At the start of the 2016/17 National Hunt season, it was around even-money that the Champion Hurdle would be won by either the 2015 Champion Hurdler Faugheen or the 2016 Champion Hurdler Annie Power. However, with less than 5-weeks to go to the race itself, the two Willie Mullins ex-champions have been scratched from the race.
Amazingly, and inconceivably, Buveur Dair now heads the market at a best-priced 7/2 having been as big as 50/1 with the bookies, though it was hard not to be impressed by the way he reverted to hurdles to win at Sandown on Saturday, be it from horses with no Champion Hurdle aspirations. His form at last year’s festival behind Altior and Min also looks strong in light of their subsequent efforts, though the latter now also misses the festival, and Altior looks sure to remain over fences despite possibly having this race at his mercy if connections had a change of heart. However, the big negative over the favourite is Barry Geraghty has yet to fully commit to riding him, as he also has the choice of JP McManus’ other possible runners in Yanworth and Jezki, with the latter already a Champion Hurdle winner. Meanwhile, Buveur Dair’s Trainer Nicky Henderson could also cloud the issue by saddling the likes of Brain Power, My Tent Or Yours and L’ami Serge.
The Irish challenge is just as cloudy, with only Irish Champion Hurdler Petit Mouchoir definitely being aimed at the race. Willie Mullins also has four possible challengers in Yorkhill, un Des Sceaux, Vroum Vroum Mag and Nicholls Canyon, though the more likely target for the first three are the JLT Chase, Ryan Air Chase and the Mares Hurdle. Nicholls Canyon could certainly turn-up as owner Graham Wylie has Shaneshill for the Stayers Hurdle and, whilst he has something to find with Petit Mouchoir on this year’s form, it’s worth remembering that he was third in the race last year. Another Irish possible is Apples Jade and, whilst she could run with credit, the Mares Hurdle also looks a more likely target with owners Gigginstown also owning Petit Mouchoir.
There are certainly lots of imponderables, however the one horse that seems to have been completely forgotten about is Sceau Royal. Alan King’s horse was 12/1 earlier in the season after winning his first two races, and he’s one horse that would really appreciate genuine Spring ground come March. He’s also a best-priced 33/1 with Bet365 and, as they’re offering non-runner-no-bet and best-odds-guaranteed – we’ll get our money back if his trainer opts to run him in a handicap instead.
2017 Champion Hurdle Prediction
Sceau Royal 1 Point Win @ 33/1 (Bet365 – Non-Runner No Bet + BOG)