Adrian Wall’s Road To The Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Champion Hurdle

Sandown - Nicky Henderson

Our Irish National Hunt expert Adrian Wall is going to share his Cheltenham Festival ante-post adventure with you all, and next up is a 10/1 tip for the feature race on day one, The Champion Hurdle.

I started off my portfolio with a 16/1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Tip followed by a 25/1 Arkle Tip but now it is time to get focused on the big race of the Tuesday and one of the races of the festival in general. Betting ante-post is not for everyone but I would rather have plenty of bets laid out for the festival well in advance and not have to worry about having to save a big chunk of money to go to battle with on the week itself. After all, betting should be fun and responsible so if you allow a certain amount every week that you can afford to lose, all is good.

The Champion Hurdle

To win a Champion Hurdle, in general you need to be a slick accurate jumper, have a high cruising speed, stay a little bit further than your standard two miles so that you have the stamina to get up the hill, and have an abundance of class. There is no hiding place in this race and you will be found out if you are lacking any of the above qualities. On the other hand, it must be said that the division is looking rather weak at present. Once upon a time, five-year-old’s would be more or less discounted but times could be changing. Espoir D’Allen obliterated the opposition as a five-year-old in 2019 which proves that this looks a winnable race.

Nicky Henderson’s main hope according to the bookmakers would seem to be Buveur D’Air at this moment in time. The two-time Champion Hurdle winner is bidding to join a select club of triple winners of the race and is likely to make his seasonal reappearance in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in December. I certainly don’t fancy him to win his third Champion Hurdle though. His jumping is nowhere near as good as it was two years ago. A terrible blunder saw him getting beaten by Verdana Blue at Kempton last season, he fell in this race in 2019 and was turned over by a stayer in Supasundae at Aintree soon after. There simply has to be better value out there for all he has to be respected.

The deserved favourite for the contest at this moment in time is the Willie Mullins trained Klassical Dream. Already a three-time Grade One winner on ground varying from good to soft, he looks an absolute class act and may well prove a tough horse to beat if he shows up in one piece on the day. He was a really impressive winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on soft ground back in March and backed that up with a devastating display in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle the following month. You would have to be afraid of him but at odds of around 7/2 at this stage, he looks too skinny and well worth taking on.

One horse sticks out to me at the prices as a great bet and it is the other Nicky Henderson trained inmate, PENTLAND HILLS. The soon to be five year old was outstanding in his first season over hurdles where he went straight from the flat to jumps, winning all three races in the process. A winner just twice from eleven runs on the flat, a change of ownership saw the horse move over to Seven Barrows and it proved to be a great decision. On hurdling debut at Plumpton, he beat a decent yardstick The Flying Sofa by fourteen lengths and was flawless despite his inexperience over the hurdles.

Nobody gave him much of a chance in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2019 because the Joseph O’Brien trained Sir Erec was all the rage for the whole season. Sadly, Sir Erec broke down during the race and had to be put to sleep which was a hard one to take for all horse racing fans out there who were really eager to see the supposed “New Istabraq” grace the theatre of dreams. Pentland Hills however, sent off at a starting price of 20/1, won the Triumph in really good fashion and that can’t be taken away from him. Whether he would have beaten Sir Erec is another matter but we can’t presume anything and at the very least I think he would have put it right up to him.

What was most impressive for me about his Triumph performance was his ability to recover from a terrible early mistake to go on and win the race comprehensively. He showed a lot of class and pace that day, all the signs he could progress into a proper Champion Hurdle contender. He then went on to win the Grade 1 four-year-old juvenile hurdle at Aintree and with just three runs over hurdles under his belt, the sky is the limit for this lad. Nicky Henderson is a very shrewd operator and I have a sneaky suspicion he will be the yard’s main candidate for the race this coming season so I am snapping up the 10/1.


€20 BLUE SARI for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle @ 16/1

€20 THOMAS DARBY for the Arkle @ 25/1

€20 PENTLAND HILLS for the Champion Hurdle @ 10/1

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