CHAMPION HURDLE PREVIEW with Tipsters Empire
Our sister site Tipsters Empire are kindly producing BIG RACE PREVIEWS for the 4 Cheltenham Champion Races and we’ll be releasing them alongside Tipsters Empire, one a day as we run up to the festival.
First it’s the turn of The Snout, a man with recent 14/1 and 10/1 winners to his name. He is Cheltenham born and bred and thrives at the Cheltenham festival more than any other. This is a cracking read, we hope you enjoy.
The Champion Hurdle; probably one of the most loved races at Cheltenham Festival, with some absolute fan favourites dominating this race over the years. Istabraq, three- time winner for JP McManus took this race in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Rooster Booster, Katchit and Binocular followed in the 2000’s, with two-time winner Hurricane Fly being a famous double winner for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. Faugheen was the brilliant winner of the race last year, but without him lining up this race appears to be wide open.
It is a race that requires slick jumping, an explosive turn of foot and the ability to travel at high speed. Do any of these horses possess all of these attributes? Well, without Faugheen this market looks strangely quiet without a recognised superstar. However, Annie Power (at the time of writing we are still awaiting her to be supplemented by Mr Ricci), bidding to be the first mare to win the race since Flakey Love in 1994, is currently heading the market at a general 7/4 favourite. Can she gain the championship victory she probably deserves after that close 2nd to More of That in the World Hurdle? Of course she can. She is such a high class mare, with 13 wins from 15 runs, only failing due to being outbattled over 3m and, well, the less said about last year the better. She also gets a 7lb weight advantage on all other runners, which is quite frankly ridiculous to receive at the top level. But, the drawbacks are that she has lost twice from three starts at Cheltenham, and this race has only become the plan in the past few weeks. It wasn’t long ago when she was touch and go for even making the Mares’ race, let alone a Champion Hurdle There are a lot of negatives surrounding her for a 7/4 shot and I am sure there are better short priced favourites to be with over the four days. She is high class for sure but there are clearly alternatives.
The bookies go 9/2, best priced 6/1, for the highly progressive Identity Thief. You can see him running well in this race, as the better ground will certainly see him improve and he has just got better and better with each run. The Fighting Fifth saw him run very well to win there from Top Notch, despite hitting a pretty big flat spot down the back straight, and he was just out-battled by Nichols Canyon last time out. But, backing him would rely on him improving once again to the top level, and I just can’t get the nagging doubt out of my head that he isn’t quite there yet. He certainly is a valid contender.
The aforementioned Nichols Canyon, generally 5/1, best priced 11/2, is as tough as they come. It’s hard to not have a bit of a soft spot for this horse as he just gallops and gallops and gives his all for his jockey consistently. This was best showed in the Ryanair Hurdle when grinding down Identity Thief when it looked as if he had been headed. He was poor in the Irish Champion Hurdle but I think he was really paying for his tough race with Identity Thief on really heavy ground which just left him struggling for fitness, especially as he tried to take on Faugheen. You can draw a line through that run and back on decent ground he should give a good account once again.
Next come the British pair, The New One (13/2) and My Tent Or Yours (8/1). They didn’t finish far apart in the 2014 Champion Hurdle with MTOY taking 2nd and TNO 3rd. That probably doesn’t tell the whole story as The New One was badly hampered by the ill-fated Our Conor and I haven’t seen many fly up the hill as quickly as he did that day. His preparation has been much better this year than last but my doubts around The New One are that can a horse return from 2 unsuccessful attempts at the Champion Hurdle, and can a horse win a Champion Hurdle when jumping right? The second point I am certain cannot happen but if he jumps on a straight line then he could well make the frame. My Tent Or Yours surely cannot overcome a 2 year absence to win a Champion Hurdle. He may well be fit from his racecourse gallops but that is some obstacle to overcome and I cannot have it at 8/1. A proper each way price would tempt me but 8/1 is way too short.
Sempre Medici, 25/1, best priced 28/1, is an interesting each way selection. He has shown real improvement in the past year, starting with a 6th in the County Hurdle last year with a big weight on his back. He showed that to be an improvement that would keep giving as he beat Identity Thief at Fairhouse in April. This year, a 1L 2nd to Old Guard in the International was a cracking run for his first outing of the season, as he went on to win a Grade 3 and a Grade 2 in Ireland very comfortably. He may be just a few pounds short of winning this but certainly has the improvement in him to make the frame at a huge price.
Peace & Co (20/1), Hargam (20/1) and Top Notch (16/1) are Nicky Henderson’s players other than MTOY, and if you can forgive not one, but two, bad runs this season then Peace & Co would be tempting. He looked brilliant last year culminating in winning the Triumph hurdle from Top Notch and he was many people’s idea of the horse to finish 2nd to Faugheen. But he has lost the ability to settle and has blown his chances both appearances this year. Hargam and Top Notch look a bit below the top level and at the prices wouldn’t interest me.
When scanning through the field you really notice how open this race is. With 13 likely to go to post and Annie Power, and a couple of others including My Tent or Yours, looking short, you can get some excellent value down the field and I do think Sempre Medici is capable of making the frame at 28/1. He has continued to improve through the past 12 months and on RPR’s (not for one second saying I would consult these!) he only has 5lb to make up with market principles to give an idea of his progress. He has shown a liking for Cheltenham and is now a Graded winner, and he should run a big race come next Tuesday. You would have to class Annie Power as the most likely winner, especially with the weight pull, but at 7/4 with her preparation that she has been through I wouldn’t be racing to strike that bet. Nichols Canyon and Identity Thief look solid opponents and I am sure The New One will run a good race but may come up too short.
Whatever you end up backing, it is sure to be one of the most competitive Champion Hurdle’s we have seen for a while, and promises to be an absolutely cracking race. Good Luck!