AN already messy Champion Hurdle market was further muddled when Willie Mullins revealed heavily-fancied Saldier and 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Klassical Dream will not be fit to race at the Cheltenham Festival.
With dual champion Buveur D’Air sidelined with injury and 2019 winner Espoir d’Allen tragically no longer with us, Tuesday’s Championship race is there for the taking.
Heading the betting had been Nicky Henderson-trained Epitante at 10/3 (Sport Nation) after winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, probably the fifth or sixth favourite for this race there’s been in the last 12 months. However, Mullins’ Benie Des Dieux has emerged as a frontrunner after two stablemates pulled out.
Champion Hurdle Market leaders
Bennie Des Dieux 5/2
The Mullins-trained mare holds an entry for the Mares’ Hurdle and that seemed the likely route until news broke of Saldier and Klassical Dreams’ withdrawal.
The impressive nine-year-old has won eight of her nine starts since joining the Mullins team, the only loss being that disastrous fall when leading at the last in the 2019 Mares’ Hurdle, but stills feels too short a price to get seriously involved despite the course and distance form.
A storming 21-length win, leaving Penhill in her trail, during her seasonal reappearance and only entry of the year at Gowran had connections considering supplementing her for the Champion Hurdle instead of a third go in the Mares'. “We haven’t had a discussion about it, but just given how open the Champion Hurdle is, you would have to think about it if she is a two-miler,” said Rich Ricci.
With just one Grade One win under her belt and a ninth-placed finish in her only outing at Cheltenham, the 2019 Nation Hunt Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, there’s no real need to get too excited about Epatante.
The highest rated horse she has beaten is Verdana Blue, officially rated 162, which suggest there’s work to be done for Epatante to be a serious contender in a very competitive field. This certainly is not one of the favourites to back at Cheltenham.
Pentland Hills 5/1
Like most horses in this race, Pentland Hills has had a turn to head the betting for this renewal, but what early confidence there was in the Henderson-trained five-year-old has likely vanished after a tricky winter.
Failing to get off the mark when finishing fifth at Cheltenham in December and being beaten by Ballyandy, yes Ballyandy, by a nose at Haydock in January suggests your money could be better off elsewhere.
Willie Mullins said Sharjah’s disappointing performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle over Christmas was nothing to be concerned about and simply “out of character”.
Finishing 11 lengths behind the winner, Honeysuckle, off 2/1 caused a huge drift in his odds, which probably makes him far more interesting as a bet.
Best of the rest
Coeur Sublime (18/1 Sport Nation) looks a good shout, but is a bit of an unknown entity. He bolted up at Royal Down in November but didn’t get close to that form in December at Leopardstown, where Davy Russell reported there may have been problems during that run.
Ballyandy (18/1 Sport Nation) seemed to be something of a throwback horse in a relatively young field, but the nine-year-old proved at Haydock this campaign isn’t just for the nostalgia as he beat Pentland Hills on the line.
Silver Streak (22/1 Sport Nation) is also worth considering after finishing just five lengths behind Epitante at Kempton.
Nicky Henderson talked up Fusil Raffles (16/1 Sport Nation) far more than he did Epitante over Christmas, so perhaps if he hasn’t been pulled up by Nice De Boinville at Kempton we might have a different ante-post favourite. This is definitely a class horse, a brilliant win over Fakir D’oudairires late last season confirmed this, but there is a genuine question over fitness.
Trainers to look out for
Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have dominated the race in recent years, winning eight of the last 11 renewals. Their entries are: Benie Des Dieux (possible), Sharjah, Aramon, Call Me Lord (Henderson), Epatante, Fusil Raffles, Pentland Hills and Verdana Blue.
Of the nine previous winners, seven horses have finished first following undefeated seasons. Epatante and Benie Des Dieux are the only entries with this form.
Latest Champion Hurdle odds from Sport Nation
- Benie Des Dieux – 5/2
- Epatante – 11/4
- Honeysuckle – 4/1
- Pentland Hills – 5/1
- Envoi Allen – 11/2
- Sharjah 11/1
- Abacadabras – 16/1
- Darver Star – 16/1
- Fusil Raffles 16/1
- Ballyandy – 18/1
- Call Me Lord – 18/1
- Thomas Derby – 18/1
- Samcro 18/1
- Coeur Sublime – 18/1
- Supasundae 18/1
- Petit Mouchoir 22/1
- Silver Streak – 22/1
- Verdana Blue – 25/1
- Apples Jade – 28/1
- Cornerstone Lad – 33/1
- Felix Desjy – 33/1
- Darasso – 50/1
Honeysuckle and Benie Des Dieux head the markets, but there is always a chance that they switch to the Mares’ Hurdle instead, which means now if the time to back another entry because their odds will significantly shorten should the duo drop out.
It’s an open field out there and don’t be surprised if the winner goes off a price well into the teens or twenties.
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