Champion Hurdle: Preview of Cheltenham Festival’s opening day highlight

The Cheltenham Festival begins on Tuesday and, among a number of opening day highlights, there is a fiercely-competitive Champion Hurdle to look forward to.

An unusually large field goes to post trying to win the two-mile crown and most of them have some kind of chance in a year when no undoubted star has emerged, and in a race which sadly features no defending champion after the tragic death of shock 2019 hero Espoir D’Allen.

With 2017 and 2018 winner Buveur D’Air absent through injury as well it will mean a new name going on the trophy on Tuesday afternoon.

  • Cheltenham Festival – Day One tips from Lewis Jones
  • Latest Cheltenham prices from Sky Bet

Read on for my thoughts on each of the runners…

BALLYANDY (Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies; Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies)
Recent form: -64231

Caught Pentland Hills on the line to win the Champion Hurdle trial at Haydock and seems sure to benefit from the strong pace here. Will be coming up the hill stronger than a fair few if this turns into a test of stamina rather than speed – not ruled out among the more likely outsiders. Rating: 8/10

CALL ME LORD (Jockey: James Bowen; Trainer: Nicky Henderson)
Recent form: 73-212

Beat Ballyandy (just holding on) in the International Hurdle but has since disappointed at Sandown, which has always been one of his favourite courses. One who might not prefer this turning into a slog and looks to be the least exciting of four runners from his all-powerful stable. Rating: 4/10

CILAOS EMERY (Jockey: Paul Townend; Trainer: Willie Mullins)
Recent form: 1-11F1

Supplemented for this after winning a trial at Gowran Park, with his novice-chasing career being put on hold for now. Only previous Cheltenham run was poor and not absolutely convinced he deserves his lofty place in the market, but connections are no doubt a big part of that. Rating: 5/10

COEUR SUBLIME (Jockey: Davy Russell; Trainer: Gordon Elliott)
Recent form: 423-13

Second behind Pentland Hills in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle and impressive in winning what was a poor Grade 2 at Down Royal in November. Well beaten by Sharjah since then and, despite being backed for this and having a wind operation, not convinced he is quite Champion class. Rating: 5/10

CORNERSTONE LAD (Jockey: Henry Brooke; Trainer: Micky Hammond)
Recent form: 31-113

Took down dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air (who came back injured) in the Fighting Fifth and only just behind Ballyandy and Pentland Hills at Haydock in January. Likely to be up there with the pace but whether he will get up the hill to the line in front is a big question. Rating: 3/10

DARASSO (Jockey: Mark Walsh; Trainer: Joseph O’Brien)
Recent form: 511-42

Last behind Ballyandy et al at Haydock and soundly beaten by Cilaos Emery at Gowran Park. Looks to be up against it in this lofty company despite some high-profile connections. Rating: 2/10

DARVER STAR (Jockey: Jonathan Moore; Trainer: Gavin Cromwell)
Recent form: 111132

Represents trainer of last year’s ill-fated winner Espoir D’Allen and has gone up more than 50lbs in the handicap since last April. That rise continued last time out when an excellent second to Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle and is another who should be coming up the hill strongly. Rating: 7/10

FUSIL RAFFLES (Jockey: Daryl Jacob; Trainer: Nicky Henderson)
Recent form: 21-11P

Always spoken about as an exciting type by a trainer who would definitely know but was very disappointing in the Christmas Hurdle and is yet to run left-handed in this country – lack of Cheltenham experience a concern and too many questions to answer right now. Rating: 3/10

GUMBALL (Jockey: Richard Johnson; Trainer: Philip Hobbs)
Recent form: -31260

A regular in big handicaps over two miles but this is not one of those races. Could be another pushing the pace but unlikely to be in there swinging with a furlong to run in his recent form. Rating: 1/10

LE PATRIOTE (Jockey: Charlie Hammond; Trainer: Dr Richard Newland)
Recent form: 1-1484

Won the Swinton Hurdle last summer but has barely beaten a rival in two hurdles and a novice chase since. Easily passed over. Rating: 1/10

NOT SO SLEEPY (Jockey: Jonathan Burke; Trainer: Hughie Morrison)
Recent form: 15-110

I liked this horse as a Champion Hurdle outsider since his win at Ascot before Christmas, but that was dulled by a dreadful run in the Betfair Hurdle when he missed the start and couldn’t dominate. Too many other front-runners in this for me to restore my faith in likeable Flat convert. Rating: 4/10

  • Remember, it’s your “Money Back If You Lose” on the Supreme Novices Hurdle when betting with Sky Bet up to £10. An offer well worth taking advantage of. Go here!

PENTLAND HILLS (Jockey: Nico de Boinville; Trainer: Nicky Henderson)
Recent form: 111-52

Triumph Hurdle winner in 2019 but this season has been a disappointing one so far. Seemingly failed to get up the hill behind Call Me Lord here in December and tied up close home when caught by Ballyandy at Haydock. At the prices, I’m happy to leave him alone in possibly sticky conditions. Rating: 6/10

PETIT MOUCHOIR (Jockey: Rachael Blackmore; Trainer: Henry De Bromhead)
Recent form: -44223

Another runner who will want to push the pace and dull the burst of some speedier rivals. Ran a cracker when third in the Irish Champion and form ties in well with Darver Star – they would have a similar chance but this veteran is a much bigger price. Not completely ruled out. Rating: 6/10

SHARJAH (Jockey: Patrick Mullins; Trainer: Willie Mullins)
Recent form: 1B-416

Fancied him for last year’s Champion but his race was ended early when brought down by Buveur D’Air. This year is much different as he comes in on the back of a dreadful run in the Irish Champion Hurdle and is on much softer ground than he would prefer. Rating: 4/10

SILVER STREAK (Jockey: Adam Wedge; Trainer: Evan Williams)
Recent form: 35-132

Third in last year’s Champion and has continued to mix it at top level since, including a second behind Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle. Would be absolutely no surprise to see him in there challenging on the run-in again but falling just short. Rating: 7/10

SUPASUNDAE (Jockey: Robbie Power; Trainer: Jessica Harrington)
Recent form: 271-24

Was only fourth in the Irish Champion Hurdle but that was his first run since May and he travelled noticeably well for a long way. Dropping back from staying trips looks to be a positive move and I’d fancy him to get to the front just after the last hurdle and power clear…at least that’s how it has been playing out in my mind. Rating 10/10

EPATANTE (Jockey: Barry Geraghty; Trainer: Nicky Henderson)
Recent form: 119-11

Christmas Hurdle win over Silver Streak and Ballyandy is probably the best single bit of form this season and the manner of the victory was most definitely eye-catching. Four easy wins out of five since leaving France but the sole concern is that the only defeat came at last year’s Festival, in what has turned out to be a fairly average Mares’ Novice Hurdle. If that is an outlier, clearly goes in with a favourite’s chance. Rating: 9/10

Source: Read Full Article