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2019 Champion Hurdle tips - George's 14/1 chance could be overlooked in ante-post betting

Somerville Boy (right) overcame plenty of adversity to win the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and Tom George's charge is set to become a player in the Champion Hurdle market.

Brian Healy takes an early look at some of the potential runners in the 2019 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out a potential dark horse who could be overlooked in the ante-post market.

With the jumps season now firmly underway, all roads lead to the Cheltenham Festival in March, and four fantastic days’ top-class horse racing action will await punters at the end of a long and sometimes arduous betting journey.

The first day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival takes place on Tuesday 12 March, and the feature Champion Hurdle will take centre stage of a thrilling opening day.

Much of the early talk has been centred on just three horses - reigning dual-champion Buveur D’air; 2018 Ballymore Hurdle winner Samcro; and 2018 Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner Laurina, who has yet to taste defeat in her four starts for Willie Mullins since arriving from France.

Nicky Henderson’s Buveur D’air (3/1, Ladbrokes) was made to dig deep in his title defence last March, but the Crillon gelding toughed out his second straight win in the race when out-battling Melon (9/1, Coral) to score by a neck and extend his winning sequence to ten successive wins.

Despite the seemingly laboured performance, it has to be remembered that his preparation for his title defence was far from straightforward, and the Seven Barrows maestro struggled to find suitable races for his star hurdler so it is entirely plausible that his star hurdler wasn't at peak match sharpness and he could prove a much tougher proposition if turning up at Prestbury in March having had an uninterrupted campaign.

Assuming all is well with him this term, and he can make his intended targets then he’ll surely be a formidable opponent once again.

Can Buveur D'air win a third consecutive Champion Hurdle?

Gordon Elliott answered the will he/won’t he question surrounding Samcro’s (9/2, Boylesport) seasonal plans when announcing that his Ballymore Hurdle winner would be kept to hurdles this term; but the Germany gelding was a shade disappointing when being turned over in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal recently.

A horse with a mighty reputation, he had carried all before him last term, including posting an impressive win in the Ballymore Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, beating Black Op; he would surely have gone close on his final start of the season but for falling behind Supasudae at Punchestown next time.

While he possibly needed the run behind Bedrock at Down Royal latest, there was possibly a glint of a chink in his armour that two miles on good ground might prove too sharp; he had looked good previously over the Ballymore trip, while earlier wins over two miles all came in the mud and he may just prove vulnerable at the top level under Champion Hurdle conditions.

Laurina (6/1, Paddy Power) meanwhile is 4-4 since joining Willie Mullins, which includes impressive successes in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, and again when trouncing Lackaneen Leader at Punchestown on her next outing.

The Spanish Moon mare has been described as ‘special’ by the Closutton handler who saddled fellow mare Annie Power to win the race in 2016, and while it may be premature to talk about the ex-French recruit in the same breath she is clearly a potentially top-class performer in her own right.

She would probably need to find a jolt of improvement if she were to take on the likes of Buveur D’air; but she would receive all the allowances that her participation would grant as a mare, and she could well find significant improvement this term.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle winner Laurina has been described as 'special' by trainer Willie Mullins.

With all the hype around the ‘big three’ it is easy to overlook the claims of Supasundae (20/1, BetVictor) who went about his business in relatively quiet fashion last term; but Jessica Harrington’s charge proved himself top-class with wins over Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and at Punchestown when successful in the Punchestown equivalent.

Inbetween those successes, the Galileo gelding posted runner-up efforts in the Stayers’ Hurdle behind Penhill at the Cheltenham Festival, and then found only L’Ami Serge too strong when contesting the Aintree Hurdle.

He looks sure to pay his way again this term, and his versatility with regards to trip and ground will stand him in good stead. Whether he’s quite good enough to win a Champion Hurdle however, remains as a question mark.

But perhaps the most forgotten horse in the early discussions over the Champion Hurdle could be SUMMERVILLE BOY (14/1, Paddy Power) who produced a performance or real quality to snatch a thrilling win out of the fires of defeat in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back in March.

Tom George’s charge won his only start in an Irish bumper before joining this yard, and although it took until his fourth hurdles attempt to finally get off the mark, he had shown himself to be a potentially classy performer with a trio of in-the-frame efforts which included a pair of runner-up efforts on each of his first two outings.

One of those came when narrowly denied by Slate House in the Grade Twop Sharp Novices’ Hurdle, and having then finished third to Western Ryder back at Cheltenham in December he went to Sandown where he was sent off relatively unfancied for the Tolworth Hurdle.

The Sandmason gelding however demolished his field which included Kalashnikov, and he had the same rival in arrears when pouncing late in a thrilling finish to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

That win was all the more creditable as it came despite stumbling on landing after jumping the second last and giving up considerable ground; having then battled back into the race, he was untidy again and conceded more ground jumping the last hurdle before staying on strongly up the hill to deny Amy Murphy’s charge.

Trainer Tom George (right) has a live Champion Hurdle contender with Summerville Boy.

Sure to have further improvement to come given he has had just five starts over timber, his jumping at speed will have to improve and he might not get away with similar mistakes in a white-hot Champion Hurdle; but he showed he possessed a real engine having tanked into the race, as well as a real will to win to overcome the mistakes he did to snatch the victory.

The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle used to be a solid pointer towards future Champion Hurdle contenders, although latterly winners of the Cheltenham Festival opener have tended to be switched to chasing in their next seasons. Nevertheless, the likes of Jezki and Buveur D’air both won the Champion Hurdle having contested the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle the previous season, although neither won the Festival opener.

Summerville Boy could well buck that trend, and he rates an improving dark horse who could easily develop into a top-class performer; if he pitches up at Cheltenham for the Champion Hurdle he is unlikely to go down without a fight and he looks sure to play his part in the top two-mile races this term enroute to the Festival.


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2019 Champion Hurdle tips - George's 14/1 chance could be overlooked in ante-post betting

Brian Healy takes an early look at some of the potential runners in the 2019 Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and picks out a potential dark horse who could be overlooked in the ante-post market.

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