Cheltenham - At The Races

15:30 Cheltenham 12 Mar 2019

Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4YO plus)

Winner £253,215 - 10 ran

4
Weighed In

Last year’s race

Buveur D'Air
  • Winner: Buveur D'Air
  • Jockey: N D Fehily
  • Trainer: N J Henderson
  • Owner: Mr John P McManus
  • Age: 4/6 Weight: 11st 10lb
  • Starting Price: 5/1
  • Season Form Figures: 111
  • Previous Best: 1st - Champion Hurdle (Grade 1), Cheltenham (March 2018)

For any championship race at the Festival, revisiting the previous season’s renewal is the starting point for many and last season’s Champion Hurdle has featured nine of the last 19 winners. No unplaced horse from the previous year’s running has won for 25 years and a total of 23 of the last 34 winners finished in the first four at last season’s Festival. At the time of writing, it is still possible that the Champion Hurdle could attract four winners from last season’s Festival; Buveur D’Air, Laurina, Samcro and Summerville Boy.

Buveur D’Air will attempt to join the likes of Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq as a triple Champion Hurdle winner and, with as many as seven Champion Hurdles already banked, he is stabled at the perfect address of Seven Barrows for the race and won last season’s contest despite not being at his best. His hurdling wasn’t as super slick as when he won the 2017 Champion Hurdle which meant that he had to show real fight and determination in wearing down Melon. His owner, J P McManus, is also chasing an eighth Champion Hurdle.

Unlike for the previous two seasons, Buveur D’Air has tasted defeat having been caught by stablemate, Verdana Blue, in the Christmas Hurdle at odds of 1/4. Winners of that prize have generally struggled in the Champion Hurdle as only Kribensis, Faugheen and Buveur D’Air have doubled up in the Champion Hurdle from the last 26 to try and Verdana Blue does look more suited to flat courses.

The third Seven Barrows contender is the International Hurdle winner, Brain Power, and that has been another race where the winner has an unremarkable strike rate in the Champion Hurdle – the Grade 2 race in December placing more emphasis on stamina being run over half a furlong further, on the stiffer of the two courses and usually on more testing ground. Beaten horses in the International Hurdle actually have a superior record to the winner in the Champion Hurdle but Brain Power very much looks the one to take from this season’s running.

The Fighting Fifth in which Buveur D’Air destroyed the Ballymore and Supreme winners, Samcro and Summerville Boy looking better than ever, has been a good pointer of late. Buveur D’Air also successfully kicked last season’s off in that Grade 1 at Newcastle. Before then, the Fighting Fifth winner placed in four successive Champion Hurdles between 2011-2014, Katchit improved on his third place to win the big one in 2008 which sparked off a notable revival as the 2009 and 2010 Champion Hurdlers then also ran in the North’s premier 2m hurdle. I say revival as prior to Katchit, no Fighting Fifth participant had won the Champion Hurdle for 18 years.

The Fighting Fifth in which Buveur D’Air destroyed the Ballymore and Supreme winners, Samcro and Summerville Boy looking better than ever, has been a good pointer of late.

Of those with a realistic chance, Supasundae is the senior candidate at the age of nine. Since Sea Pigeon won at the age of 11 in 1981, Royal Gait, Rooster Booster and Hurricane Fly have won at the age of nine but when a contender reaches the age of ten for any of the championship races at Cheltenham then we should start to get twitchy and only two horses have won aged 10+ in Champion Hurdle history and, significantly, they were defending title holders.

At present, Laurina is the shortest-priced, Irish-trained contender to give them a fourteenth Champion Hurdle going back to 1998 and become the fourth successful mare since 1984 following Dawn Run, Flakey Dove and the same stable’s Annie Power. Like the latter, Laurina will receive a 7lb mares’ I’m going to say ‘advantage’ rather than ‘allowance’ in her particular case just looking at her physique (Paul Townend described her as stronger than most geldings, as was Annie Power and Dawn Run) which is 2lb more than the 1984 and 1994 winners received.

It is hoped that last season’s Supreme winner, Summerville Boy, can recover in time from the hairline fracture to his off hind that has hindered him this season to take his place in the line up. Sublimity (4th), Jezki (3rd) and Buveur D’Air (3rd) have come on from that contest to win the Champion Hurdle on the corresponding day 12 months later in the last 11 years. In addition, Hors la Loi III, Brave Inca and Binocular contested the Supreme in an earlier season before winning the Champion Hurdle. I dare say that the brilliant Golden Cygnet may have completed the Supreme-Champion Hurdle double had he not suffered a fatal fall two starts later or maybe Browne’s Gazette would have won had he not whipped round at the start or Douvan or Altior would have been triumphant had they not been sent down the chasing route and won the Arkle instead (likewise Vautour and the JLT) but the record books tell us that the last Supreme winner to win the Champion Hurdle the following season was as far back as Bula in 1970/71.

It was the way that Summerville Boy won the Supreme that gives most hope as to why he can be a leading contender as horses who make a mistake as serious as he did two out just don’t recover to win the race. Not only that he also bungled the last flight so he had to start all over again for the second time in a short space of time but he was still able to run down Kalashnikov who wasn’t stopping in front.

The Ballymore won by Samcro has also been a good guide and, similarly, it is hoped that he can recover from his physical problems (deep lung infection) to take his chance. The record of Ballymore winners is actually superior to Supreme winners in the Champion Hurdle, possibly because they don’t go an all-out gallop in that 2m5f contest whereas that is more likely over 2m so the winner has to show a burst of speed to win it more often than not.

Last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner, Farclas, might be the pick of the five-year-olds that also feature Saldier and Espoir D’Allen, but that generation’s record since See You Then won back in 1985 reads one winner (Katchit) from 100 to try. Six five-year-olds have hit the frame from 29 runners in the last 12 runnings however.

The Kingwell Hurdle is ideally positioned 3½ weeks away from the Champion Hurdle for connections to put the final touches to their preparations and was the final prep-race for Hors La Loi III, Katchit and Punjabi since 2002 and Kribensis and Alderbrook during the 1990s. It is now starting to fall out of fashion though.
 
Faugheen took the 2015 Champion Hurdle and in doing so he became just the second horse since Granville Again in 1993 to do so having not run in a recognised trial since the turn of the year.

At a glance summary

Positives
Trained in Ireland or by Nicky Henderson
Owned by J P McManus
Finished in the first four at last season’s Cheltenham Festival
Contested the Fighting Fifth Hurdle
Negatives
Five-year-olds (for win-only purposes)
Aged 10+
Not run during the same calendar year 
Unplaced in last year’s race
Previous Winners
Year Going Ran Winner Draw Age Weight OR Form Last run Trainer (Distance) Jockey SP Time
2018 Heavy 11 Buveur D'Air 7 11 10 - 111-111 38 days N Henderson (51 miles) B J Geraghty 4/6 4:05.00
2017 Good to Soft 11 Buveur D'Air 6 11 10 - 131-111 38 days N Henderson (51 miles) N Fehily 5/1 3:51.00
2016 Good to Soft 12 Annie Power 8 11 3 - 121F-11 27 days W P Mullins R Walsh 5/2 3:45.10
2015 Good to Soft 8 Faugheen 7 11 10 - 1111-11 74 days W P Mullins R Walsh 4/5 3:50.90
2014 Good to Soft 9 Jezki 6 11 10 - 31-1124 44 days Mrs J Harrington B J Geraghty 9/1 3:44.60
2013 Soft 9 Hurricane Fly 9 11 10 - 131-111 44 days W P Mullins R Walsh 13/8 3:59.10
2012 Good 10 Rock On Ruby 7 11 10 - 1223-12 78 days P Nicholls (69 miles) N Fehily 11/1 3:50.10
2011 Good 11 Hurricane Fly 7 11 10 - 131-111 51 days W P Mullins R Walsh 11/4 3:53.60
2010 Good to Soft 12 Binocular 6 11 10 - 113-531 38 days N Henderson (51 miles) A P McCoy 9/1 3:53.90
2009 Good to Soft 23 Punjabi 6 11 10 - 1-111F3 24 days N Henderson (51 miles) B J Geraghty 22/1 4:00.90