As we approach October and the beginning of the jumps season, the National Hunt fans start to get excited. Every year, I start an ante-post portfolio at the end of September and this season will be no different. I will be starting off with the Champion Hurdle, the feature race on Tuesday, March the 16th.
JP McManus has dominated the race in recent years with Jezki, Buveur D’Air, Espoir D’Allen and last years winner Epatante. Nicky Henderson’s mare is the one they all have to beat again this season as things stand. She was a runaway winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last season and won this race with some authority in March but it remains to be seen how strong a race that was but it looked like a weak renewal.
Goshen is a hugely exciting four-year-old but has not been seen since his heartbreaking final-flight unseating of rider Jamie Moore in March. He was set for a wide-margin victory in the JCB Triumph Hurdle in what will go down as one of the most memorable Festival races of all time for all the wrong reasons. Gary Moore’s star won six on the trot before that, three of which came on the Flat and he is not without a chance if he turns up at the top of his game next March.
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is usually a good race to look at to find some potential future Champion Hurdler’s and Gordon Elliott’s Abacadabras is one that went into my notebook. To win this race a horse generally must have a high cruising speed and must be a very fluent jumper so this horse fits the bill on both counts. He was unlucky to just get outstayed up the hill by Shishkin who should turn into a very good staying chaser in time. It will be a surprise if the Gigginstown inmate isn’t aimed at this race.
Henry De Bromhead’s Honeysuckle lowered the colours of Rich Ricci’s well fancied Benie Des Dieux in the Mares’ Hurdle in March. Now connections of the horse have that race on their mantelpiece, will they be a bit braver this season and go for this race? She will get the mares’ allowances and she is an Irish Champion Hurdle winner so the temptation will surely be there. Benie is seen to better effect over further so the Mares’ or the Stayers’ Hurdle would be a better option for her.
Willie Mullins could have a strong hand in next year’s showpiece event. Saint Roi is a five-year-old who looked like a Grade 1 horse when running out a hugely impressive winner at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. In true McManus tradition, he was backed off the boards and landed a monster gamble in the County Hurdle, scoring by four lengths from stablemate Aramon. The son of Coastal Path has a very high cruising speed and a blistering turn of foot so he could well turn into a star for the yard this season.
Getting back to ARAMON, I really like this horse and think he is a huge price for the Champion Hurdle at 25/1 currently. He may have finished runner-up to Saint Roi in the County Hurdle but he had to give the winner 12lb so if they ran off levels, I would fancy Aramon to come out on top. Since then, he gave last years Champion Hurdle 5th Petit Mouchoir 11lbs and a beating when carrying 12-stone to victory in the Grimes Hurdle in Tipperary and won the Galway Hurdle carrying top weight. I can’t see him out of the first three in Cheltenham if he lines up.
It was announced this week that Buveur D’Air is back in training and may well have another campaign with the ultimate target being this race. The dual champion of the race is now too old though and it is very unlikely that he still retains all of his ability after that lengthy spell on the sidelines. Sea Pigeon was the last horse to win as a ten-year-old back in 1980 and remarkably he won the race as an eleven-year-old too. It would be difficult to back Buveur D’Air with any confidence.
Reigning champion Epatante may well go off favourite for the 2021 renewal but she won’t have it as soft in terms of opposition. She could have some high-quality challengers in the shape of Goshen, Abacadabras and Honeysuckle who brings Grade 1 winning form to the table. Saint Roi could be anything but ARAMON has been a revelation for Willie Mullins in recent starts and I favour him of the pair. His weight-carrying performances have been nothing short of super-impressive and taking on these horses off levels he must enter calculations.
Recommended 20/09/20: Aramon e/w 25/1 [Hills/Betfair/BetVictor/PaddyPower/Betfred] Champion Hurdle