Below is my Ante Post Preview and Tips for the 2017 Champion Hurdle, run over two miles at Cheltenham, on Tuesday March the 14th. If you want my best bets for each day of the 2017 festival you need to subscribe to my Cheltenham 2017 Email List. Over the four years since this site was launched my Cheltenham Tips have posted a profit of +274 Points, for a remarkable ROI of +61%.
With the winners of the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Champion Hurdle ruled out with injury, this year’s renewal looks well below par at this stage, with the result that Buveur Dair who started this season novice chasing, is just 7/2 favourite for it. Buveur Dair won his first two hurdle races last season, before coming third, beaten eight and a half lengths in the Supreme Novices at last year’s festival. He had no excuses to my eye, but it was still a decent run.
You could argue that Buveur Dair improved a decent chunk when beating Petit Mouchoir by a neck at Aintree a few weeks after that Cheltenham run, with the pair eight lengths clear, but that would be based on what the second has done this season, rather than what he looked capable of doing last season, and while they were clear of the rest, it wasn’t that good a race really. The second and third both got beat at Punchestown, and while the fourth, North Hill Harvey won the Greatwood this season, he was only rated 141, and always looked like the type who could do better than he’d shown last season. All told his form last season just doesn’t add up to Champion Hurdle winner, and while horses can, and often do improve in their second season, he’s priced up as if he’s already taken a big jump forward, yet in winning two small field novice chases and a hurdle at Sandown last time, all he’s really proven is he still has four legs and a tail.
Petit Mouchoir seemed exposed as just short of the top novices last season, and would have been a big price for the Champion Hurdle over the summer. He was switched to the Henry de Bromhead yard and has improved this season though, looking set to go close when falling in the Fighting Fifth, before easily beating Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown at Christmas. Last time he got into a duel with that same rival from a long way out, and it softened him up a bit, in the end he was all out to hold the closing Footpad by a length. He jumps well, and has a good attitude, but that form is a good way short of what you’d expect of a second favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
Yorkhill is not even entered at this stage, but can be supplemented, and with his trainer recently ruling out Faugheen from the race, there must be a good chance he will follow Buveur Dair’s lead in switching from novice chasing, to try to win the top hurdling prize. Yorkhill went to Cheltenham last season unbeaten after winning two bumpers and two hurdles, lining up for the Neptune as second favourite to Yanworth, who was unbeaten over hurdles.
Yorkhill took a fair hold for most of the trip, indeed he was still taking a pull after landing over the second last, and when a gap appeared up the inside of the leaders Ruby gave him a brief push to go through it. Yorkhill quickened instantly, shooting to the front and from that point on the race was over. He ran around a bit on the run in, meaning the margin at the line was only a length and a half over Yanworth, but while ‘idling’ and ‘doing little in front’ are some of the most abused phrases in racing, it would be understating things in this case, and if held onto longer I think Yorkhill would have won with his mouth open.
Everything he’s ever done suggests Yorkhill is a two miler. He’s always wanting to go faster over further, it was blinding speed, not stamina that won him the Neptune, and he’s shaped the same in his other races too. The fact he’s favourite for the JLT this year, is more to do with his trainers obsession with keeping his stars apart, and while Yorkhill would be good enough to win that race over a trip past his optimum, his other recently ruled out Arkle contender Min, likely wouldn’t be.
Yorkhill went on to do an awful lot wrong at Aintree, but still won. and while he got beat at Punchestown he clearly wasn’t right. In two chases this season he looks as good as ever, and while he’s undoubtedly a little quirky, it’s this quirkiness that’s means he likely has plenty more to give when the right circumstances present themselves. A fast run two miles, over either hurdles or fences is very likely to show him in his best light, and he could be very good indeed.
Yanworth was one of last seasons top novices, but while he didn’t get a great ride at Cheltenham, his jockey bringing him very wide, he was well beaten by Yorkhill, and unlike that one, he didn’t look like he’d benefit from a drop back to two miles. In winning a grade two at Ascot over two miles and three and the Christmas Hurdle over two miles this season, he hasn’t done much to negate that view either. He was off the bridle a long way out at Kempton, and it was only his owners My Tent Or Yours seemingly being sacrificed for his benefit, that meant the race was turned into a good test, and he came through to beat the softened up The New One by just over three lengths. If anything that performance confirmed he’s not Champion Hurdle standard, and the fact he’s only 5/1 for the race shows how poor the likely field is.
Brain Power was a decent novice last season without setting the world alight, and he was well beaten off a mark of 145 in the Greatwood on his first start after a summer break. He was since easily won handicaps at Sandown, and more recently a valuable event at Ascot, off 142 and 149 respectively, and while even an average Champion Hurdle is a big step up in class for him, he does seem to be improving, and could come on again. He will need to though, and it would be a slight worry that his worst recent run was at Cheltenham, as he was unlikely to lack for fitness that day with it being a good prize.
Jezki won the Champion Hurdle back in 2014, but was only fourth the following year. He seemed to appreciate the step up to two and a half miles when winning the Aintree Hurdle and stayed three miles well enough to win the stayers race at Punchestown that season. That was April 2015, and injury kept him off the track until a recent comfortable win at Navan in a conditions hurdle over two miles. All that really proved though was that he was in good health, and he’d need to better the bare form of that win by a long way to win another Champion Hurdle.
Vroum Vroum Mag is a remarkably consistent and versatile mare, winning five graded chases before going back over hurdles in December 2015. She has won grade one hurdles over two miles and three miles, and as is often the case with such horses it’s their superior ability that allows them to be so versatile. It’s likely her best trip lies somewhere between the two. She certainly seems stretched by three miles, all out in the end after cantering to the front over that trip at Leopardstown at Christmas. She was very laboured when winning a mares race at Doncaster last time, and would need a huge jump on that to contend in this,
The New One was a better horse a few years ago, and didn’t manage to win a Champion Hurdle then, and I really can’t see him doing it now, even in a poor year. Horses like Superb Story would need to find plenty to figure too, and while Apples Jade has some very decent form in the book, with the potential to do better yet, she is another likely to prove better over further than two miles, and the Mares Hurdle is her likely Cheltenham target.
Sutton Place is another that would need to be supplemented, and he is a very promising horse, winning both his hurdle starts last season, before beating Supasundae by nearly eight lengths at Naas recently. He looked to have extra in hand, and could easily be top class. On the negative side he was nudged along a good way out that day on soft ground, and may not be pacy enough for a decent ground Champion Hurdle. He also has to prove himself on better ground, and if his connections thought he was a Champion Hurdle contender before that Naas run it’s highly unlikely he’d have gone off at 4/1 to beat Supasundae and Ivan Grozny.
I don’t think Nichols Canyon or Footpad are good enough, and nothing else stands out as a likely winner either. As I suspected before I started this piece, I’ve pretty much ruled out anything currently entered as not up to much, or a poor price. If nothing is supplemented then anything can win it, but while it seems highly unlikley they’ll run, both Douvan or Altior would start odds on to beat those currently set to face the starter.
Indeed it would be fascinating to see Douvan attempt the Champion Hurdle/Champion Chase double. Yes it’s a big ask, and you’ll hear the usual crap about doing the best for the horse, but if that was the goal then they should just be put out in a field, and they’d always run over their correct trip, instead of different races to avoid stable companions. So while connections often spout the ‘best for the horse’ line, what they really mean is best for themselves, and asking a horse to run twice in two days is not exactly cruelty to animals. Yes they’re championship races, but plenty of horses have won two days on the trot with far less in hand of their rivals than Douvan would have. He would be far more likely to win both races on the bridle, than to suffer any ill effects from such a task, and it’s very rare a horse would have such a good chance, I’d rate him about 36% for the double if his connections indicated it was on, to achieve what would be one of the greatest ever sporting achievements, and it is a sport after all.
Douvan attempting that double is very likely pie in the sky given his connections, but Yorkhill switching is far more likely, and if there is to be a top class winner of this years Champion Hurdle, than it is very likely going to be him. A fast run race with a bit of cover would be perfect for him, and he could be totally different league to the rest of these. The best non runner no bet quote is 3/1, but if backing him now I’d prefer to take the 11/4 NRNB with Bet 365, who are also going best odds guaranteed. The final field for this race is far from certain, and while Yorkhill could go off shorter than 11/4 if lining up, he’s just as likely to be bigger, so I’d like the BOG offer onside too.
2017 Champion Hurdle – Ante Post Tips
4 PT Win Yorkhill at 11/4 BOG with Bet 365