The Champion Hurdle is the big race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival and, after the defection of Faugheen and Arctic Fire, 12 runners go to post with a chance of landing what at one stage looked an unlikely Champion Hurdle victory.
4 of the last 10 favourites have obliged (3 of which were trained by Willie Mullins), whilst Nicky Henderson has also trained two winners in the last decade. Ruby Walsh rode all 3 of the Mullins winners, whilst Barry Geraghty has ridden two of the last 7 winners. Winners have been aged between 5 and 9, though only one 5-year-old has won in the last 30 years – so here’s our analysis and tip.
Camping Ground 25/1
Mightily impressive two starts ago at Cheltenham over 2½ miles on heavy ground, and officially top-rated, though has to concede 7lb to Annie Power who is rated only 1lb lower. Amazingly, he’s also tried 3-miles and chasing in his 3 starts this season, but he can’t be ruled out as he’s won on the forecast ground in France.
Beaten by the New One at Kempton, and it will be a surprise if this 5-year-old trouble the judge. Barry Geraghty also jumps ship to ride My Tent Or Yours.
Identity Thief 7/1
His Fighting Fifth win from Top Notch hasn’t been massively franked by the runner-up, and was beaten fair and square by Nicholls Canyon when they met. Might appreciate the better going.
Lil Rockerfeller 40/1
Improving all the time for very inform trainer, but was readily outpaced by Camping Ground here earlier in the year, and suspicion that a longer trip would suit him better.
My Tent Or Yours 11/1
Nicky Henderson has nursed several fragile types back to health to win the Champion Hurdle, and his second place in the 2014 Champion Hurdle was a decent effort. Likes to do it on the bridle though, and not raced for two years.
Nicholls Canyon 13/2
Started the season by becoming the only horse to have beaten Faugheen, and has beaten Identity Thief since. Made a terrible mistake last time when only third in the Irish Champion Hurdle and must have every chance. Ruby Walsh does ride Annie power though, and he perhaps wasn’t at his best at last year’s festival.
Peace And Co 25/1
Looked like he could be a future world beater when winning his first two starts last year, but has looked nothing like the same horse this time around. Could bounce back on better going, but the form of his wins hasn’t worked out that well either.
Sempre Medici 25/1
The Mullins third string shouldn’t be good enough on all known form, and he’s been beaten on both his starts at Cheltenham.
Sign Of A Victory 100/1
Was beaten by a couple of today’s rivals at Christmas, and has never run at Cheltenham before.
The New One 6/1
Unlucky loser of 2014 Champion Hurdle, and was suffering a back injury when only fifth last year. Stable going well recently though, and is a 5 time course winner.
Top Notch 18/1
Ran Identity Thief close in the Fighting fifth, but connections have always said he’s better on softer ground. Was no match for Camping Ground here earlier in the season, but could have had an off day.
Annie Power 5/2
Winner of 13 of her 15 starts, though she’s actually beaten little of note over 2-miles. However, her reputation and her powerful connections means she’ll probably start favourite, and she’s weighted to win getting the mares 7lb allowance.
Whilst the race is much more of a betting medium with Faugheen absent, it’s certainly not an easy puzzle to solve with any certainty. Five year-olds have a poor record, so we can hopefully dismiss the chances of Hargam, Lil Rockerfeller, Peace and Co and Top Notch, whilst Sempre Medici and Sign Of A Victory don’t look good enough. Camping Ground is left out because he’s shown his best form on heavy ground, whilst Identity Thief has been beaten by Nicholls Canyon, and My Tent Or Yours has been absent for two years. That leaves us with Annie Power, Nicholls Canyon and The New One and, as Annie Power isn’t an each-way price, and Nicholls Canyon didn’t run up to his best at last year’s festival – I’m prepared to give The New One another chance.
The New One each-way @ 6/1 (Various bookmakers)