And then there were 19! That is pretenders to the Champion Hurdle throne of Annie Power. With the mighty mare and Faugheen no longer able to fulfil their invitation to the opening-day party, can you believe that Buveur D’Air, courtesy of one very ordinary piece of form, a length and a half victory over the 141-rated Rayvin Black in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, is disputing Champion Hurdle favouritism?
As unexposed as he may well be, how does that victory entitle him to be market leader for this prestigious championship race?
On my own private ratings I have him behind seven of his possible rivals for the Tuesday showdown on March 14. Yes, he could improve dramatically on that run and yes as part of last year’s Supreme Novice Hurdle result he could be a young horse to go to war with. But that’s all about potential over substance.
At the prices I am tempted to advise more than one play against the Henderson charge and if the Champion Hurdle was run on the more testing New Course then Footpad would be top of my short list.
His two runs behind Petit Mouchoir have been highly encouraging especially his staying on second in the Irish Champion Hurdle on good ground.
He simply didn’t have the raw speed to land a blow in last year’s Triumph Hurdle, but looks as though he has strengthened up this year and found his mojo. A double digit price tempts me especially in the hands of the master trainer, Willie Mullins.
Based on that most recent form line, Petit Mouchoir has to come under serious consideration, while genuinely good ground makes Brain Power the other likely big improver, as he will have to be, to play a part in the finish.
But in the end I have come down on the side of YANWORTH, a horse quite simply made for the Champion Hurdle.
Down through the years from Monskfield through, Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Brave Inca all those fabulous champion hurdlers had one thing in common, THEY STAYED the extended two mile trip and a bit more.
Yanworth is no more than adequate at his obstacles, but he has a real engine inside and like all of those previous winners, he has an unquenchable thirst to win his races.
I admit his victories in the Christmas and Kingwell Hurdle have been no more than workmanlike, but I fancy that kind of performance will be enough to see him go very close here.
His staying abilities were there for all to see in two of his performances last season. Firstly, when galloping up the hill in conditions he hated over two and a half miles when slamming Shantou Village by seven lengths and secondly when running Yorkhill to a length and three quarters in the Neptune when that rival got a much better run through the race.
His attitude is first class as he showed at Wincanton last week.
However, in a pretty ordinary year I feel he is good enough to prevail and I fancy he will only hit the front half way up the run-in unless, as I hope, he is taken to the front coming down the hill to make full use of his stamina and attitude.
CONCLUSION: YANWORTH to win. FOOTPAD e/w on the day
The Stayers Hurdle has a much more lop-sided look to it in the market place and it is hard not to be impressed with Unowhatimeanharry such has been the remarkable progress he has made this year. He is the most likely winner.
But betting is about maths and granted some nice spring ground I would rather support SHANESHILL e/w at a bigger price on the day after his strong staying success in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last time.
Some horses return to the Cheltenham Festival year after year and record career-best efforts and this son of King’s Theatre fits that profile like a snugly fitting brogue.
Second in a Champion Bumper, runner-up to the mighty Douvan in a Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and last year bridesmaid again to Blaklion in the RSA reads rather well.
The ménage a trios of spring time, Shaneshill and Prestbury Park sounds sexy enough for me to have a hefty investment in this hugely likeable eight-year-old.
CONCLUSION: Shaneshill each-way bet to nothing.
Read Paul Jacobs’ take on the Chelteenhma Gold Cup & Ryanair Chase