Cheltenham Festival ante post tips: Epatante no forlorn hope in Champion Hurdle

Nicky Henderson's Epatante rates a value play in her bid to land a second Champion Hurdle.Nicky Henderson's Epatante rates a value play in her bid to land a second Champion Hurdle.

2022 Champion Hurdle Ante-Post Preview

With several leading bookmakers now offering “non-runner – no bet” on the feature races at the Cheltenham Festival, we have been taking an early look for some value bets. The five featured races are the Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Stayers Hurdle. Bookmakers offering this concession are obviously offering shorter odds but there could still be some good each-way value without the risk of losing your stake if the selection does not run. Here is our early preview of the ante-post Cheltenham betting on the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday 15th March.

Honeysuckle odds-on favourite to retain Champion Hurdle crown

If the betting is any guide, Honeysuckle only has to turn up in one piece to follow up her resounding Champion Hurdle success of 12 months’ ago. Of course, horse racing is never that simple and the brilliant mare will be facing some familiar rivals as she bids for a second Champion Hurdle victory.

Her record going into the Irish Champion Hurdle was a perfect 13/13 and she looked as good as ever when strolling to an 8 lengths win at Fairyhouse in November. She has formed a remarkable partnership with Rachael Blackmore, the leading jockey at last season’s Cheltenham Festival and Grand National winning rider. 

The pressure was on last year but Blackmore rode a copybook race, jumping to the front with two to jump and powering clear to beat Sharjah and Epatante. Honeysuckle then followed up at Leopardstown, although Sharjah got to within two and a quarter lengths with the favourite possibly idling on the run-in. The winner will probably be many punters idea of the Irish banker bet of the meeting but there is no value to be had at her current odds.

The admirable Sharjah has run in the last three Champion Hurdles, finishing runner-up twice after being brought down in 2019. He is an even better animal at Leopardstown where he has now won the Matheson Hurdle for four successive seasons. He needed to be driven out to wear down Zanahiyr by a neck but Honeysuckle has already beaten him four times.

Adagio on the comeback trail for David Pipe

The unknown quantity in the field is Appreciate It, a runaway winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle but unraced since. Willie Mullins had planned to run him over fences but ran out of time in his preparation and has decided to shelve that plan in favour at a Champion Hurdle tilt. The son of Jeremy turned the Festival opener into a procession last year when beating Ballyadam by 24 lengths. That margin flatters him a little as stable companion Blue Lord was six lengths down when crashing out at the last. Bookmakers are taking few chances at 7-1.

Although beaten nearly ten lengths in the 2021 renewal, Epatante was under a bit of a cloud last season with a niggling back injury. She has returned after treatment with two victories, albeit a dead-heat at Newcastle and a routine win in a sub-standard Christmas Hurdle. She certainly hurdled more fluently at Kempton than she did when beaten at odds-on 12 months’ earlier. Nobody trains a Champion Hurdler better than Nicky Henderson so there could be some value in the 10-1 with a run with Bet365.

Gordon Elliott is hopeful that Teahupoo is up to Champion Hurdle class after victories in trials at Naas and Limerick. He beat Quilixios by 12 lengths at Naas but the margin was reduced to half a length next time. In fact, Quilixios looked certain to win before overjumping the final flight and giving Teahupoo a chance to pull the race out of the fire. With only five and a half lengths back to 133-rated Slip Of The Tongue in third, you have to question the value of the form.

One other horse that deserves a mention is David Pipe’s Adagio, runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle and the Greatwood Hurdle. He carried 11st 12lbs in the Greatwood but has not raced since. Pipe is considering running him in the Betfair Hurdle or the Kingwell Hurdle. He is generally available at 33-1 or 20-1 (with a run).