Cheltenham 2019: Champion Hurdle Odds and Betting Preview

Cheltenham

For National Hunt enthusiasts, Tuesday 12th March is the second coming of Christmas Day. Next Tuesday sees the commencement of the Cheltenham Festival. Four days, 28 races, and an expected attendance of over 250,000 spectators, as new and existing stars can cement their legacies into National Hunt folklore.

The main event on Tuesday is undoubtedly 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 – due off at 15:30 GMT – 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, has saddled-up recent dual winner of the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’Air – who has the opportunity to enlist within the esteemed company named above as a three-time successor of the race. Buveur D’Air is the current ante-post favourite with the majority of bookmakers to retain his crown once again.

The Henderson treble seeker has stiff opposition this year with the potential inclusions of Apple Jade and Laurina, if the Irish pair are given opportunity to take their chance. Who will come out as the winner? Read on for our thoughts on the big race.

Event Date: 12 March, 2019

Hat-trick bid for Buveur

buveur dair

Buveur D’Air

Following a facile victory which included lowering the colours of the highly-touted Samcro back in November, Buveur D’Air looked to have seen off the leading contenders to the eight-year-old’s Champion Hurdle crown. After the win he went a shade of odds-on with the ante-post books. Things have not quite panned out as planned since. The Newcastle win was the eleventh in succession for the JP McManus owned star, but the Christmas Hurdle defeat to Verdana Blue at Kempton on Boxing Day showed some vulnerability.

Buveur D’Air was dropped back to Listed company at Sandown last month in an easy victory in preparation for next Tuesday’s race and the likely mount of Barry Geraghty can be backed at the best industry price at the time of writing of 9/4 with Black Type.

When looking for the likely winner of the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’Air does tick all the right boxes, has excellent form at the track and is a very quick and economical jumper of his hurdles. The concern is, if his best days are behind him, or if there is simply a better, more unexposed contender in the field.

Time for Apple’s to be top of the tree?

The Irish contingent has a very strong team this year, providing Apple’s Jace and Laurina are decided to take their chance in the Champion Hurdle, however, it does seem highly likely. Arguably, the Emerald Isle’s strongest hope of Grade 1 hurdling glory comes from Apple’s Jade, who can also be backed at 9/4 with William Hill and Unibet.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, Apple’s Jade is one of the most versatile horses in jump racing. Usually contending races over two and a half, to three miles, Apple’s Jade was given the opportunity to take her chance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in early February, with devastating results. The mount of Jack Kennedy took up the running, and he was unchallenged to saunter home by 16 lengths from Supasundae.

Following that victory, owners, Gigginstown House Stud elected for Apple’s Jade to take her chance over two miles at Cheltenham, and although her recent outing was the most visually impressive performance of the season over hurdles at the minimum trip, Apple’s Jade must step up from her last appearance at Cheltenham, in finishing third in the 2018 Mares Hurdle, behind Midnight Tour and winner, Benie Des Dieux. She looks more than capable however.

Unknown quantity

laurina

Laurina

Another mare who is likely to take her chance in the Champion Hurdle is Laurina, as we are still yet to see how good she really is. Unbeaten in six starts for Willie Mullins, Laurina is the dark horse of the race, who could be a danger to all.

Trading at a widely available 4/1 with the likes of Ladbrokes and Betway amongst others, Laurina has admittedly been campaigned at a level below Grade 1 status so far in her career, but the glittering performances the six-year-old has produced, could not be more eye catching. An 18-length victory in last years’ Mares Novices Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, put the hugely talented mare into many notebooks for the future, and Tuesday could be the day where all the potential is finally realised.

Mullins’ triple-handed?

At double figure odds, Willie Mullins has Sharjah (12/1 with William Hill) and Melon (14/1 with Betfred) who both deserve to take their chances in what promises to be a highly competitive renewal of the Champion Hurdle.

Sharjah has won her last two starts in claiming two Grade 1 events including the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown – lowering the colours of the star Faugheen – and the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown in beating Supasundae and Melon in the process. The six-year old finished well down the field in last season’s Supreme Novices Hurdle, but Sharjah has shown nothing but improvement this season, and is a lively outsider.

Melon has hardly been in top form this season with two fourth-placed efforts behind Sharjah and Apple’s Jade so far this season, but the seven-year-old has some excellent Cheltenham form and cannot be wholly discounted. Melon was upsides Buveur D’Air jumping the final flight in last year’s Champion Hurdle and the spring time festival tends to bring out the best of his abilities.

Others to Consider

Nicky Henderson

Nicky Henderson

Despite lowering the colours of Buveur D’Air over the festive period, Verdana Blue is a 16/1 chance with William Hill to gain Champion Hurdle honours. On official ratings, Verdana Blue has fifteen pounds to find with the reigning champion, in what seems a stiff task off level weights.

Another lively outsider could be Nicky Henderson’s Brain Power, who could well outrun his odds of 20/1 with the likes of SportPesa and 888Sport. After an unsuccessful novice campaign over fences last season, Brain Power has reverted to hurdles in 2018/19. Henderson has on several occasions mentioned the huge engine this horse possesses, and this is one of the only horses within the stable who works with the legendary Altior. He is worth considering as an each-way alternative.

Conclusion

This race is difficult to fathom in truth. We have covered all the pros and cons for the major contenders, and I’m going to pin my colours to the mast of Laurina. She is the one horse who has yet to be fully extended to her ability as yet in her career, and I’m prepared to take a chance that she is up to the task here. The seven-pound allowance for Mares is a major advantage, and it is possible that the two, Laurina and Apple’s Jade could be fighting out the finish.

Our Each-Way alternative is Brain Power at 20/1. As already stated, this horse has some serious engine, and he could well be fighting on when others are begging for mercy.

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