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 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, he also holds an entry into the Stayers’ Hurdle (formerly the World Hurdle), but 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 Faugheen extremely short in the market, despite having last been seen on the track in January 2016 and missing the Irish Champion Hurdle due to a reported tweaked muscle. Even if he makes the race, it remains to be seen if he is the same force of old.
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.
The fourth mare in the history of the race to take victory, Annie Power did the seemingly impossible to capture the race in brilliant fashion last season, never looking in real danger throughout. That certainly made amends for her last fence fall at the 2015 Festival in the Mares, where she was cruising to victory at the time. Yet to be seen this season due to a setback, she won the Aintree Hurdle in her usual impressive style back in April 2016. It will be interesting to note where she makes her seasonal reappearance as it could give us some clues as to where she is going to be headed this season, with the Champion Hurdle not her only option. If she does defend her title – which is most likely – she has to have a leading chance with the mare’s allowance taken into account and would be tough to beat.
Not seen since January 2016 due to a sore suspensory, ‘The Machine’ Faugheen won the 2015 Champion Hurdle in convincing style and is also a multiple winner at the Festival, winning the 2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle in brilliant style. He has only been beaten once in his career – a shock defeat in the Morgiana Hurdle when not making the running, which did not seem to suit. It has long been debated as to whether he will step up in trip, and this is something that Rich Ricci spoke about in June: “He won over three miles at Limerick as a novice. It is interesting. It is such a long way from here to there and I will probably get murdered for saying something that changes my mind later on, but you have to consider it“. With two brilliant options for the race, it is no wonder that Ricci is undecided about his plans, as he also talked about why each deserve their shot at the race in the same interview: “I’m of two minds. No mare has ever won the Champion Hurdle twice, and Faugheen deserves his chance to defend his crown as well“. If Faugheen does become the pick for the race, he would have a very good chance of recapturing his crown and his chances cannot be understated.
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, although he was not particularly fluent that day. He will need to improve his jumping and he still, in some senses, needs to prove two miles is his optimum. But he is a talented horse and has a good chance of continuing to improve this season.
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. If he continues to progress then it is not hard to see why he is being steadily backed for the race (33/1 into 9/1). It will be interesting to see if he continues to improve as the season progresses.
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.
Second in the Triumph at the Festival last season, Apple’s Jade was looking very promising towards the back end of last season, winning a Grade 1 at Aintree when reopposing the Triumph winner and beating him by 41 lengths. Although beaten on her reappearance at Down Royal, she put in an improved effort when narrowly beaten in the Fighting Fifth and then went on to Fairyhouse to beat Vroum Vroum Mag in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle. Steadily improving this season, Gordon Elliott’s mare is slowly starting to show that she has credentials for the race. If she continues to show improved form she could be an interesting each way angle in the race with the mare’s allowance taken into consideration.
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 28 entries for the Champion Hurdle at the initial entry stage:
- Brain Power
- Buveur D’Air
- Clondaw Warrior
- Cyrus Darius
- Ivan Grozny
- Ivanovich Gorbatov
- L’Ami Serge
- Mister Miyagi
- Moon Racer
- My Tent Or Yours
- Nichols Canyon
- Petit Mouchoir
- Sceau Royal
- Superb Story
- The New One
- Top Notch
- Wicklow Brave
- Annie Power
- Apple’s Jade
- Vroum Vroum Mag