A race that always bares huge significance to the Cheltenham Festival, the Irish Champion Hurdle looks to once again be a cracking contest. A race that gives us plenty of pointers to the Festival, this year’s contest sees three potential challengers trying to lay down a marker before they head to the contest. It’s make or break for Faugheen, who pulled up over course and distance last time and needs to bounce back. We have an antepost preview on site, you can find the Irish Champion Hurdle tips here, which will be update on Friday evening. A race dominated by Willie Mullins, we have gone digging for trends to help find you the winner and they’re all listed below.
- Irish stronghold – Since 1996, no British trained horse has won this contest
- A year too soon – The last horse to win this race at the age of five was Chirkpar in 1992
- Favourites heaven – 11 of the past 15 renewals have been won by the favourite
- Class prevails – 11 of the past 15 renewals have been won by a horse rated 160 or over
- Track experience can prove crucial – 13 of the past 15 renewals have been won by a horse who’d been previous successful at this venue
From the trends, the two horses you are looking at are Faugheen and Melon, with both horses course and distance winners who are trained by Willie Mullins. Faugheen has the advantage on ratings, but as a lightly raced six year old more is expected of Melon, who is only rated one pound below the 160 threshold. They promise to throw up a brilliant race come Saturday and one that we can all enjoy.
This race is make or break for Faugheen, who shockingly pulled up over course and distance in December and needs to bounce back with a big performance here. All five trends speak in his favour which is hugely positive and being a ten year old is no barrier to this contest. Rated 172, he’s miles clear of these on ratings and has a previous course and distance win thanks to his victory in the 2016 renewal of this race. Willie Mullins has won six of the last seven renewals of this which is another feather is his cap and his claims are obvious were he to bounce back to his very best.
Much of the same can be said of Melon, who fits the bill on most of the trends and six year olds have previously done well in this race. He is rated 159 which puts him below the threshold for ratings, but he’s extremely lightly raced and acquitted himself well in the International Hurdle when last seen. He pulled hard early that day and if settling better he’s another with obvious chances as he also holds a course and distance victory to his name.
The only British challenger is Defi Du Seuil and just like Faugheen, he needs to bounce back from a recent flop. The star juvenile of last season, he finished fourth on his return at Ascot, a clear backwards step from last season. British horses do not have a good record in this race in recent years, nor do five year olds which does raise question marks about his chances. He wouldn’t mind softer ground, but he has no experience of the track and looks up against it from a trends perspective.
Of the remainder, Bapaume is another Willie Mullins has in his arsenal and he too is a course and distance winner. He was far from disgraced in the Christmas Hurdle at this venue last time, but he now drops back markedly in trip. As a five year old he does need sizeable improvement to live with a few of these, but if we do end up having a field of eight or more he wouldn’t be dismissed for a place. He does need to reverse placings with Supasundae, who was four lengths ahead of him that day but dropping back to this sort of distance doesn’t look to be in his favour. His best form has come at 2m 5f and beyond which does cast doubt about his chances.
By Owen Goulding.