While Benie Des Dieux is favourite in the non-runner no bet markets, the strong likelihood is that she will run in the mares hurdle later in the day and that will leave Nicky Henderson’s Epatante as the likely favourite.
Very impressive on her first two starts last season, she was a warm order for the Mares’ novice hurdle at last year’s Festival, but disappointed to finish ninth. While many have used Cheltenham’s undulating track as a reason for the poor showing, I think it may be more to do with her acting up a little.
She had been very keen in her first two starts and wore a hood on in the Mares’ novice hurdle to try and help her cope but it didn’t help her run to her best on the day. There must be a little worry that the occasion might just get to her again this time round.
While she has been impressive on both starts this season, the first was in a handicap off 137 and the second was in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. The steady pace allowed her to use her turn of foot to devastating effect and put the race to bed in great fashion.
In a strongly-run Champion Hurdle that puts the emphasis on stamina – no matter how weak a renewal it looks – there are still plenty of question marks against her.
Epitante is worth taking on in the day one feature.
Perhaps the 3m Novices’ feature on day two wasn’t looking as deep as it was a few weeks ago – but Champ definitely looks worth taking on.
He has won eight of his 12 races in his career and ran a cracker when second in last year’s Ballymore Novice Hurdle when favourite. It looked like he was outstayed by City Island that day and I’m not sure he is best suited to the potential slog that the RSA can become.
While he did win over three miles at Aintree, that track isn’t as demanding as Cheltenham and he has been campaigned all season over shorter trips. Throw in the fact that he fell on his last start with the race at his mercy and he hasn’t had the best preparation.
While you can forgive a novice a fall, it would worry me that he made a couple of mistakes earlier in the race before he crashed out. Nicky Henderson hasn’t managed to get a confidence boosting run into him can’t be ideal.
The likes of last year’s Albert Bartlett and Punchestown Hurdle winner, Minella Indo, will put Champ’s jumping under pressure. Henry de Bromhead’s runner is far more suited to a proper stamina test.
Altior is a top class performer who is going for his fifth win at the Festival, but this promises to be his biggest test to date. He was made to work very hard to win last year’s renewal when both Sceau Royal and Politilogue looked to have his measure.
A repeat of that form won’t be good enough to win this year. He suffered his first defeat over jumps when second to Cyrname at Ascot over 2 miles 5 furlongs and was even more workman-like than usual when winning his prep in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month.
Altior will probably have to run a career best to win here.
Add in that he faces two second-season chasers at the top of their game, in Defi Du Seuil and Chacan Pour Soi, it might be asking too much of the 10-year-old now.
This looks a vintage renewal of the Triumph Hurdle, with the top four in the market all looking to possess plenty of ability.
While Paul Nicholls’ Solo was very impressive on his UK debut in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton, I’m slightly surprised that he heads the Triumph market.
While visually it was extremely pleasing, the times don’t really back it up. There were three races over that distance at Kempton that day and the race he won was the slowest on the day, coming in at 3m 54.60s.
The Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle was won by the 154-rated Song For Someone in 3m 50.55s, a full 4.05 seconds faster, which would roughly equate to 20 lengths. The Grade 2 Dovecote was won by Highway One O Two in 3m 53.23s, which is 1.37 seconds faster, and I wouldn’t rate that race too strongly.
Now you’d have to allow for the fact that Solo carried 1lb more than Song For Someone and Highway One O Two, but the handicapper’s revised rating of Solo is 157 and that would look like a bizarre rating to me. There was very little depth to the race and the runner-up Fujimoto Flyer may have needed the run, after a break. He also pulled very hard in the race, so in all likelihood, Solo beat nothing of note.
It is interesting that Timeform only have Solo fourth on their ratings as a likely Triumph Hurdle winner and that would look more like it to me.
Goshen, Allmankind and Aspire Tower have all probably achieved more by winning races where the form has been well franked since.
I’d be very keen to take Solo in the Triumph Hurdle.
*Prices & entries are subject to change but all are part of Paddy Power’s pre Festival non runner money back offer.