Cheltenham 2018: Champion Hurdle Odds and Betting Preview
The wait is almost over. Twelve months since the curtain came down on the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, the 2018 renewal is just hours away. Four days of equine excellence will take place at the Gloucestershire track from Tuesday 13th to Friday 16th March as new and potentially old favourites will be enshrined into National Hunt folklore.
The undoubted highlight of the opening day of the Festival is the Champion Hurdle – raced over two miles and half of a furlong – (3,298 meters) – with eight flights of hurdles to navigate over. The Champion Hurdle has a Grade 1 status within National Hunt horse racing and is the most prestigious hurdle event in the jumping calendar.
Some of the hurdling greats have won this race down the years, with Hatton’s Grace (1949-51), Sir Ken (1952-54), Persian War (1968-70), See You Then (1985-87) and Istabraq (1998-2000) all triple winners of the most important hurdling event in racing.
Nicky Henderson, who trained See You Then to all of his victories back in the eighties, saddled-up last year’s winner, Buveur D’Air – who is a short-priced favourite to reclaim his crown once again. Can he win back-to-back? Read on for our thoughts on the big race.
One Horse Race?
Buveur D’Air shot to prominence at last years’ festival with a dominating performance to claim his first Champion Hurdle at juicy odds of 5/1 with a four-and-a-half length win over fellow Henderson inmate, My Tent Or Yours.
Unfortunately, the odds are much more prohibitive on a repeat performance, as Buveur D’Air can be backed at the best price at the time of writing of 8/15. Several bookmakers, including bet365 and SkyBet are top price on the seven-year old, who is looking to emulate recent two-time Champion Hurdle winners, Hardy Eustace (2004-05) and Hurricane Fly (2011 and 2013).
The race favourite has already mopped-up three Grade 1 races this season in facile fashion. Such was the concern of trainer Henderson that his charge has yet to be fully extended this season, Buveur D’Air was sent for a recent racecourse gallop to try and help with his fitness preparations.
You can fully expect the JP McManus owned horse to be fully tuned-up for the race, and barring accidents, Buveur D’Air is a very solid selection to back-up his victory of twelve months previous. McManus and Henderson already hold records for most owner and trainer wins in the race, and it is highly likely that those accolades will extend further come Tuesday afternoon.
The most obvious threat to Buveur D’Air comes in the shape of the 2015 winner of the Champion Hurdle, Faugheen, owned by Susannah Ricci and trained by Irish super-trainer, Willie Mullins. Faugheen – who can be backed at the best odds of 13/2 with MarathonBet – has been beset by injury issues since his victory three years ago – with just seven starts after his former Cheltenham glory.
Faugheen showed his class by taking the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown back in November but was pulled-up over Christmas in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, as his fitness issues looked to have resurfaced. Faugheen returned to action last month by finishing second to Stayers Hurdle hope, Supersundae, in a performance that hardly showed his former sparkle.
At 10 years of age, it is highly likely that Faugheen’s best days are behind him, but if there are any chinks in the armour of Buveur D’Air, then it may well be the Mullins’ charge who can take advantage.
Three-times previous Champion Hurdle Runner-up My Tent Or Yours will have yet another crack at being the bride instead of the bridesmaid at Cheltenham, and is very worthy of each-way consideration at excellent odds of 14/1 with William Hill and Sport Pesa.
After being held by a neck from Jezki in 2014, My Tent Or Yours was well-held in second place behind Annie Power (2016) and Buveur D’Air last year, so it is difficult to form a strong case for the 11-year-old to claim victory, however his excellent Cheltenham record and his ability to perform on all types of ground conditions, make him a strong contender for place calculations.
Willie Mullins has three other potential runners in the shapes of Yorkhill (12/1 William Hill), Wicklow Brave (16/1 Unibet and 888Sport) and Melon (16/1 Wiliam Hill) – who all have serious questions to answer.
Yorkhill was expected to be campaigned over fences this season but jumping issues at the highest level have curtailed those plans. The former Ballymore Novice Hurdle and JLT Novice Chase winner has excellent previous festival form however and cannot be completely ruled out.
Wicklow Brave is another mercurial talent, who can often refuse to start his race with the rest of the field, but on a going-day when the nine-year-old decides to race, then his talent is unquestioned. Melon was sent off favourite for the 2017 Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, but the form he’s shown so far does not stand up to Grade 1 level in open company.
Alan King has recently supplemented Elgin to a cost of £20,000 for the opportunity to take his chance in the Champion Hurdle following his Grade 2 win at Wincanton’s Kingwell Hurdle last month. Elgin is currently a 20/1 chance with Wiliam Hill and considering the fact of his supplementing, that can be deemed as a tip in itself. King himself, knows what it takes to train a Champion Hurdle winner in Katchit who stormed to victory at 10/1 back in 2008.
Buveur D’Air ticks all the right boxes in my view and looks to be a very likely winner of the 2018 Champion Hurdle. He looks to have improved since his victory from last year and could prove to be very hard to beat.
Each-way possibles include My Tent Or Yours and Elgin, who could fill in the placings behind the firm favourite.