Champion Hurdle Tips - 3.30pm Cheltenham


The Leading Contenders

Once again we have strong looking line up for the Champion Hurdle and when looking for possible winners we should perhaps start with the 2017 hero Buveur D’Air trained by Nicky Henderson, a six-time winning trainer of the race.

The 7yo was third in the Supreme Novices Hurdle back in 2016 and that is the last time he was beaten. He has rattled up eight victories since then including two over fences proving how versatile this gelding is. Twelve months ago he beat a decent field by four-and-a-half lengths and then went on to Aintree where he took another Grade 1 contest over a longer trip without much fuss.

So far in this campaign he has won the Fighting Fifth on the bridle and then did a similar job at Kempton when taking the Christmas Hurdle. If anything he looks a better horse this year, maybe last season connections were caught between the two codes and if turning up on top of his game he will be very hard to beat.

Another trainer with multiple Champion Hurdle victories to his name is Willie Mullins; he has won it four times since 2011 with such greats as Hurricane Fly (twice), Faugheen and the superb mare Annie Power.

The Irish handler will no doubt have more than one dart to throw at the race but his main hope must lay with Faugheen the 2015 winner. Now a 10yo, the Susannah Ricci owned gelding has won twelve of his fifteen races over hurdles, which includes eight Grade 1 contests.

Anyone who saw him storm up the hill to win the crown three years ago will have fond memories, we thought we were seeing the start of something special that day and its unfortunate that things haven’t gone his way since.

The obvious problem with Faugheen is his health, he missed this race last year through injury and although made a very encouraging comeback at Punchestown in November he then ran what can only be described as a lifeless race at Leopardstown at the end of December. A decent second last time out at least showed something but he will need rediscover his old form soon. Connections insist there is nothing major going on and we can only hope the ‘real’ Faugheen turns up at Cheltenham in March.

The Mullins yard also has the likes of Melon, Yorkhill and Wicklow Brave entered, all have Festival experience and the one that interests me is Melon. Only a 6yo but very highly regarded and was a well-backed favourite for the Supreme Novices Hurdle last March.

He could only finish second to the enigmatic Labaik and then filled the same spot at the Punchestown Festival in April. On the face of it he looks a tad short on ability and has yet to win a Grade 1 race over hurdles so will certainly have his doubters. He was third at Cheltenham in December behind My Tent Or Yours and will need to step up on that to trouble those at the head of the market but he’s still improving and could be a spring horse where the better ground will suit.

Wicklow Brave has been busy on the flat since we saw him finishing 7th here last year, he had previously won at the Festival back in 2015 when he took the County Hurdle off mark of just 138. His latest rating is 164 which was achieved after beating My Tent Or Your in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle last April and is a very useful tool on his day.

His last racecourse appearance was in the Melbourne Cup in early November where he finished a respectable 10th behind Rekindling and will need decent ground to show his best form. If the ground is good or better he could easily run into a place this year.

Owner J.P.McManus is responsible for the favourite Buveur D’Air but will also have his old warrior My Tent Or Yours in the line up once again. The 11yo veteran has been runner up three times behind Jezki (2014), Annie Power (2016) and again last year behind Buveur D’Air.

Many good judges have said he doesn’t get up the Cheltenham hill hence that’s why he always finishes second but he was also the runner up at Aintree and Punchestown last season so maybe he’s just a fraction below the very top class required to win in this grade.

He finally got his head in front at Cheltenham last December where he beat The New One in a thrilling finish, it was no coincidence that race was a Grade 2 affair and he may have to play a minor role here this year.

The green and gold colours may have a third runner in the shape of Defi Du Seuil trained by Philip Hobbs. He was unbeaten as a juvenile last year and ended up winning seven times including the JCB Triumph Hurdle by 5 lengths.

The future was bright and at the beginning of the season was high up in the ante-post lists for this race. His comeback run was at Ascot in November but could only finish 4th to Lil Rockerfeller, a dirty scope was found post-race. He then went to Leopardstown but failed to spark again and really needs to start showing something soon.

The Skelton team have always had plenty of faith in Chtibello, he has to be held up for a late run but often finds less than anticipated but could be a decent selection for each way backers.



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Champion Hurdle Previous Winners

Year Winner Age Jockey Trainer SP
2017 Buveur D'Air 6 Noel Fehily Nicky Henderson 5/1
2016 Annie Power 8 Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 5/2
2015 Faugheen 7 Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 4/5
2014 Jezki 6 Barry Geraghty Jessica Harrington 9/1
2013 Hurricane Fly 9 Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 13/8
2012 Rock On Ruby 7 Noel Fehily Paul Nicholls 11/1
2011 Hurricane Fly 7 Ruby Walsh Willie Mullins 11/4
2010 Binocular 6 Tony McCoy Nicky Henderson 9/1
2009 Punjabi 6 Barry Geraghty Nicky Henderson 22/1
2008 Katchit 5 Robert Thornton Alan King 10/1

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