Cheltenham tips: Champion Hurdle antepost picks revealed by Frank Hickey

Frank Hickey has given his take on the Champion Hurdle.

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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

Frank Hickey has given his expert opinion 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 top trader says he can forgive Epatante’s poor run at Christmas but he still won’t be backing Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old in the feature race on the opening day.

You can listen to the full show BELOW.

You can always forgive one bad day out, and I don’t think EPATANTE‘s run at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle was as bad as people think. Silver Streak is limited but he has been running consistently, without being top class, on soft ground that isn’t suitable for him. He wants good ground and Christmas was the first time he actually got it in a Grade 1. He just ran really, really well.

It was little disappointing from Epatante and the ground shouldn’t have been an excuse, but she couldn’t have been any more dominant when she won the Christmas Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle last year. I can see her bouncing back to her best, but whether her best will be good enough to win this year’s Champion Hurdle… I have my suspicions it wouldn’t be. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing her again, but I think she’ll be a bigger price closer to the time.

EpatanteDec19

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I think there is only one bet outside of HONEYSUCKLE and Epatante. When we talk about pace in the Champion Hurdle, there is one horse that is absolutely guaranteed to kick on and that is ASPIRE TOWER. He was miles below his best in the Triumph Hurdle last year – maybe it was a result of the fall he had at Leopardstown prior to that – but he pulled and jumped very sloppily. Up until he fell at Leopardstown, he had been a really slick jumper. It was a really poor performance but he showed a lot of guts to finish second.

They went too hard that day, but he was staying on and I think he is more of a staying two-miler. He absolutely trounced Sea Ducor and Wolf Prince on his hurdles debut last year, and they’re two horses now rated around 135. He beat them by 13 lengths, while he won the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle by a wider margin.

The fall knocked the edge off his Cheltenham last year but I like the fact they haven’t had a run since Christmas. His form this year has been very good, winning impressively up at Down Royal in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle – beating Abacadabras and Jason The Militant when getting weight – and he was second to Sharjah at Leopardstown. I loved the way he stayed on after the last hurdle, and while Sharjah did him for pace he still put distance between him and the rest off the back of the last. And we know that when Sharjah is on a going day at Leopardstown, he is nearly unbeatable.

For me, he is the only option as an each-way bet. His jumping was much better at Leopardstown at Christmas, although he still made a mistake, and he is one with the potential to improve. He has a difficult task to beat the two mares but he is the only one I would even consider backing.

Aspire Tower horse

Champion Hurdle latest odds and tips for Cheltenham Festival 2021

You have to put a line through BUVEUR D’AIR, as he had a 14-month absence prior to his defeat at Haydock. I didn’t take too many positive out of that run, when he was beaten by Navajo Pass. He’s pushing on a bit now and you would be letting your heart rule your head.

SONG FOR SOMEONE is an improver and has won his last three starts, including the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle over 2m 3f at Ascot and the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham, when he was conceding 2lbs to Silver Streak. He wants testing ground to be at his best and would probably skip this for the Aintree Hurdle if the ground was on the good-to-soft side. I don’t think he has the pace to deal with Honeysuckle and Epatante on better ground.

SILVER STREAK would be interesting if the ground comes up good-to-soft. He had a career-best the last day at Kempton and finished sixth and third in the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle. He shouldn’t be good enough but you could give him place claims if the ground comes up decent.

GOSHEN is the one that we just don’t know about. The Triumph Hurdle form has worked out well with Aspire Tower, Allmankind, Navajo Pass and A Wave Of The Sea all winning since. It was a decent enough renewal and he was going to hack up but he just hasn’t looked the same horse since that mishap at the last. He ran below himself on both starts on the flat in September and October and was even worse in the International Hurdle. It would be a massive ask to come straight to the Champion Hurdle off that sort of prep and he would need to get a win under his belt to have a chance. He would add to the race hugely if he could win a prep and take his place.

Bar Epatante, I would be surprised if a UK challenger could win. The Irish or Epatante will win the Champion Hurdle, and Honeysuckle should be clear favourite and is the most likely winner. I would definitely have Honeysuckle over Epatante and Aspire Tower has a great chance of hitting the frame, but I don’t think he will shorten up that much. You can probably wait until the day and get the same price or bigger, while we may even be paying four places if there is a big field.

*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

Frank Hickey’s Champion Hurdle bet summary

Honeysuckle
Aspire Tower (each-way)

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?