceptions)
- 7 of the previous 10 winners were in the top 5 in the betting, with 4 double figure winners
- 6 of the previous 10 winners were trained in Ireland
- Only 6 of the previous 10 winners won on their last start before the Champion Hurdle (the other four finished 2nd, 2nd, 3rd and 4th)
- Only 4 of the previous 10 favourites were winners (all shorter than 3/1)
- Only 2 winners had less than 2 runs that season and 6 of the last 10 winners made 3 or 4 seasonal appearances
- Hurricane Fly is the only repeat winner in the last 10 runnings (2011 and 2013)
Willie Mullins has farmed the Champion Hurdle in recent years, with four wins since 2011 thanks to Hurricane Fly, Faugheen and Annie Power. He looks to have a great chance of making it five from seven with the latter if either of them show up. Ruby Walsh has, unsurprisingly, ridden all four of those winners, while Barry Geraghty has won two renewals. Noel Fehily guided Rock On Ruby home in 2011, while Robert Thornton and Philip Carberry are the two other jockeys to have won the Champion Hurdle since 2007.
Trends Analysis: Given the fast pace of the Champion Hurdle and the damage a single mistake can make to a horse’s chance, the fact that so many winners have had Cheltenham Festival experience should come as no surprise. It could also explain the diversity in winning SPs; four short price favourites punctuated by double figure odds winners of 22/1, 16/1, 11/1 and 10/1. Indeed, Punjabi’s 22/1 saw him record a narrow victory over 6/4 favourite Binocular in a field full of large prices. Willie Mullins should be congratulated for his dominance in recent years and whatever he brings to the race will likely go off favourite.
The first championship race of The Festival, the Champion Hurdle is the pinnacle of the two mile hurdling division and culmination of years of hard work for many horses. Won in the past by Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and, most recently, Annie Power, it is always an exciting race and this renewal promises the same again.
Looking as though the World Hurdle would be his target, plans have changed for Yanworth who now has his eyes set on this race due to the appearance of Unowhatimeanharry into the staying scene for J P McManus. A lightly raced seven-year-old, he lost nothing in defeat when finishing second in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle to Yorkhill. Returning this season with a gritty performance in the Ascot Hurdle, he then dropped back to two miles to win the Christmas Hurdle, digging in deep to win comfortably in the end ahead of The New One. He backed up that success when showing brilliant battling capabilities to win the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton in February, proving he also has the stamina for a Champion Hurdle. The galloping track that is Cheltenham will play to all of his strengths and contrary to popular belief, you do need stamina if you are to win a Champion Hurdle. Mark Walsh will take the ride in place of the injured Barry Geraghty which is another positive as Mark is a very assured and talented rider. He looks the all around package for this race and has to be respected.
The complexion of the race has changed on numerous occasions, so much so that Buveur D’Air has now entered the picture for Nicky Henderson and JP McManus. A good third in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, he went on to take Grade 1 glory a month later at Aintree, capping off a great season for him. As was the plan, he returned this season over fences, winning at both Haydock and Warwick, though they weren’t the most assured performances. With the race changing complexion and a number of fancied runners dropping out, his plans changed and he was rerouted to the Champion Hurdle, showing he still had class about him when winning the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown. He tanked his way through that race and won hard on the bridle, with Geraghty not moving a muscle on this promising six year old. With good Cheltenham form in the book and proven stamina for the trip, he looks another solid option for the race, though he does look JP McManus’ number two in this. He has to be respected for powerful connections and is likely to be in the shake up.
Impressive does not do justice to the turn of foot that Petit Mouchoir showed in the Ryanair Hurdle, as he easily dismissed Nichols Canyon and Ivanovich Gorbatov in convincing style. That helped boost his credentials no end and made amends for his fall in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle on his penultimate start, where he was still travelling well at the time. A further boost to his chances came at Leopardstown in January, once again seeing of Nichols Canyon in the Irish Champion Hurdle, though he did look tired towards the finish. The main Irish threat for this seasons renewal, he does look dangerous as he is clearly an improving commodity. If given a soft lead he would be even more dangerous and as a ground versatile sort, he is another who has to be considered a main player.
Another horse who is improving race by race is Brain Power, and with his handicap mark going up and up it would not be a surprise to see him entered into the race. He is thrice raced this season, not showing his true running on his return at Cheltenham due to the soft ground conditions. However, he has won both of his races since in good style, with the latest Grade 3 win at Ascot a career best. Nicky Henderson may well have no choice but to aim for the race with his handicap mark looking too high for the County Hurdle. He is certainly a lively contender for the team at Seven Barrows.
Although he has had a number attempts at this race, it’s almost impossible to rule out The New One for Nigel Twiston-Davies. With three attempts at the premier two mile hurdle, he is yet to really threaten, with perhaps his attempt in the 2014 renewal his closest, badly hampered early on before staying on strongly up the run in to snatch third. That isn’t to say he would have won without being hampered though and in two more attempts he was unable to really get competitive, fading into fourth in the 2016 race. This season he has once again run admirably, winning the International Hurdle in December and chasing home Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle, but it is hard to make a big case for him, especially now this is his fourth and most likely last attempt. He is a good price for each way purposes, but he faces some improving rivals who look more than likely to get the better of him in this.
The participation of Moon Racer has been long debated this season and he has now been confirmed for the Champion Hurdle. Connections are clearly confident with him coming into the Festival and he will have a good chance in what is an open renewal. He has three course and distance victories under his belt (two in bumpers and one over hurdles). That win came in November when winning the Supreme Trial here in comfortable fashion, beating Ballyandy for the second time this season in the process. Much has been made of his absence since that run, but he had similar preparation when winning the Champion Bumper in 2015, not being seen since October before rocking up to Cheltenham and powering clear up the hill. It won’t be easy to win the race as a novice but regardless he is an interesting contender to say the least.
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The Champion Hurdle is one of the most prestigious races at the Cheltenham Festival, taking place as the show piece event on the first day.
2009 and 2010 both saw wins for Nicky Henderson; Barry Geraghty produced a brilliant ride on-board 22/1 shot Punjabi, tracking the leaders all the way before edging out the top two in the betting by a neck to claim a surprise win. Third place and beaten favourite Binocular took his revenge the following year, as A P McCoy made smooth progress through the field to win by over four lengths at 9/1 – a much larger price than the year before.
2011’s race was the first of two wins for the Willie Mullins trained Hurricane Fly, who was sent off the 11/4 favourite. Despite being held up for most of the running, he rallied late on to claim victory in a very tight race. He started out jumping poorly in 2013, but recovered well and finished strongly to claim a second win in three years for Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh.
Sandwiched inbetween these Hurricane Fly victories was a win for Paul Nicholls and his 11/1 shot Rock on Ruby. With Noel Fehily in the saddle, the seven-year-old tracked the leaders all the way, hit the front and ran away from a strong chasing pack to claim victory by over three lengths.
Geraghty returned to the Champion Hurdle winner’s enclosure in 2014 as he won on the John Harrington trained Jezki. The 9/1 shot was prominent throughout, going into the lead over the final hurdle under great pressure from McCoy on My Tent Or Yours, but he stayed on very strongly to come out on top.
2015 saw Faugheen take centre stage, living up to his odds-on favourite tag to take the prize. The race itself was a lot closer than most people expected, but Faugheen led from the front and never really looked in too much danger, easing down a little to make the winning margin look slightly tighter than it actually was. He was followed home by two other Willie Mullins charges, Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly, with the Irish Champion trainer becoming the first person ever to train a Champion Hurdle 1-2-3.
In 2016, Annie Power became just the third mare to win the Champion Hurdle in the history of the race, a remarkable achievement. This was not the plan for her as Faugheen was meant to be Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci’s Champion horse, but he was injured so in came the super-sub. Receiving her mares allowance in what was a weak renewal, in hindsight the 5/2 SP was a ridiculous price and she stormed to victory beating a rejuvenated My Tent Or Yours, an equally impressive training performance from Nicky Henderson.
There are 12 entries for the Champion Hurdle:
- Brain Power
- Buveur D’Air
- Cyrius Darius
- Moon Racer
- My Tent Or Yours
- Petit Mouchoir
- Sceau Royal
- The New One
- Wicklow Brave