In this part we look at the Championship Hurdle races. All 3 look to have favourites that could be very hard to beat.
This race revolves all around Faugheen and he has been priced up accordingly with all of his rivals looking to be aimed at placing behind him.
Faugheen is the reigning champion having won this race last year having previously won the Neptune Novices Hurdle the year before. Having been unbeaten at the beginning of the season it was a huge shock when he was turned over by his stablemate Nichols Canyon at Punchestown in the Morgiana Hurdle in a race in which Nichols Canyon was allowed to make the running and Ruby Walsh has blamed himself for the defeat. After this defeat he was available at as big as 11/10 for the Champion Hurdle. Faugheen then came across to England to run at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle which he won last year and with nothing of the quality of Nichols Canyon in against him he made all and won very easily from The New One who surely needs stepping up in distance. A rematch at Leopardstown in January against Nichols Canyon then materialised although it wasn’t much of a match as this time Faugheen made all and won by 15 lengths from Arctic Fire who stayed on past Nichols Canyon who paid the price for trying to go with Faugheen. He should take all the beating and looks to be the strongest of the Mullins hotpots.
Arctic Fire is next in the betting after finishing 2nd at Leopardstown behind Faugheen. He has now finished 2nd to Faugheen 3 times (beaten 1 ½ lengths, 8 lengths and 15 lengths) and it may well be that Faugheen is still improving. Before his 2nd at Leopardstown he was stepped up in distance to 3 miles but this experiment failed to work and he trailed home a well beaten 4th of 5 and that idea was quickly scrapped. Arctic Fire is clearly very talented and with no Hurricane Fly and Jezki in the Champion Hurdle it makes his challenge a bit easier as taking them 2 out he has only been beaten by Faugheen over this distance since December 2014. If Faugheen makes it a true test again then he may well be staying on past all those that attempt to go with Faugheen and a place is well within his compass.
Nichols Canyon was 3rd in the Neptune Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015 before winning at Aintree beating Parlour Games impressively. After then winning again at Punchestown he put himself towards the top of the Novice Hurdlers from last season. Making his reappearance this year he was entered in the Morgiana Hurdle where he had to face Faugheen. Allowed to lead he put his stamina to good use and beat Faugheen despite reportedly having been outclassed in a workout earlier that week. With this win under his belt he was sent to Leopardstown for the Ryanair hurdle where he was sent off a short 2/5 but this time sat just behind the leader and after a mistake at the 2nd last looked in trouble. To his credit and a fantastic Ruby Walsh drive he picked up and got back up the inside and ended up winning going away. The pair pulled clear of the other 2 including Windsor Park who had beaten Nichols Canyon at Cheltenham. After winning he was in against Faugheen again for the Irish Champion Hurdle and this time Faugheen made all the running and with Nichols Canyon trying to go with him, he ended up paying the price and fading back to 3rd. It looks like to be at his best over 2 miles he will need to lead but whether he will be allowed to do that at Cheltenham against Faugheen is doubtful and if Nichols Canyon tries to keep up Faugheen then we may find he fades again late on.
Identity Thief is next in having improved this season with 2 victories to his name. His first win at Down Royal was a decent effort when beating the 136 rated Mare Whiteout. He followed that up with a win at Newcastle in the Fighting Fifth when beating Top Notch by a neck. How good this form is however is questionable as Top Notch has since been beaten 21 ½ lengths by Camping Ground who in turn has been well beaten by Thistlecrack. The form of last year’s Triumph Hurdle looks suspect with all 3 that dominated, Peace and Co, Top Notch and Hargam all having failed to win a race this season. After Identity Thief just beat Top Notch he took on Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown and despite running him to 2 lengths nothing went right for Nichols Canyon and not being allowed to lead didn’t help. With it looking unlikely that Identity Thief could reverse the form with Nichols Canyon it’s hard to see him really getting involved here.
The New One has a tremendous strike rate as a hurdler but despite winning the Neptune Novices Hurdle in 2013 at the Cheltenham Festival he has been beaten twice in Champion Hurdles finishing 3rd and 5th in the last 2 years. The New One came back this season with an easy win at Kempton when winning the William Hill Hurdle again before returning to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle. Up against Faugheen he was no match for this horse and was a well beaten 7 length 2nd. Following the same path as last season he was sent to Haydock for a Champion Hurdle trial and although winning he was made to work again like last year by a horse much inferior. Going back to Cheltenham he will be looking to improve on his 5th placed finish from last year which may have been worse than expected due to a kissing spine. If Faugheen makes the running then he may well stay on again and be one of those finishing well but it’s hard to see him catching Faugheen and Arctic Fire who is likely to be raced similarly to The New One but is probably a bit classier.
My Tent Or Yours hasn’t run since finishing 3rd in the Scottish Champion Hurdle when trying to give over a stone to all of his rivals. This was back in April 2014 and injuries and setbacks have meant he hasn’t run since. Before his defeat in the Scottish Champion Hurdle he had finished a neck 2nd to Jezki in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. This was a great result particularly as he was so keen throughout that many thought he would drop away down the final straight. Before that he had beaten The New One at Kempton and Cockney Sparrow at Newcastle and also finished 2nd in the 2013 Supreme Novices Hurdle behind Champagne Fever when once again proving too headstrong for his own good. Now a 9 year old if he hasn’t lost any of his ability then he could well run a big race here particularly if the race is run to suit with Faugheen making it a nice pace. If he can get a run in between now and the Festival and go there with a good confidence booster under his belt then he could well outrun his odds.
It looks very difficult to find a tactic to beat Faugheen except trying to make the running however with Faugheen also liking to do this, you can’t imagine he will give the lead to Nichols Canyon or Identity Thief. If they do end up fighting Faugheen for the lead then they are likely to be put in their place like Nichols Canyon was at Leopardstown. It may be worth racing for 2nd and if something goes wrong with Faugheen then taking advantage. If Faugheen does lead and make it a strongly run race then those who finish well or need a fast pace to run at should be those to look at for e/w alternatives and these are Arctic Fire, The New One and My Tent Or Yours. The New One has something to find with Arctic Fire and it probably leaves just Arctic Fire and My Tent Or Yours as the options.
The Mares Hurdle has a clear favourite in Annie Power whilst the 2nd favourite is Vroum Vroum Mag however whether either or both of these run in this race is yet to be decided.
Annie Power hasn’t run since winning the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown by 10 lengths and this came after falling at the last when looking all over the winner in this race last year. She is head and shoulders above the rest of the Mares however her participation is both undecided due to not having a run and also due to the possible alternative in Vroum Vroum Mag. If a 90% fit Annie Power turned up here then she would surely win if she jumped round safely however connections may also think about running her in the World Hurdle which with the exception of Thistlecrack looks fairly weak this year. She has run in the World Hurdle before when finishing 2nd to More of That but they pulled clear of At Fishers Cross, Zarkandar and Big Bucks.
Vroum Vroum Mag is 2nd in the betting but again due to her participation uncertainties can be backed at as big as 8/1 whilst she is as short as 11/4 in places. Vroum Vroum Mag is unbeaten in her 8 runs in Britain with 6 chase wins to her name and 2 hurdle victories. Having dominated the Mares Chases last season it was interesting to see her switched to hurdles this season and two effortless wins have been gained. This gives her option of the Mares Hurdle however the Ryanair Chase has been touted in recent weeks with Vautour looking to go for the Gold Cup. It’s hard to see the Mares Hurdle not being won by Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci but it’s unclear with which Mare.
Polly Peachum finished 2nd in this race last year after the fall of Annie Power when just failing and losing by a head to Glens Melody when not getting the clearest of runs and having to side step the fallen Annie Power. Since then she has won 2 races and finished a close 2nd on the other when probably being outstayed by Morello Royale. This race back over 2m4f appears to suit and she could well prove to be the best of the English Mares having beaten most in a Listed Mares event at Sandown when giving weight to The Govaness and Fairytale Theatre. A return to Cheltenham should suit and she should run a good race but surely one of the top 2 will outclass her.
Aurore D’Estruval has only had 2 runs this season when finishing a well beaten 4th to Camping Ground but she may have needed the run. She then went to Ascot in a Mares Grade 2 hurdle but was very disappointing finishing 9th and something may well have been amiss. That said even if everything had gone to plan would she have got close to the very talented Vroum Vroum Mag.
Bitofapuzzle is a smart Mare but has been sent chasing this year and after winning easily on chase debut she then unseated at Thurles before being pulled up at Wetherby. With a doubt over her jumping and whether she is good enough against her male counterparts it may be a smart move to revert to hurdles. She finished a close 3rd in this race behind Glens Melody and Polly Peachum when rallying up the hill having tried to make most of the running. She probably got the run of the race and was outpaced before running on again but may struggle if she is harried for the lead this year.
The Govaness is a useful Mare having won 4 times in her career including twice at Cheltenham. She didn’t run in the Mares Hurdle last year and looks to have a bit to find with some of her rivals having been beaten by a head by Polly Peachum (in receipt of 4lb) and then finishing 5th behind Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot. She is a useful Mare but there looks to be others that will be too good for her.
Tara Point could be an interesting runner if she lines up having won 3 of her 4 races to date with only defeat coming behind Vyta Du Roc and Shantou Bob in a Grade 2 Novices Hurdle. After finishing 3rd she reverted back to taking on her own sex and won at Taunton in a race where many hurdles were omitted. She always looked in control of the race and she won by 4 lengths with The Govaness 6 ½ lengths back in 4th. If she is fit then her form is probably closely tied with Polly Peachum and there wouldn’t be much between them.
Annie Power would surely win with a clear round if she ran in this race and the same could be said for Vroum Vroum Mag (if Annie didn’t run). We think that Annie Power should run in the World Hurdle where she would probably only have Thistlecrack to beat and then Vroum Vroum Mag culd win here. Of the rest Polly Peachum looks the safest e/w bet whilst Tara Point could be interesting if she lined up.
This race appears to revolve around Thistlecrack who has been very impressive this season and looks like he will be very hard to beat.
Thistlecrack has been really good since stepping up to 3 miles with only 1 defeat when 2nd by ½ length to Killultagh Vic at Punchestown at the back end of last season. This season he started out by winning the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury with reigning World Hurdler Cole Harden only 3rd and Whisper back in 5th. He was then sent to Ascot for the Long Walk Hurdle where he took on multiple winner Reve De Sivola and Saphir Du Rheu who had reverted back to hurdles but both of those were put in their place with Thistlecrack winning very easily by 8 lengths with a further 12 lengths back to the rest. His most recent run was in the Cleeve Hurdle where once again he travelled well, jumped well and won very easily. He beat Ptit Zig who was also reverting to hurdles after a mixed chase campaign but wasn’t good enough to get Thistlecrack of the bridle and he won as he liked. He looks one of the strongest short priced favourites at the festival.
Vroum Vroum Mag is entered here, the Mares Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase and this looks the least likeliest of races for this talented Mare. Despite remaining unbeaten since coming over from France, these runs have come against her own sex and taking on the geldings will be much harder and her two most recent wins over hurdles don’t look strong enough form to challenge Thistlecrack.
Alpha Des Obeaux has chased home some smart horses in his career so far including Douvan, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire and clearly has ability. After ending last season having chased home Nichols Canyon over 2m4f he was kept at that distance for his return where he met Arctic Fire but was outclassed and could only finish 2nd again. Stepping up in distance looked ideal for his next start on heavy going and he was sent off just 2/1 in the 5 runner race. With Arctic Fire not getting home over 3 miles it was probably disappointing that Alpha Des Obeaux didn’t win and was beaten by a fellow Gigginstown owned horse Prince of Scars. They did however both have Albert Bartlett Hurdle winner Martello Tower behind them. Sent to Gowran Park for his most recent run he once again took on Martello Tower whilst also in the race was At Fishers Cross making his return. He looked a different horse this time round and travelled really well and picked up well after making a mistake 3 out, he galloped clear and won by 11 lengths and looks a chaser in the making. His sire will be hoping for a good Cheltenham with Apple’s Jade, Bristol De Mai and Alpha Des Obeaux all by Saddler Maker.
Cole Harden won the World Hurdle last year having been given a breathing op after finishing 4th in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. After winning at the festival he was turned over at Aintree when finishing 2nd to Whisper at Aintree but it may be that the Cheltenham course suits Cole Harden more. His 2 runs this season haven’t been amazing with a 3rd placed finish to Thistlecrack at Newbury before a well beaten 3rd at Cheltenham behind Camping Ground and Lil Rockerfella however he was beaten in this race in 2015 before his World Hurdle win. Since stepping up to 3 miles he has only recorded two victories and both of these were on good ground with his only other run over 3 miles on good ground being his 2nd to Whisper and it may be that over 3 miles and good ground he can show his Cheltenham Festival form and could now be a bit big at 8/1 in a race where there doesn’t look to be that much strength in depth.
Annie Power finished 2nd in this race in 2014 and then fell in the Mares hurdle at the last when surely going to win in 2015 which means she has never won at the Cheltenham Festival. These are her only defeats on her record and some of her other wins have been very impressive including when beating Zarkandar twice at Ascot and Cheltenham. Her most recent run was back in May 2015 when comfortably beating Analifet to win the Mares Champion Hurdle and against mares she is a class above. Connections are reportedly trying to get a run into her before the festival and if they can then the World hurdle would become an option, if they are unable to get a run into Annie Power then she is likely to go for the easier option of the Mares Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag likely to go for the Ryanair chase.
Aux Ptits Soins made his British debut for Paul Nicholls last year at the Cheltenham Festival and won the Coral Cup by a neck beating Zabana. He hasn’t run since however connections are hoping he can be fit enough for the World Hurdle in just over 4 weeks time. Being by Saint Des Saints he should jump a fence in time but keeping him over hurdles look a good idea this year. Whether his win in the Coral Cup was good enough form to get involved here though is questionable.
Prince of Scars is unbeaten since running over 2m7f or further including when beating Alpha Des Obeaux and Martello Tower at Leopardstown when staying on really well. He does have a high head carriage but it seems that the further they go, the better he is. With Cole Harden in the race and likely to make it a strongly run race, Prince of Scars may be finishing really well and shouldn’t be discounted in this race. He looks a chaser in the meaning and will be better next year over fences.
Martello Tower won the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year when beating Milsean and No More Heroes. He finished 3rd on his return this season behind Prince of Scars and Alpha Des Obeaux before filling the same position behind Alpha Des Obeaux and At Fishers Cross but did make a bad mistake which may have knocked the stuffing out of him and was giving the front pair 7lb. Off level weights, with a clear round at Cheltenham where he has proven he runs well he could well bounce back to his best and he looks overpriced now.
Thistlecrack is going to take all the beating and his form this season looks very good and looks to be one of the strongest favourites at the festival. Cole Harden and Martello Tower both return to Cheltenham where they won last year and this could well bring them back to their best which could see them both run really good races and both look overpriced.
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Part IIII we will be looking at the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup.