Champion Hurdle tips – Runner-by-runner guide to Tuesday feature
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at the big-race field for the Cheltenham Festival feature race on day one and gives his Champion Hurdle tips for Grade One glory in Tuesdays main event.
It is the feature race of the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and one of the most eagerly awaited races of the jumps season; the Champion Hurdle goes to post at 3.30pm as the fourth race of the afternoon.
The two-miles hurdling crown has attracted a big field for this latest renewal with 17 classy contenders lining up, each with an eye on a first prize of almost £265,000 to the winner.
There’ll be a new name on the trophy this year in what looks a very open renewal. Sadly the 2019 champion Espoir D’allier lost his life just a few months after his greatest triumph; while dual-winner Buveur D’air is currently sidelined through injury.
Brian Healy takes a runner-by-runner look at the Tuesday big-race field and gives his Champion Hurdle tips for the day one feature.
CHAMPION HURDLE TIPS – BRIAN HEALY’S SELECTION
Dual course and distance winner who got back on the winning trail here in the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial, beating Pentland Hills
That was his first win in more than a year, but the 2016 Champion Bumper winner has been running well this term, chasing home rivals Call Me Lord and Epatante in earlier starts prior to that win, including in the International Hurdle over this course.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ is of interest given his course record and he should give his running. However there is a question mark whether the Kayf Tara gelding is good enough to win at this level although no surprise to see him run well.
CALL ME LORD
Beat Ballyandy to win the International Hurdle following an earlier near-miss behind If The Cap Fits at Ascot the time before in the Coral Hurdle.
Nicky Henderson’s Slickly gelding failed to back up that win latest when outgunned by Quel Destin in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown when last seen. That form probably isn’t good enough and he may appreciate a stiffer test of stamina.
He can’t be discounted for his top yard but it is perhaps significant that Daryl Jacob sides with Fusil Raffles in the contest.
Unexposed over hurdles although he’s been campaigning over fences for much of the season where he had won twice in that sphere prior to falling early behind Chacun Pour Soi in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.
Willie Mullins’ charge bounced back from that mishap to demolish his field in a Grade Three at Gowran Park when reverted to hurdles latest and he’s been supplemented for this.
He likely has more to come over timber and he won a Grade One as a novice so ought to make his presence felt in an open renewal of the Champion Hurdle.
Second to Pentland Hills in last season’s Triumph Hurdle before finishing third in a juveniles’ contest at Fairyhouse behind French Made.
Gordon Elliott’s charge made a winning return to action, beating Coko Beach at Down Royal in the WKD Hurdle but was brushed aside by Sharjah next time in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown and has been absent since following wind surgery.
He turns out here fresh with a tongue-tie applied, but he’ll need to significantly raise his game to trouble the principals.
Reeled off a hat-trick of hurdling wins either side of a break which included a shock defeat of Buveur D’air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle.
Micky Hammond’s charge was possibly flattered by that success given the dual-champion suffered an injury during the contest and was only denied a short-head.
But he showed the performance to be no fluke with a solid third at Haydock in the Champion Hurdle Trial behind Ballyandy, beaten less than one length. That effort was all the more creditable given that he was conceding 6lbs to the winner and 3lbs to Pentland Hills who finished just ahead of him.
He likely needs more here, but he’s proved he’s worthy of a shot at the Champion Hurdle and he shouldn’t disgrace himself although others are perhaps stronger.
Proved to be a smart hurdler and chaser last term where he won under both codes which included a Grade Two win at Navan last March.
Joseph O’Brien’s Konig Turf gelding has been well beaten in both outings this term over hurdles, finishing last of four behind Ballyandy at Haydock although looking in need of the run and he was readily brushed aside by Cilaos Emery latest at Gowran Park.
On that evidence he has plenty to do here and he could find this too hot.
Has progressed really well over hurdles this term, winning four on the bounce which includes a Listed contest at Limerick over further than the Champion Hurdle trip.
Demolished by Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse subsequently, the Kalanisi gelding finished just a half-length adrift of Honeysuckle when last seen and he’s a player on that form with stamina assured although he’ll likely need to find another jolt of improvement if he’s to collect the top prize.
Trainer Gavin Cromwell saddled Espoir D’allen in the race twelve months ago and he’ll be hopeful his charge can deliver another big performance. He could go well and makes some each-way appeal.
Won his first three hurdles starts for Nicky Henderson, including a defeat of Fakir D’oudairies at Punchestown on just his second start to win the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
The Saint Des Saints gelding was made to work on his reappearance in the Elite Hurdle when narrowly getting the better of Grand Sancyin ground possibly softer than ideal. However, he shaped as if amiss in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, pulling up behind Epatante.
He’s surely better than he showed that day and Daryl Jacob prefers him to Call Me Lord; he could bounce back here but softer ground remains a concern.
A three-time winner on the flat in the first half of last season, the No Risk At All gelding had been a regular winner over hurdles a couple of campaigns back as well as twice making the frame in Grade Two company.
Philip Hobbs’ charge got back to winning ways over hurdles at Ascot in November and then finished only a neck behind Harambe here in the Greatwood Hurdle. He’s been outclassed on both starts since though, beating only two home in the International Hurdle and finishing in midfield in the Betfair Hurdle.
He doesn’t look up to this level and he’s likely to struggle here. He’s hard to make a case for and it would be a surprise to see him come home in front.
Won last season’s Swinton Hurdle at Haydock to land a hat-trick of wins and the Poliglote gelding wasn’t disgraced on his reappearance in the Coral Hurdle where he finished fourth.
Dr Richard Newland’s charge failed to beat a rival home in the International Hurdle and again finished last when switched to fences in the Lightning Novices’ Chase although was probably flying too high there.
He’s quickly returned to hurdles here and fitted with blinkers; but the headgear will need to produce significant improvement and he has a fair bit to find.
NOT SO SLEEPY
Progressive over hurdles last year, winning three times which included a nine lengths’ demolition of Monsieur Lecoq in the Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot back in December.
Hughie Morrison’s Beat Hollow gelding ran poorly when last seen however, finishing down the field in the Betfair Hurdle although he possibly sulked having been unable to get to the front following a slow start.
He can’t be judged too harshly on that run and he could bounce back although this is by far his toughest test and he has plenty to do on form. He could just find this company too hot.
Last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner, taking his winning tally to a perfect 3-3 over hurdles following his switch from the flat when beating Fakir D’oudairies at Aintree in April to make it two Grade One wins from three hurdles starts and showcasing himself as an exciting talent.
Things haven’t gone to plan for the Motivator gelding this term, fading to finish fifth on his return in the International Hurdle before being denied by a nose behind Ballyandy at Haydock in the Champion Hurdle Trial.
He possibly failed to see out the race last time in the heavy ground and he might be better suited by this less testing surface; while a wind operation could deliver some improvement.
The likely stronger pace will play to his strengths and the strong-travelling sort could play a big part, although Triumph Hurdle winners have a poor record in the Champion Hurdle. He ought to be thereabouts however in this open renewal.
Classy performer at his best and has made the frame in a trio of Grade One contests in Ireland, latterly finishing just one length behind Honeysuckle and Darvers Star.
Henry de Bromhead’s charge is likely to help set the pace but he looks worth taking on for win purposes having been without a success since scoring over fences back in October 2017.
He did win that year’s Irish Champion Hurdle however and he ought to give another account although others look stronger on balance and he’s disappointed here in the past.
High-class multiple Grade One winner, posting his latest success when beating Petit Mouchoir in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.
The Doctor Dino gelding however disappointed next time behind that rival when finishing sixth to Honeysuckle in the recent Irish Champion Hurdle and Willie Mullins’ charge will need to bounce back to form.
He’s not out of this open renewal if turning out at his best, but the softer ground is a worry and he’d make more appeal on a sounder surface although he remains capable of going close on a going day and he’s not one to write off if the ground dries out a bit.
Admirably consistent sort and ran a cracker in this race twelve months ago to finish third behind Espoir D’allen.
Evan Williams’ charge possibly found his stamina stretched in the soft ground next time at Aintree behind Supasundae; but he made a winning return to action from almost seven months off at Kempton in October with a Listed sucess.
The Dark Angel gelding ran better than the bare result in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle prior to chasing home Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and he arrives here fresh.
He ought to go well again but there’s a suspicion he’s not quite at this level and he probably has place claims again at best although no surprise to seem run another solid race.
High-class performer and multiple Grade One winner who rarely runs a bad race and Jessica Harrington’s charge can make his presence felt.
The Galileo gelding has contested the Stayers’ Hurdle the last twice, but he’s proven his versatility with victories over this shorter trip which includes the 2018 Irish Champion Hurdle.
He won at Aintree over further last April, lowering the colours of Buveur D’air and he shaped well despite looking in need of the run when making his seasonal return in the Irish Champion Hurdle where he finished fourth behind Honeysuckle although he went well for a long way.
He’ll be sharper now and he usually needs a run so every chance he can build on that effort to mount a bold bid here although Sea Pigeon was the last ten-year old to win the Champion Hurdle so history is against him here.
Won her first two races last term impressively which saw her sent off favourite for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle twelve months ago although the No Risk At All mare bombed out on that occasion and trailed home a poor ninth.
Nicky Henderson attributed the disappointing run to a bad reaction to a ‘flu jab, and she has since shown her class with successive wins this term at Newbury and Kempton where she won the Christmas Hurdle.
She’s been off since so will arrive here fresh, but her performance here twelve months still leaves a bad taste in the mouth and she’ll need to prove she is as effective here as on the flatter tracks she’s been winning over in other starts.
Still open to improvement however and in receipt of the mares’ allowance she should be there or thereabouts in this Champion Hurdle renewal if proving she handles the track and she rates a top contender.
CHAMPION HURDLE TIPS – BIG-RACE VERDICT
An open renewal of the Champion Hurdle and a solid case could be made for for the first dozen or so in the betting. However it might be worth siding with the supplemented CILAOS EMERY to come out on top and give Willie Mullins another win in the race.
The Califet gelding had been campaigning over fences in the first half of the season, winning twice although he fell behind Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown in the Dublin Chase back in February.
He was quickly switched back to hurdles and he ran out an impressive winner over Darasso at Gowran Park. That bare form perhaps isn’t good enough on balance but he remains open to plenty of improvement in this sphere and could easily have more to offer.
A Grade One winner as a novice, he finished fifth in the 2017 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle; a defeat in that race did neither Jezki or Buveur D’air any harm with both going on to win the Champion Hurdle following reversals in the Festival opener.
With no real star on show in this latest open Champion Hurdle renewal he looks well worth a place in this line-up and still unexposed as a hurdler could easily play a big part.