This Is The Best Champion Hurdle Ante-Post Bet To Play
Samcro's illness and Buveur D'Air's defeated has shaken up the Champion Hurdle ante-post betting, so it's time to drill down and find the best bet in a very unsteady Cheltenham Festival market.
We've already shown you the key Champion Hurdle trends to focus on when looking for the winner of the Festival's first Championship Race, now Rory Delargy runs his expert eye over the ante-post betting to find there's only one horse for him. . .
First, Please Remember Vautour
Some firms are already offering the NRNB (non-runner no bet) concession, rather than using standard ante-post betting terms, and the question is whether to take bigger odds, or play with the safety net offered, but at reduced prices.
The golden rule is generally only to play NRNB if the horse you fancy is a significant doubt to run, and even then you need to be satisfied that the odds available will be shorter on the day.
It’s not always an easy choice, but as a rule of thumb, the more connections talk about NOT running a horse, while continuing to fork out entry and confirmation fees, the more likely the price is to represent value - as the negativity is often erroneously mirrored in the pricing.
There have been plenty of horses who have won championship events at Cheltenham after their connections have categorically ruled out their participation. Think Vautour in the Ryanair, Binocular in the Champion Hurdle and Kicking King in the Gold Cup. Until they are scratched, they are not out, and that is worth remembering.
Buveur D’Air - The Bid For Three
Buveur D'Air is the obvious starting point having won the last two renewals, and he arguably ran the race of his live to defeat Samcro easily in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in early December before a shock defeat (just the second of his career over jumps) in the Christmas Hurdle.
Kempton was viewed as a penalty kick by most, but the test provided by the sharp 2m at the Sunbury venue is wildly different to that at Cheltenham in March, and it’s rare that the races are won by the same horse in one season.
Buveur D’Air emulated the likes of Lanzarote, Dawn Run, Kribensis and Faugheen by taking both Grade 1 events last season, but had only The New One to beat in 2017, and while he was below that form in going down narrowly to Verdana Blue this time around, it isn’t the disaster which it might appear, and he certainly deserves to be a warm favourite.
Champion Hurdle Trebles
The Champion Hurdle – first run in 1927 - has had five three-time winners:
- Hatton's Grace (1949-51)
- Sir Ken (1952-54)
- Persian War (1968-70)
- See You Then (1985-87)
- Istabraq (1998-2000)
This year, Buveur D’Air will be attempting to become the sixth horse to win the Champion Hurdle three times. No horse has won four times yet, but Istabraq would have been a warm favourite in 2001, only for the meeting to be lost due to the Foot-And-Mouth crisis.
If there is a concern, it is that one of his main strengths has been his slick jumping, but he has made notable mistakes in his last two races. That is more than likely coincidence, but it is often a mark of champions in this division that they jump with great speed and efficiency, leaving little margin for error.
Perhaps the mistakes that have crept in of late are not atypical, and his ability to flick over his hurdles with maximum efficiency has been compromised by some physiological change too small to notice.
He’s always been low and fast over an obstacle, but perhaps he’s getting too low for his own good? To be honest it’s hard to argue strongly that jumping has become an issue for the champion, but there is enough doubt to swerve him at a general price of 6/4.
Laurina - Don't Believe The Hype
Laurina is second favourite in every Champion Hurdle betting list, but cannot be seriously entertained at the current odds, for all she is clearly unexposed and open to progression.
Her victory in the weakest event at the Cheltenham Festival last year must be viewed in context, and while she was the best of the bunch by some way, she had the Trull House Stud (Dawn Run) Mares’ Novice Hurdle run to suit with a useful stablemate sacrificed to provide her the pace that she seemingly needs.
A virtual walkover at Sandown is hardly an ideal prep, and while recognising her talent could burn much brighter yet, she faces a daunting task on paper.
Melon - Flattered By Second
Melon ran well when second to Buveur D’Air last year, but the bald facts are that he has won a maiden hurdle and a weakly-contested Grade 2 from nine starts over hurdles. There have been worse winners of this race, but not many, in truth, and at single-figure prices, he’s another who can be left alone.
Sharjah - Supremely Lacking
Sharjah beat Supasundae and Melon at Leopardstown over Christmas to gain his second Grade 1 success, but is another who has come up short at the Festival, finishing eighth in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season.
He’s clearly improved, but the presence of the reformed chaser Tombstone in the frame of those Grade 1 contests suggests he’s not been achieving a huge amount in races run to suit, and the fact that he has lost seven of his 12 starts over timber militates against him.
Verdana Blue - Fast-Ground Intrigue
Verdana Blye beat Buveur D’Air at Kempton and is thoroughly likeable, but has been beaten off a handicap mark of 151 this season when running to her best, and it’s clear that she has her limitations at the top level, for all a fast-ground Champion would make her an interesting each-way proposition at 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
Apple’s Jade - Absolutely Must Run
Apple's Jade has better credentials than all but the favourite, racking up more than twice as many Grade 1 wins as Buveur D’Air despite being a year younger. It’s true she’s eligible for weaker mares’ events, but her record against her own sex is surprisingly ordinary, and she has taken on all-comers for seven of her top-level wins.
She was devastating in winning the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle for the third consecutive year in December, and while connections have repeatedly talked her down, they would have to be idiots of the worst order not to consider the Champion Hurdle race given its lack of depth.
She is a best-priced 16/1 to win, but 9/1 NRNB, and it’s the latter price which needs to be taken, especially with a run in the Irish Champion Hurdle likely to help determine her target.
If Buveur D’Air misses the race for whatever reason, she will surely run and will start favourite, and if the champion defends his crown, she would still start clear second favourite in form terms, and her price will be much shorter than 9/1.
The idea that she stays too well to win a Champion Hurdle has been proven as nonsense by recent wins in the race for proven stayers Faugheen and Annie Power.
Few horses take my breath away, but Apple’s Jade does, and it is absolutely bizarre that she wasn’t even included in the Champion Hurdle betting after she slammed her rivals in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December.
Her owner’s typical insistence on talking her down after that win should not detract from her form claims, and while I am prepared for the travesty of her being aimed at a so-called weaker race in March, it makes perfect sense to pitch her against Buveur D’Air, who will struggle to concede her 7lb if the pair run to their best form, and 9/1 NRNB with Bet365 is simply too big.
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