Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham Festival: Spotlight on the Champion Hurdle

Steve Mullington
2017-03-13
The Champion Hurdle (3:20pm) is the highlight of day one of the Cheltenham Festival and the most prestigious hurdle race run all season.

The Champion Hurdle (3:20pm) is the highlight of day one of the Cheltenham Festival and the most prestigious hurdle race run all season.

The race has been part of the Cheltenham Festival since 1927, and it has been won by some of the most famous names in the sport, including Istabraq, Persian War and Faugheen.

Twelve runners go to the post on Tuesday but which one of them will come home victorious? Here is a runner-by-runner guide to their chances:

The New One

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ nine-year-old lines up for a fourth tilt at the premier hurdling title. In his three previous attempts he is yet to really threaten, with perhaps his run in the 2014 renewal being his best. He was badly hampered early on by the ill-fated Our Conor before staying on strongly up the hill to snatch third. In two further attempts he was unable to really get competitive, fading into fourth in last year’s race. This season he has been running admirably, winning the International Hurdle in December and chasing home Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle. He then followed up with a gritty win at Haydock Park last time out.

Sceau Royal

Sceau Royal will line up against stablemate Yanworth again in the day one Festival feature. Alan King said of the five-year-old: "I'm very happy with him. He's got a fair bit to find and my feeling was that if he could't beat Yanworth at Wincanton he can't beat him again but we'll see." Sceau Royal finished third to Yanworth in the Kingwell Hurdle putting behind him a disappointing run in the Fighting Fifth. Connections admit he is an outsider but with his rating they may as well take their chance.

Wicklow Brave

Wicklow Brave has not raced since trailing home near the back in the 2016 Melbourne Cup and has not been seen over hurdles since finishing third to Identity Thief in the 2015 Fighting Fifth. In the meantime he has won the Group One Irish St Leger and going further back he took the 2015 County Hurdle.  Willie Mullins believes his dual-code performer will need soft ground to be seen to full effect.

Yanworth

Yanworth has won seven of his eight starts over hurdles including victories in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton this season. In the Kingwell he beat Ch'Tibello by a length and Sceau Royal by a further length and a quarter. Mark Walsh comes in for the plum ride on the seven-year-old after his regular pilot Barry Geraghty was sidelined through injury.

Petit Mouchoir

He showed an impressive turn of foot in the Ryanair Hurdle to easily dismiss Nichols Canyon and Ivanovich Gorbatov in convincing style. He also won the Irish Champion Hurdle beating Footpad.  Henry De Bromhead’s runner is closely matched with Buveur D'Air on their running at Aintree last year and he has thrived this term. He will be a major player in this.

My Tent Or Yours

Runner-up to Annie Power twelve months ago and events have conspired against him somewhat this season. Two defeats on deep ground can be forgiven and his Kempton run also excused given the tactics employed.  He cannot be written off in this race given that he has been second on all his four starts at Cheltenham.

Ch’Tibello

Dan Skelton’s runner is in the shake-up following a procedure on his breathing. He is a likeable hurdler who has chased home Yanworth on his last two starts at Kempton and Wincanton. His owners believe there's never been a better year to have one that's just below Champion class and are keen to take their chance.

Buveur D’air

The six-year-old has been at the top of the betting on the race since a smooth success at Sandown last month.  He was third in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle behind stablemate Altior and had his novice chasing campaign shelved in favour of a go at this race. Nicky Henderson said on Sunday he felt ‘the pendulum might be swinging’ against the horse with the going appearing not to be overly soft at this stage.

Cyrus Darius

He won a Grade Two hurdle at Aintree's Grand National meeting by ten lengths and is a little bit of an unknown quantity in this race. Cyrus Darius built on his comeback fourth behind The New One at Haydock in January with victory in Kelso’s Morebattle Hurdle by seven lengths. "We think it's worth taking a chance with Cyrus Darius in what looks an open Champion Hurdle," said his trainer Malcolm Jefferson.

Footpad

Footpad, trained by Willie Mullins, chased home Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion Hurdle. In fact he has finished behind Petit Mouchoir twice already this season and it will be a tall order to turn the tables in this race. Third in the Triumph Hurdle last March, Willie Mullins' five-year-old looks the type to be staying on up the hill when the others have cried enough.

Moon Racer

The eight-year-old was a leading fancy for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle on the same afternoon, but connections have decided to chance their arm in this race instead. Moon Racer, the 2015 Champion Bumper hero, is unbeaten in two starts this season, but has not been on a racecourse since he readily claimed the trial race for the Supreme at Cheltenham in November. His trainer David Pipe said: "He's eight years old but, as everyone knows, he's only run six times in his life. It’s a brave decision but it's one that's well worth taking. It's a wide-open race."

Brain Power

His two impressive wins this season came in hotly contested handicaps before Christmas and he travelled exceptionally well in both. He seems to have overcome his earlier jumping problems and attacks his hurdles with more fluency now. It would be a slight worry however that his worst recent run was at Cheltenham and it is highly unlikely he lacked for fitness that day.

Conclusion

It is perhaps not a classic renewal of the Champion Hurdle with some of the leading lights being unable to make the line-up for well documented reasons, but it is what it is and by mid-afternoon on Tuesday there will be a new Champion Hurdler crowned.

Worthy of that esteemed title would be Henry De Bromheads’ grey gelding Petit Mouchoir. The six-year-old is rapidly on the upgrade and his two Leopardstown win this term have had a touch of class about them. Bryan Cooper gets the leg up and he is certainly Gigginstown Stud’s jockey for the big occasion.

Those of you who like to play up the forecast and tricasts may want to include the old stalwarts My Tent Or Yours and The New One in your permutations. Their solid previous Cheltenham form will count for a lot in the closing stages of the race.

Selection: Petit Mouchoir.