Champion Hurdle 2021 Preview 2021
The Cheltenham Festival is getting closer and closer and I have to admit it does feel a little strange this year. Living just 1/2 mile from the course in Prestbury village, you can imagine how buzzing the whole place is.
Missing the crowds
I am going to miss all the smiling faces around the town, a place which just comes alive with proper Horse Racing fanatics. It is a place which lights up for 24 hours a day, for four full days. The different people you meet, the different stories you hear, the huge gambles you hear landed. It is a place where the biggest National Hunt fans from the UK and Ireland come together for the love of the sport and ultimately ‘go to war with the bookies’.
On the flip side, I am really looking forward to having 4 full days, fully concentrating on every little detail in front of the TV from morning to night, not missing a trick. That is not to say I am not concentrating in other years as I think my record of 12 from 12 Cheltenham Festivals, speaks for itself. Sometimes you can get caught up in things up the racecourse, meeting clients, enjoying the atmosphere, having a little more guiness than you should. This will be the one and only year where all things betting, have my 100% attention instead of the usual 97% attention.
Hungrier than ever
We go into the festival this year looking to make it 13 from 13 Cheltenham Festivals in profit. I am hungrier than I have ever been before which if I am being honest, I didn’t think was possible as I am always revved up for it. Who knew that each year that goes on you become more and more determined. The longer my unbeaten run has gone on the more I want it and it may sound mad to some people, but I have high standards and I want to go through a lifetime without losing at a Cheltenham Festival as ‘JPW Racing Tipster’.
Love Affair with Cheltenham Festival
I have a love affair with the Cheltenham Festival and I am not ashamed to admit, I am simply Cheltenham mad. I walk the course every day with my dog blue almost as if I am putting myself through the paces and I am constantly walking the edge of the course, reminding myself of what it takes to win around Cheltenham. It keeps me focussed of what is ahead and for the whole 5km walk each day, I am putting different races through my head and how I think they will pan out in all different grounds.
Over the next two weeks leading up to the festival I will be previewing the 4 main races, Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Chase, Stayer Hurdle and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
I am not fully committing to my selections although I will offer advice of which way I am ‘currently’ swayed. So many factors can determine a race and how it will be run. I will only commit when I see the full weather forecast and the ground the race will be run but for now this is how I see it, two weeks in advance.
We will start with the Champion Hurdle but before moving on make sure you are signed up to our Cheltenham Festival Special.
CHAMPION HURDLE PREVIEW 2021
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All races come with full reasoning behind each selection just as you are about to read. We literally leave no stone unturned and this year I want to beat my record set in 2016 of 54 points profit.
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Like I have mentioned above, loads of factors need to be taken into consideration for this race and none so more important than the ground. Looking at the long range forecast the forecast is dry until Friday 12th March, with the possibility of a few light rain showers, That is just four days before the festival. We have a number of sunny days ahead of us and after walking the edge of the course this morning, it has to be closing in on good to soft ground already. In 14 days time with the forecast ahead, the ground will be good on Friday 13th March in my opinion. Now I am not sure what the weather will be afterwards but if it remains dry ahead of the Tuesday of the festival, they will have to think about watering the ground.
Two weeks ahead of the festival, at this early stage I am planning for the first day to be good to soft and if it is a dry week of the festival, it really could be good ground come the Thursday and Friday. Of course this all depends on the forecast on the week of the festival.
How do I see this race being run?
Based on the better ground I am predicting at this early stage I am of the opinion this will be against Honeysuckle who is the current favourite and Goshen who is strong in the market. It will be to the advantage of horses like Epatante, Sharjah, Abracadabras, Buveur D’Air and Silver Streak. Obviously if the weather turned then I would reassess the race but I can only go on what I can see ahead of me.
The race is likely to be run at a fast pace with Not So Sleepy taking them along at a nice clip, once again this will only enhance the chance of your smooth travellers and excellent jumpers in Epatante, Buveur D’Air, Sharjah and Abacadabras.
As you can see straight away I am looking for your speedier types, those who can get cover, those who are fast and slick over the hurdles, those who you can pull out and they have a change of gear. I am not looking for gallopers who focus on it being a test of stamina in soft ground, grinding them into submission.
Now let us dissect the race and go through all the horses in with a chance. We will then end with a Conclusion and an early selection or two.
Starting with the favourite
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Form – 1/1111/1111-11
Honeysuckle comes into this race unbeaten in 10 starts under rules and over hurdles. She was a winner at last year’s festival when winning the Mares Hurdle and beating Benie Des Dieux in the process. She won well over a trip of 2m 4f but I do think she was given the run of the race up the inside and if Paul Townend did not pull Benie Des Dieux wide, that gap on the inside would have been there for Benie Des Dieux to go through, rather than Honeysuckle. Instead Paul Townend chose to pull her wide and Rachael Blackmore and Honeysuckle stole a couple of lengths on the inside. In the end Honeysuckle came out a 1/2 length winner but for me I don’t think the best horse won on the day but the best jockey. Obviously that is racing and you need a jockey to ride your horse and get it home in front, but if the race was run again, one decisive move was the reason she won and I am sure on another day it would have been Benie Des Dieux. Another thing worth pointing out is when she won the Mares Hurdle last season she did not win looking like a Champion Hurdle, it was more a horse who wanted further.
Now moving on to this season and she is two from two. She was less than impressive when winning the Hattons Grade Hurdle hurdle at Fairyhouse back in November, over 2m 4f. She was very game but visually it wasn’t great.
Her last start and win was very impressive when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle by 10 lengths but she was given the run of the race. In the last mile she was allowed to go to the front of the field. Now you are talking about a horse who stays 2m 4f, possibly 3 miles, go to the front and dictate the race. She did jump very well and in the jumping department it was her best performance to date. I do think those in behind were not at best and although she beat Abacadabras by 10 lengths, I don’t think he was fully wound up and is being trained with just the Champion Hurdle in mind.
Honeysuckle does have a very handy 7lb claim which is huge in these type of races. We have seen Annie Power win this race with a 7lb claim, we have seen Epatante win this race with a 7lb claim which shows just how valuable it is.
Although I fully respect Honeysuckle, I expect her to be flat out all the way around on decent ground and this will be the race she comes unstuck and loses her unbeaten record.
On heavy ground well that is a totally different race……
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Form – 211/119/111-12
Epatante won this race last year in impressive style and she is a horse who I have always loved. To me she is and has always been the perfect Champion Hurdle horse and I would say she is a more perfect Champion Hurdle horse on better ground, than last year’s soft ground. I believe she has so many gears and I am of the opinion that we have not seen the best of her yet. She is so fast and slick over the hurdles, she travels supremely well, has speed to burn, just everything you want in a Champion Hurdle horse.
She comes into the race on the back of a loss but that was not her at her best. Horses are not machines and are allowed an off day we must never forget that. It was reported after that she had a ‘small’ back injury which they were tinkering with. To come within 6 lengths of Silver Streak with a back injury, is actually a very good run. She won the very same race the year before beating Silver Streak by 5 lengths,, further evidence she was not quite right and obviously carrying some sort of problem.
If we forget about that run and look back to her win in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle win at Newcastle. She looked an absolute superstar and the best I have ever seen her. She beat Sceau Royal by an easy 4 lengths, virtually on the bridle. When Aidan Coleman gave her just a little nudge she went through the gears very easily. Ironically I still don’t think she got out of 3rd gear. The runner up Sceau Royal is not a slow horse either and the good ground they encountered was to his liking, just like Epatante. Sceau Royal came into the race a very fit horse, on the back of two wins, while Epatante was having her first start of the season. What that win showed me was, she is a better horse this season than last year. That was the real Epatante, whereas at Kempton she was carrying a small injury.
Something I found quite interesting recently, was an interview with Barry Gerraghty on his wins in the Champion Hurdle. He is a jockey who has won the race four times on four different horses, so when listening to what he had to say about the race, is quite important to me. Obviously he is now retired but it was in reference to his four wins and in particular Epatante. He started by saying his first win in the Champion Hurdle on Punjabi, he was sat on a horse who was flat out all the way around and the same could be said about Buveur D’Air, both horses felt like they were at full speed. With his win on Jezki she can be quite keen so he had to get some cover. His reference to Epatante was she was always travelling easy and it was just a case of just quickening after the last hurdle. She has gears.
To me that was saying without saying, Epatante was a very easy winner and she has so many more gears to come.
If the ground is good to soft which the forecast is suggesting, this is going to be absolutely perfect for Epatante, really giving her a chance to use every gear that she has got. With Not So Sleepy likely to get them along at a nice pace, this will help her settle and get some cover in around 4th – 5th. We know she is fast and slick over her hurdles and makes lengths at her hurdles.
I really believe she can go and become a great, winning multiple Champion Hurdles.
As I keep saying she has it all.
Trainer – Gary Moore
Form – 111F-01
Goshen where to start with this horse. Let’s go back to last season in the Triumph Hurdle when a freak accident caused him to unseat Jamie Moore, when 11 lengths clear in front, looking like he would win by a wide margin. It was impressive to say the least.
This season he started on the flat where he disappointed on two starts and couldn’t even win off a mark of 88.
His first start over hurdles this season was at Cheltenham for the International in December where he came home last, beaten 29 lengths. He pulled far too hard with the choke out and had nothing left to give. I agree this was not the real Goshen and as I have said many times, I can forgive a horse a bad run.
His last start was at Wincanton last week when winning the Kingwell Hurdle, beating Song For Someone by 22 lengths. Song For Someone was the same horse he was beaten by at Cheltenham by 29 lengths, yet this time Song For Someone is beaten by 22 lengths. That is a 51 length difference. Now although I thought Goshen was impressive, could it have been Song For Someone was having an off day just like Goshen did at Cheltenham. The winning margin from one race to the other is just a little bit iffy to me.
It made me look at the two novice races at Wincanton last weekend, which both were on the same day, over the same distance, same course, same ground, same amount of hurdles as the Kingwell Hurdle.
Here are the winning times of the races:
GOSHEN – 4m 1.30s (Grade 2)
LONGSHANKS – 4m 5.90s (Class 4, Div 1 Novice Hurdle)
POL CROCAN – 4m 10s (Class 4, Div 2 Novice Hurdle)
My conclusion on that is Song For Someone seriously underperformed as he would not even have won the novice races with the time the races were run in. Goshen was only 4 seconds faster than the Division 1 Novice Hurdle.
Although it looked visually impressive I am starting to believe it is a false race to follow.
I also believe Goshen is a better horse on softer ground and may prefer a right handed course. He is too inconsistent to trust and he is another horse I am happy to take on.
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Form – 104/211212-2152
First of all I will say this blog was written before the inexcusable behaviour of Gordon Elliott which I am sure you all know what I am referring to. They need to come down hard on him and make an example of him, it is as simple as that. The sport we all love cannot condone such behaviour.
The horse who finished 2nd to Shishkin last season in the Supreme Novice Hurdle, travelled supremely well throughout but just got collared on the line. That form looks super strong now after seeing how well Shishkin has been running this season, albeit over fences.
Abacadabras has not reached the heights expected so far this season, apart from winning the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown back in November. His next start came in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and it is safe to say he flopped that day when trailing in 5th of 7. As you will always hear me say, horses can have off days and if you are going to make it pay long term, you have to learn to forgive a bad run.
He bounced back to more like himself last time out in the Irish Champion Hurdle when 2nd to Honeysuckle on Heavy. He obviously has a mountain to climb if he is to turn the form around but I do believe Abacadabras has been trained with one race in mind all season and that is the Champion Hurdle.
I also believe he will be a completely different horse if he is given proper decent ground. I have gone over his form and he has not had good to soft ground since October 2019.
If you look at the way he runs, he is a horse who hardly bends his knees he just bounces along the top of the ground. In soft or heavy ground that is a hard thing to do so if he is given decent ground, he will be able to bounce off the top of the surface a lot more effectively. I really believe if this horse has some nice ground and he is a serious tool.
He is a horse who we have yet to see the best of him and come Tuesday the 16th March, I think we are going to see the very best of him on a lovely racing ground.
Trainer – Evan Williams
Form – 432114/12F6/1122235/1326-1C21
SILVER STREAK has been in good form this season and he goes into the Champion Hurdle in the form of his life. Just like a few others in this race he will appreciate the better ground and he comes into the race on the back of beating last year’s winner Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle. It was a great ride by Adam Wedge from the front but as I explained in the Epatante write up, she was below par and carrying a slight injury.
Nevertheless you can only beat what is put in front of you but given the fact he could only manage 6th in the race last year, I am not sure he has progressed that much to be up to winning the race. At the price he wouldn’t be what I would call value.
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Form – 11F7846/31311B/4162-13
A very interesting runner for Willie Mullins especially on decent ground, something he has been crying out for for 2 years over jumps. Despite not quite getting his ground he has still put in some terrific performances over the years which include a 2nd in this race last year.
He has also won the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle 3 times over the Christmas period and when he is on song, he is song.
I can see plenty of value in the price especially if the first day goes off on good to soft ground. He is a very fast horse with plenty of speed and with the fast pace and the fact he can bounce off decent ground, he should travel through the race nicely.
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Form – 11F2-12
Only a 5 year old who was 2nd in last year’s Triumph Hurdle and he has trained on this season. He was the winner of the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle in October and then came home 2nd to Sharjah in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
He is progressing nicely and given he is an ex flat horse, he should appreciate better ground.
I can’t help but think he will be outclassed here though and there are better options at the prices.
JAMES DU BERLAIS
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Form – F996212-121212
Another Willie Mullins horse who came over from France following some success in graded company. He is yet to run for Mullins but comes with a big reputation. He is only a 5 year old who should progress nicely but looking through his form, it is all on Heavy ground over further than 2 miles and you would have to think he would be out of his comfort zone on decent ground at a fast pace.
Having said that if Willie Mullins has worked his magic, as he so often does with these French bred horses, he could run a nice race.
If it came up heavy or soft, like Honeysuckle, he would come under consideration.
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Form – 1124/1131/1111/1111/121F2/12-2
A two time winner of this race and now a 10 year old so is up against it. This horse’s best weapon is his super slick, quick and accurate jumping over hurdles and even though he is a 10 year old, you have to respect him.
He is a horse who has not finished out of the first 3 in his career over hurdles, apart from a fall in the 2019 Champion Hurdle when bidding to make it 3 wins in the race.
He came back from an injury and 420 days off the track at Haydock, coming home 2nd to Navajo Pass. Given the ground was heavy and he had been off the track for so long, it was a decent enough effort and would have given him a nice blow.
A horse who is much better on decent ground and if he gets decent ground as expected, he is way overpriced.
Obviously he has it all to do to find his form of old and is obviously past his best but as I have always said at Cheltenham Festivals, it is horses for courses and no doubt Nicky Henderson will have him in A1 condition.
I really think he could sneak into a place.
At this early stage everything points towards good to soft ground on the first day of the festival. It has been a dry week in Cheltenham and walking the edge of the course each day, it is close to good to soft as we speak. The forecast over the next week is also dry with possibilities of bits of rain the weekend before the festival. I actually hope it does rain the weekend before the festival as I would much rather a natural good to soft than a watered good to soft for the first day.
With my thoughts on the ground, I am looking for those who prefer the ground a bit better but in the back of my mind, knowing that if the rain did arrive and got in a little, then they will also handle that ground. I can’t see it being heavy ground whichever way we look at it, so with that in mind, I am happy to take on Honeysuckle.
Even though I have full respect for Honeysuckle, I don’t have her as a proper 2 miler and I think she is much better over a bit further. I also don’t think she is the fastest jumper of a hurdle and is liable to make a mistake. If she does that it is going to jeopardise her chances massively. I think she will get done for speed up the hill although she should be good enough to place.
Goshen is too unreliable for me. He has put in some stinkers on the flat and his first start back this season. Let’s just say I am not that convinced his win was as genuine as everyone is making out at Wincanton. The time of the race was not great compared to the novices on the same day and I find myself picking holes in the form. For starters Song For Someone massively underperformed. I also believe he is a better horse with plenty of cut in the ground. At the price I am happy to take him on.
The horses who I think can run a nice race at decent prices are Abacadabras, Sharjah and Buveur D’Air. All will come alive with better ground.
I am particularly looking forward to seeing how Abacadabras improves for the better ground. I have been drawn to the fact he hardly bends his knee for quite some time and have always told myself the same thing, with better ground he could be very good. He was 2nf in last season’s Supreme Novice Hurdle, in ground he would have hated, yet only went down by a head to the superstar Shiskin.
Sharjah has also been unlucky not to get better ground and for that reason he has not been able to produce his best. Having said that he has still won three grade 1s and was 2nd in this race last year so deserves maximum respect. It will also be interesting to who rides him. As things stand Patrick is an amateur so will not be riding unless he takes out a professional licence.
Buveur D’Air is a two time winner of the race and for that reason you have to give him maximum respect. These type of horses keep coming back year in year out and always run their races. The better ground will help and although he has probably lost the speed he once had, you can’t take away his experience and the fact he is a very fast and accurate jumper of a hurdle. I think he will outrun his huge odds but will find a couple of the new brigade, too good.
When all is said and done I just can’t have EPATANTE getting beat. I just love everything about her. She is fast, she has gears, she can travel, she is an electric jumper, she will love better ground, she won the race last year. She literally ticks every box imaginable and she also gets a 7lb claim. I said last year I think she would have won the race off level weights, never mind with 7lb mares weight allowance.
We obviously have to forget about her latest defeat in the Christmas Hurdle but she had excuses and anyone could see, that was not the real the EPATANTE who won that very race last year, as well as the Champion Hurdle and Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Now this is a good question that every punter should be asking themselves ahead of this year’s festival. Which horses will appreciate there being no crowds. EPATANTE is one who falls into that category in my opinion. She is a horse who has got lit up in the past, potentially from the big crowds at the 2019 Mares Novice Hurdle. She has grown up a lot since then and obviously won the Champion Hurdle last season, with crowds, but I can’t help but think the quietness will help her settle more easily.
Come on EPATANTE go and show them what a real superstar you are and then we can talk about equalling Istabraqs 3 wins next season.
I am supremely confident she will be too good for these and will get the superstar status after this win.
EPATANTE 3/1 Generally (NRNB) – 1.5 PTS WIN
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