Comrades in arms, we are almost there. The Cheltenham Festival is now less than a week away at the time of writing – indeed in less than week we will all have made it to the halfway point of the Cheltenham Festival 2018.
Before we get stuck into my Champion Hurdle preview JP has asked me to remind you that you can access more previews and a whole raft of other useful stuff with info on tickets, accommodation, night life, race schedule and more here: Cheltenham Festival 2018.
We know have a very strong idea of the final field for the Champion Hurdle on Tuersday, which the market expects to be won for the second year by Buveur D’Air. The defending Champion was brilliant when taking last year’s edition, and three of the horses he had in his wake have since dominated the novice chase division to boot.
Given that exodus, he hasn’t had much competition this season – well none – which some might suggest is a worry, although he only had the one hurdles run last year before this and it didn’t prevent him from taking apart what looks a stronger field. However, we know all of this, and he’s probably short to recommend before the day, where you might get a bigger price if any bookmakers try to take him on (or enhance him in the morning).
Faugheen’s return in November had tongues wagging and fans dreaming of an incredible battle between two Champions, but the nature of his bounce at Leopardstown suggested a horse who had lost the spark of previous years, and whilst his run in the Irish Champion Hurdle was a creditable one, it appeared to confirm that suspicion and it appeared that there was nothing more to give there.
Opposition compared to last year already appears thin, but it’s easy to forget that My Tent Or Yours was a fine and clear second in what appeared to be a stronger renewal last year and his one run this season saw him fight incredibly hard in ground that was perhaps softer than he wanted, and that continued a brilliantly consistent run of efforts which saw him finish runner up at the three major festivals last year.
The better the ground, the better his chances and he’s comfortable off both a fast and slow gallop, with Aidan Coleman having built a fine rapport with his charge. He is 6lbs worse off with Melon from the International Hurdle, but he found more than the Mullins charge that day and appears to come alive in the spring, whilst appearing to be one of the most reliable horses in the field.
Yorkhill has been mooted as an option here, but it is worrying that he was so abject in the Dublin Chase and his jumping of hurdles did not convince before he went chasing. A fast run two miles ought to suit but there are too many questions. The removal of the hood could help Melon run better than he did in the Irish Champion and he will certainly get a gallop to aim at, although the form of the Supreme has perhaps not worked out quite as hoped and he’s been outsped up the hill once and outbattled the other time.
Elgin’s connected have stumped up £20,000 to come here and they must be admired, although they are perhaps in a rock and a hard place with regards to his mark. His gutsy defeat of a decent horse in Ch’Tibello giving him 4lbs reads well, although he still needs to find a career best, perhaps by 10lbs, and Ch’Tibello himself has been beaten by much of this field. Mick Jazz took advantage of Faugheen’s blowout to take the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas but was behind him in the Irish Champion Hurdle and this could be a step too far for him (or should on all evidence).
A big priced contender that has caught the eye is Verdana Blue, entered in both this and the Mares’ Hurdle. She was well behind Kalashnikov in the Betfair Hurdle but was travelling as well as any of the horses if not better before coming to a stop in the heavy ground and it’s not impossible she’s a lot better than her mark of 145. This is another leap here, but her form ties in well with Elgin, a convincing winner of the Kingwell Hurdle, and the likely ground and pace should really suit her.
1 pt each/way My Tent Or Yours (10/1 general)
Ante-post – 27 October 2017 for Members
3 pts win Buveur D’Air, 2018 Champion Hurdle (4/1 Sportingbet, 7/2 general)