Cheltenham tips: Champion Hurdle antepost best bets from Ruby Walsh

Is the Champion Hurdle really just a two-horse race?

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*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widget, while in-copy odds are accurate at time of publication but subject to change

Ruby Walsh has cast his eye over the Champion Hurdle ahead of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival – where Paddy Power is offering non-runner money back on all 28 races so there’s no risk of losing out if your pick withdraws.

Speaking on the latest episode of Paddy Power’s special ‘Countdown to Cheltenham’ podcast, our resident jockey-turned-pundit reveals he has changed his mind over who he will be backing in the feature race on the opening day.

You can listen to the full show BELOW.

HONEYSUCKLE was better at Leopardstown the last day than she has been at any stage in her career, although her first Hatton’s Grace victory where she beat Bacardys by a long way [at Fairyhouse in 2019] was a pretty dominant display as well.

I can understand why connections left Leopardstown in 2020 and decided to go to the Mares’ Hurdle, not the Champion Hurdle. Getting back up to beat Petit Mouchoir didn’t scream to me that you’re going to win the Champion Hurdle. But when you watch her this year in Leopardstown winning the Irish Champion Hurdle, absolutely trouncing Abacadabras, Saint Roi, Sharjah, Saldier and Petit Mouchoir… if you own her, train her or ride her, you would be thinking “yeah, let’s have a go at the Champion Hurdle”.

honeysuckle mares hurdle

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She’ll be a dead straightforward mare to ride in that race too. She’ll always have the 7lb allowance that she is entitled to, which I believe in and think is the right thing, and Rachel Blackmore will be able to line her up second or third hurdle out, from the inside, and go forward on her. If someone wants to go really fast, she’ll get an ideal lead in second place while if no-one wants to go she knows she can rock along.

Her jumping has improved considerably – she was much lower and much slicker at Leopardstown than she ever was in the past. She was a fraction high at the second and when the race was over and Rachel had her pop the last she was a fraction slow, but during the races she jumped exceptionally well. We know she gets 2m 4f and she showed at Leopardstown she has terrific pace. Before Christmas I would have fancied EPATANTE but since the Irish Champion Hurdle, I would be all over Honeysuckle.

EpatanteDec19

Champion Hurdle latest odds and tips for Cheltenham Festival 2021

If you had GOSHEN in the field you would be guaranteed pace because he would jump and go. Maybe SILVER STREAK will stick to the same tactics that won him the Christmas Hurdle, and he could be the one that jumps and goes, but doing it at Cheltenham compared to Kempton is two different ball games. NOT SO SLEEPY is in there as well and we know he likes to get on with things, provided he gets away. He’s been left at the start in two races last year. Those three could guarantee the pace Honeysuckle likes, but if its not there then I would have full faith in Rachel Blackmore going and making the gallop she needs – she won’t be afraid to do it.

Physically, just looking at him, ASPIRE TOWER is a horse that could have improved since we last saw him at Christmas. He’s a giant of a five-year-old and there is no reason why he can’t be a better horse in March.

As for Willie Mullins’ runners, SHARJAH is what he is. He’s so good on dry ground at Leopardstown, but he is ground dependent. If it dries up he has a chance, while SALDIER has been disappointing. He has a lot to prove, and his two runs this year haven’t been good enough. SAINT ROI was very good early in the season but seems to have regressed – he will have to come back to his very best.

Cheltenham Festival: 4 value plays to consider in the Championship races

And JAMES DU BERLAIS is a very exciting horse, coming from France with a huge reputation, and Willie was talking about him a long time before he got him. Age is probably against him, as five-year-olds do not have an outstanding record in the Champion Hurdle. However, he has form over further, he is a nice horse to look at and he has settled in well. The Champion Hurdle is his aim, but how good is he? If you can read French form, your opinion is as strong as mine.

ABACADABRAS could be placed, if he is ridden to hit the places and doesn’t get dragged into a battle at the front. He can pass tired horses, and I would back him to be placed – even over each-way – as I don’t see him winning the race. It’s between the two mares – Honeysuckle v Epatante – and they are definitely the strongest in the race. The rest have to improve a bit to get up to their standard.

I didn’t think I would be going against Epatante, but after what I saw at Leopardstown I would be with Honeysuckle. Looking for something each-way, Aspire Tower, Silver Streak and maybe Goshen and Not So Sleepy all look like they will go forward so there will be a really strong pace in the race.

I’m looking for something that will sit off that pace and then pick up the pieces when they get tired, running fast-finishing fractions. They won’t win the race, but they could run into a place. That could  be Sharjah or Abacadabras. I don’t see either of them winning the Champion Hurdle, but either could be placed.

*All prices are bang up to date with our snazzy widget, while in-copy odds are accurate at time of publication but subject to change

Ruby Walsh’s Champion Hurdle bet summary

Honeysuckle
Abacadabras/Sharjah (to be placed)

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL‘S OTHER BIG RACES

March 16 – 13.20 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 17 – 13.20 – Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 17 – 15.05 – Queen Mother Champion Chase latest odds and tips

March 18 – 14.30 – Ryanair Chase latest odds and tips

March 18 – 15.05 – Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 19 – 13.20 – Triumph Hurdle latest odds and tips

March 19 – 15.05 – Gold Cup latest odds and tips

Cheltenham Festival Day One schedule

13:20 – Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y

13.55 – Arkle Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y

14.30 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f

15.05 – Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y

15.40 – Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y

16.15 – Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 87y

16.50 – National Hunt Chase (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y

*Paddy will be all over your telly box throughout the Cheltenham Festival sponsoring ITV’s live coverage from Prestbury Park – and you can get free and exclusive tipping columns EVERY DAY from Ruby Walsh, Matt Chapman and Mick Fitzgerald here on PP News.

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What do you think?