Champion Hurdle Betting Preview & Odds | Cheltenham 2018
In this 2018 Cheltenham Festival betting preview, Joshua Hickens (@Josh_Hickens) analyses the Unibet Champion Hurdle including stats, facts, trends and betting odds.
Champion Hurdle Betting Preview, Tips & Odds
Channel: ITV/ Racing UK
Distance: 2 miles, ½ furlong
Weights: 4 year olds 11st 2lb. 5 years old + 11st 10lb. 7lb allowance for mares.
The main attraction on day 1 of the Cheltenham festival, the Champion hurdle is the most significant hurdling event on the racing calendar. This year there is around £450,000 in the purse and several horses go in with chances. While Buveur D’air is currently dominating the market, there should be at least 8 runners giving the race a nice each-way perspective to get stuck into.
Stats & Facts
- 18 of the last 25 winners had won a race at Cheltenham before.
- 10 of the last 16 winners have been Irish trained.
- 12 of the last 12 winners had at least one win that season.
- 10 of the last 12 winners had at least one previous grade 1 win in their careers.
- 7 of the last 9 winners have been trained by either Nicky Henderson or Willie Mullins.
- 11 of the last 13 winners have been between the age of 6 and 8.
The Short Priced Favourite
Buveur D’air is currently a best priced 4/7 shot to become the first horse to win back to back since Hardy Eustace managed the feat back in 2004 and 2005. Not only is he trained by the most successful trainer in the race Nicky Henderson (6 winners), he will also be donning the yellow and green silks of the leading owner in the race JP McManus (6 winners). Buveur was mightily impressive in the race last season and that came on the back of a campaign that originally started with the horse going chasing. That was put on the backburner though when the Champion Hurdle market opened up with news of injuries. Last year he beat some good horses, with three of those now in the top 4 of the Arkle betting market in Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Brain Power. This year he heads into the race with a more orthodox preparation in a campaign that has seen him hit all his targets, winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, the Christmas hurdle at Kempton and then the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown. He won all three races as his odds would suggest and the only real worry is that he’s not been properly tested since this race last year. A repeat of last year’s performance will see him go very close and even a repeat of the race he ran in the Supreme the year before wouldn’t see him too far away, with the form of that Supreme working out tremendously well.
My Tent or Yours is currently a general 10/1 shot for the same trainer/owner combination as Buveur D’air. Having finished second in the race three times, you know he’s a consistent and solid horse that is going to run his race. Whether the fact he is now 11 will hinder his performance levels, is something we won’t know until the race has finished. While he is more than likely going to find one too good yet again, he showed in December that there’s life left in him yet and he might well be there to pick up the pieces again.
Verdana Blue came 4th in the mares novice hurdle here last year and has been campaigned in some strong handicaps this year. She was travelling well last time out in the Betfair Hurdle but did not appreciate the heavy ground with Nicky always saying she would relish good ground. Her connections are keen to give it a crack and she’s a general 50/1 poke for a reason but if she was to get some good ground along with her 7lb mares allowance she may well outrun those odds.
Charli Parcs is a horse that Henderson has always held in high regard and it looked like his thoughts were correct when he was mightily impressive in victory on his British debut. Since then though he is yet to get his head back in front and as such is an 80/1 shot, however Henderson retains his faith in the horse. With Charli Parcs being owned by JP, it is possible he could be used as a pace angle for his other two runners, while he is also entered in the County hurdle and could take his chance there.
Faugheen the machine. After 665 days off with an injury the 10 year old looked like he had retained all his ability when blitzing the Morgiana hurdle in November. However, he then disappointed in the Ryanair Hurdle where he was pulled up but nothing came to light about any physical issues. He then started a 9/10 favourites for the Irish Champion hurdle where despite an improved performance and second place it still wasn’t anything quite like the Faugheen we had grew accustomed too. Mullins and co. have said the work at home has continued to be good throughout though, however, what to expect come Tuesday is up in the air. If it’s anything like the Faugheen that won the Neptune back in 2014 or this race in 2015, then he could well make his current 6/1 price look silly.
Yorkhill is probably the biggest wildcard in the race, with Mullins recently saying he is 60-40 to go to the champion hurdle despite his last run over hurdles coming back in April 2016. It seems now that it is even more likely he goes here, after owner Graham Wylie said at a preview night this will be his race. Yorkhill is no doubt a talented horse and you only have to watch interviews with Mullins, Walsh and any others from the yard to see how much they think of them. He also brings some very impressive festival form to the race; winning the Neptune (now the Ballymore) back in 2016 beating Yanworth before winning the JLT last year beating good horses in Top Notch, Disko and Politologue. Despite this, it will still be difficult to back Yorkhill after his two performances this season which have both left question marks after them. His first run came in the Leopardstown Christmas chase with the idea of seeing how he would be over 3 miles with the view to the gold cup. He was then dropped in trip for the Dublin Chase with the hope that the increased pace would see an improvement in his jumping. However a huge drift on the horse before the off suggested he wasn’t fancied. While both runs were disappointing you could make the case that he could be excused on both occasions but it would still put you off backing him in a Champion Hurdle. However, one thing I’m fairly confident about is that he will run more creditable than the last two times.
Melon was a talking horse for much of last year, with rumours from the Mullins yard suggesting he was quite good. We didn’t see him on the track until the end of January though where he justified his short price in a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown. On that back of that run and all the talk, he was sent off the 3/1 joint favourite for the Supreme where he could only manage second behind Labaik, albeit it was still a good run. He finished the season with a second behind stablemate in a grade 1 novice hurdle at Punchestown behind stablemate Cilaos Emery when again he was fancied. He started this season with a grade 2 win at Down Royal at odds on before going to Cheltenham for the International Hurdle where again he was sent off favourite. In fairness he travelled well for much of the race but he wasn’t as battle hardened as My Tent or Yours and The New One who both finished ahead. He was then sent to Leopardstown for the Irish Champion Hurdle with a first time hood where despite drifting from 5/2 to 7/2 he was still sent off second favourite behind Faugheen, he could however only manage 5th. Since that race though there has been talk from the yard that he didn’t take to the hood and that it will be a much improved performance come Cheltenham.
Wicklow Brave won the county hurdle off 138 back in 2015, won last year’s Punchestown’s Champion Hurdle and also boasts a group 1 win on the flat when beating Order of St George in the Irish St Leger back in 2016. He’s a horse that brings some strong form to the race and last year he was travelling well before the bend before emptying out after giving the rest of the field about 8 lengths when he was slow to start. If he gets off on level terms then he should be given real consideration.
Best Of The Rest
Despite not being in the original entries, Elgin has been supplemented to the race for a price of £20,000 after impressing this season. Elgin finished 7th in the supreme last year and has definitely improved since. Having shaped like he needed the run first time out, he was then sent off 6/1 favourite for a deep listed handicap hurdle at Ascot which he won more comfortably than the margin would suggest. He then followed that up by winning the Greatwood hurdle again beating some good horses. He was raised to a rating of 151 and given top weight in a grade 3 handicap hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas. While he only managed 6th, the fact he was carrying top weight suggested it was still a good performance with some decent horses in behind. He then went and won the Kingwell hurdle last time out, beating Ch’tibello and Call me Lord comfortably. That performance as well as his previous ones this campaign was worthy of supplementing the horse.
Mick Jazz was the surprise winner of the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown at the end of December after the race fell apart with 2/11 shot Faugheen pulling up. That came after being comfortably beaten in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at the start of December. The Gordon Elliot trained horse, is likely to be his only runner in the race and it seems as though Davy Russell is already booked to ride. His run last time out in the Irish Champion Hurdle saw him finish 3rd behind Supasundae & Faugheen and while Supasundae is set to run in the stayers hurdle it’s hard to see Mick Jazz overturning the form with Faugheen, despite the question marks surrounding the horse.
Ch’tibello was impressive for the Skelton duo back in April 2016 when he landed the Scottish Champion hurdle beating some good horses in Cloudy Dream, Clondaw Warrior and John Constable to name a few. Since then though he’s only got his nose in front on one occasion and that came at Haydock in heavy ground when he beat My Tent or Yours amongst two others in a race that turned into a sprint. The horse has finished second in the last two renewals of the Kingwell hurdle, losing to Yanworth last year before picking up an injury and then being beat by the newly supplemented Elgin this year. All three of his runs this year have come in grade 2’s and while he has by no stretch of the imagination disgraced himself, it is likely he will find 1 or 2 too good again here.
John Constable won both a grade 3 and a listed handicap hurdle in consecutive races last summer before switching to the flat for the Cesarewitch handicap at Newmarket where he was quietly fancied at 10/1 that day but never threatened. Trainer Evan Williams then reverted him back to hurdles as planned for the International hurdle at Cheltenham before Christmas where he was comfortably beaten before giving Buveur D’air a slight scare the last day in the contenders hurdle after Geraghty eased him rather prematurely. That is as close as John Constable will probably get to Buveur, although better ground should bring out some improvement.
Since his second to Vroum Vroum Mag in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in 2016 Identity Thief has been rather disappointing. It seemed like the theory of horses improving for fences under trainer De Bromhead was likely to come true again after he won on his first two chasing starts, but after pulling up lame on the third start Identity Thief never seemed to have recovered from that with some disappointing efforts. He was then switched back to hurdles for Aintree and Punchestown last year and continued to disappoint. After a big 281 day break he was chucked right in the deep end in the Irish champion hurdle where he was again well beat, he was then turned back out quickly in the Red Mills and showed a little bit of spark finishing second while keeping on well. It is unlikely to see him involved in the finish of a champion hurdle though.
*Both Min for Willie Mullins and Apples Jade have been left in at the 5 day declaration stage and are both still in the betting however they are both unlikely to run. Min will be heading to the Champion Chase for a clash with Altior while Apples Jade heads the market for the Mares Hurdle.