For many owners, winning a race at the Cheltenham Festival will feel like winning the lottery. Success in the Unibet Champion Hurdle would produce a familiar feeling then for the SSP Number 22 Syndicate, who used their lottery winnings to purchase Darver Star.
Allocated a mark of 104 in March 2019, he’s now rated 158 and has a live chance in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle after finishing just half-a-length behind Honeysuckle in the Irish equivalent in February. Here’s the lowdown on the eight-year-old’s chances. Be sure to check out our Cheltenham Tips over the next coming days, as well as our Cheltenham Free Bets.
It’s fair to say that Darver Star didn’t look like a Champion Hurdle contender after three starts in maiden hurdles in his native Ireland. He’d posted progressive RPRs in three starts, but his connections would have likely seen him as a handicapper at best.
He continued that progression on his handicap debut in April though, running out a ten length winner. A comprehensive defeat from a mark of 119 two weeks later might have suggested his improvement had come to a halt.
A four month break freshened him up however, returning to action in August. Over the next two months he recorded four wins over a variety of trips, landing a Rated Hurdle, a competitive handicap, and a novice event before Listed honours in October.
The gelding had earned his place in a novice Grade One after that winning streak. The bookmakers didn’t give him much of a chance, seeing him sent off 20/1 for the Royal Bond.
Overcoming the unbeaten Envoi Allen was always going to be a tough task, but he ran a huge race in defat, finishing a clear third behind that rival and his stablemate Abacadabras, both of whom are now well fancied for their respective novice hurdles at the Festival.
A further jolt of improvement occurred when Darver Star pitched up in open company against another unbeaten superstar. Once more available at a double-figure price, the eight-year-old stayed on stoutly from off the pace to get to within half-a-length of Honeysuckle, clear of Supasundae and Sharjah.
The Champion Hurdle
The 2020 Unibet Champion Hurdle has been touted as one of the weakest renewals in living memory, with previous winners Buveur D’Air and Espoir D’Allen sadly missing from proceedings. This leaves things wide open for any number of contenders, with the current favourite being the mare Epatante.
She, along with a host of the other principals in the market have questions to answer. Her poor performance when favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ last season will dissuade many from backing her. Pentland Hills hasn’t had it all his own way this year but it’s fair to question his resolve and Cilaos Emery’s entry was an afterthought for the Mullins’ yard.
Given his performances behind two high class rivals already this season, it’s easy to see why Darver Star has a chance this year. Both Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle occupied very prominent positions in the market before connections aimed them at other targets.
With Honeysuckle likely to have gone off favourite for this race, then Darver Star, who was beaten just half-a-length by her at the Dublin Racing Festival, surely ranks a cracking bet at the current prices. He has the requisite stamina for further that will see him up the Cheltenham hill and he goes on any ground.