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The first Championship race of the Festival is the Champion Hurdle at 15:05 on Tuesday. Expect this to be run at a fierce pace with Honeysuckle aiming to justify favouritism and maintain her unbeaten record.
Henry De Bromhead’s superstar HONEYSUCKLE is attempting to become the fifth mare to win the Champion Hurdle and with Rachel Blackmore taking the ride, it could certainly be the case of girls running the world.
This is a good race for favourites with six of the last 10 obliging for punters, and with a perfect 10 wins from 10 races it’s hard to argue with Honeysuckle. Last seen demolishing the field in the Irish Champion Hurdle leaving Abacadabras for dust.
The current Champion Hurdle king comes into this race under a heavy cloud. He was sent off the 1/5 favourite for the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, but Epatante was a distant second to Silver Streak. Whether it was a turkey hangover or too much eggnog we will never know, but like elephants, punters won’t forget.
Last year 53 horses ran at the Festival who had been a beaten favourite last time out, and just four won. This century only four winners won this race after having not won their previous start. It’s all starting to add up against Epatante.
Punters who backed Goshen in the Triumph Hurdle last year will have just about wrapped up their 12 months of therapy when Gary Moore’s mount lines up for the Champion Hurdle. 10 lengths clear at the last in the Triumph, Goshen stumbled and dumped Jamie Moore on the turf.
What followed in 2020 was not good – turned over three times as a favourite, he met 23 rivals and only beat four of them. He put himself back in this picture with a 22-length demolition job in the Grade 2 Kingwell Hurdle which ranks as the best run of his career – but the 24-day turnaround since then may be a little tight.
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Abacadabras will need more than magic to overcome the form with Honeysuckle after he was left chasing her tail at Leopardstown and failing to get anywhere close.
His loyal supporters will point to the fact that he was well clear of the rest of the pack in that race and that he was only beaten a head by Shishkin in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – with Shishkin now the red-hot odds-on favourite for the Arkle. But, those arguments will be worth as much as a Boris Johnson guarantee to the NHS unless Abacadabras has some rapid improvement up his sleeve.
Traditionally a hold-up horse, Silver Streak changed tactics to great effect at Kempton at Christmas – maybe Big Sam Allardyce could make a few notes about mixing it up occasionally. Jockey Tom O’Brien asked him to make all, and he did just that – putting Epatante in trouble well before the end. He has a squeak of making the frame here.
Aspire Tower finished second in the Triumph last year – benefitting from that Goshen fall – and the youngster is looking to make a mark here and win his first Grade 1.
Another one who would like to tear off at the front, Aspire Tower beat Abacadabras in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal in October – but he was getting a 6lbs age allowance that day which he won’t be given in Cheltenham. A good second in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown last time out, he will be duelling with Silver Streak for the lead from the off.
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The fella that beat Aspire Tower in that Matheson Hurdle is Willie Mullins’ Sharjah. A four-time Grade 1 winner, Sharjah’s CV stacks up – until you do a little more digging into his relationship with Honeysuckle, which is about as disastrous as Kimye’s marriage.
Sharjah was beaten 11 lengths by Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle in 2020, but saw his chance to have another bite of the cherry earlier this year. On that occasion it got worse, and he was beaten by 19 lengths. Don’t expect a change of fortunes here.
Makes his debut not only at Cheltenham, but on UK soil after spending his whole career in France with Robert Collet. The fact he comes here after spending two months in the Mullins yard is a plus. The fact his last race in France he was a beaten 2/5 favourite is not.
No idea how he’ll handle the course or the spring ground, and he has not a whole lot of obvious form to go on. Also sounds like a guy who works as a barista, but claims his real profession is an “artist”.
Came back after more than a year off last December and finished sixth of seven runners, before following it up by coming dead last in the Champion Hurdle. In December he was 32 lengths behind Sharjah and 30 lengths behind Aspire Tower. Last month he was 74 lengths off Honeysuckle and 64 lengths of Abacadabras. You don’t need a calculator to tell you this is all bad news.
This lad’s form would certainly keep you awake at night…
He put Paddy Brennan on the turf in the Fighting Fifth at the very first fence last November and had pulled up in this race in 2020. But, in between that he won a strong renewal of the Betfair Trophy at Ascot and picked up a win on the Flat. It’s chequered at best, mediocre at worst. He is yet another who will try to make the running.
READ MORE ON CHELTENHAM 2021
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