Cheltenham - At The Races

15:30 Cheltenham 14 Mar 2017

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

Winner £227,800 - 11 ran

4

2m 87y

Good to Soft

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Weighed In

Runner Profiles

    Andy Gibson's horse-by-horse guide.
  • Thursday 02 March 2017
  • Runner Profiles

The Champion Hurdle betting appears to have had more than its usual share of horses heading up the market in recent weeks. With the withdrawal of the Willie Mullins pair Faugheen and Annie Power, this Grade 1 contest may well be thought of as a substandard renewal in years to come.

Horse profiles

Brain Power

We did not see a lot of him on his last visit to the racecourse in the middle of December. Due to the foggy conditions the visibility had become even worse by the time Brain Power lined up in the last race. From what could be seen he was moving really well in second place and clear of the rest on the turn for home. He maintained a five lengths advantage over the eventual runner up from the second last flight and increased his superiority over the rest by several lengths. I strongly suspect that the runner up on that day, Consul De Thaix, is an extremely well-handicapped horse; consequently, I think there is a good chance that this Ascot form is even better than it reads in the form book.

Previously Brain Power had beaten the same horse on better terms by a narrow margin at Sandown earlier on in that same month. The obvious conclusion to draw from the two results is that Brain Power improved significantly from the first run to the second. He was competing off a mark of 149 on that last day; subsequently, he may need to improve again to be competitive here which is a perfectly plausible possibility.

He is suited by a decent surface which is presumably why he has been kept fresh over the winter months. In recent renewals of this Grade 1 contest I doubt that his handicap form would translate well enough to give him a chance of being competitive in the latter stages. I suspect that this year might be different as there does not appear to be a top-notch contender in the entries standing head and shoulders above the rest of the field. Of course, this may not be how it looks after the race; nevertheless, at this moment in time the 2017 Champion Hurdle appears to be a wide-open contest with several horses, including Brain Power, in with a chance of success.

Video Form
28 Apr 2017:
26 Apr 2016:
21 Feb 2015:

Buveur D'air (FR)

  • 6-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Crillon - History (Alesso)
  • Trained by: N J Henderson
  • Last Race: Aintree, 6 Apr 2017 15:25
  • Result: Won/6, tracked leading pair, went 2nd 7th until after 4 out, 2nd again after 3 out, led before last, shaken up to draw clear flat, eased close home
  • View full form

He is the current favourite for this contest on the back of his recent success at Sandown. He won a two miles listed race on horrid ground in comfortable fashion from a 141 handicapper whilst in receipt of 4lbs. The Champion Hurdle is likely to be run on a very different type of surface and, even though this market response was not difficult to predict it still does not make it right. It merely highlights the weak looking nature of this year's Champion Hurdle. Buveur D’Air obviously has a chance of winning along with a few others; however, he struggled to go the pace in the Supreme last season on a quicker surface and might well trade bigger in running compared with his starting price.

He got up close home to beat Petit Mouchoir on soft ground over two miles at Aintree in April. He looked to need every yard of the trip even on soft ground and appeared likely to be stepped up in distance this season. It was interesting to hear Noel Fehily describe Nicky Henderson’s gelding as being the best jumper of a hurdle he had ever sat on. I doubt he would say the same about the way Buveur D’Air jumped his fences! He was very low over the larger obstacles and certainly left one or two holes in the fences at both Haydock and Warwick. Of course this will be seen as a blessing should he come out on top in the Champion Hurdle.

My diary notes for that Aintree success included the comments:

"The softer ground is clearly a must for him and an extra half mile or more will surely be in his interests next season. He was definitely given a much easier time of it at Cheltenham on the faster surface and his strong preference for cut in the ground is a point worth remembering."

Limini (IRE)

  • 6-y-o; chestnut mare
  • Breeding: Peintre Celebre - Her Grace (Spectrum)
  • Trained by: W P Mullins
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 14 Mar 2017 16:10
  • Result: 3/17, held up mid-division, tracked leaders 4 out, driven to challenge on inside between last 2, not fluent last, soon ridden, kept on and every chance flat, no extra towards finish
  • View full form

The state of the current Champion Hurdle market would suggest that she is very likely to be supplemented for the race. Her recent defeat of Apple’s Jade on heavy ground over two and a half miles at Punchestown was certainly pleasing to the eye. A fast ground competitively run Champion Hurdle will present a very different challenge for Limini, however, and her current odds of about 5/1 surely overstate her chances based on her overall profile. One can completely understand her being supplemented for what appears to be an open looking contest with no stand-out contender. Furthermore, her owner, trainer and jockey have also got Vroom Vroom Mag in line for the Mares’ Hurdle which would be the only alternative race for Limini. Nonetheless, her skimpy price is clearly a lot more to do with the names of her connections rather than due to anything she has achieved on the racecourse.

She may well continue to progress as she is lightly raced and has only got that one recent run to her name this season. In addition Limini is a Cheltenham Festival winner having taken a relatively weakly-contested Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the 2016 festival. It is possible that she will improve enough to be competitive in the finish in the 2017 Champion Hurdle. On what she has achieved thus far, however, I am more than happy to sit back and watch her run rather than get financially involved with her at her current price.

Video Form
22 Feb 2017:
30 Apr 2016:
30 Jan 2016:
16 May 2015:

Petit Mouchoir (FR)

  • 6-y-o; gelding
  • Breeding: Al Namix - Arnette (Denham Red)
  • Trained by: H de Bromhead
  • Last Race: Cheltenham, 14 Mar 2017 15:30
  • Result: 3/11, led, not fluent 4 out, mistake 2 out, driven and headed before last, lost 2nd at hurdle, held in 3rd after, kept on same pace, edged right final 75 yards
  • View full form

I think he pretty much confirmed the quality of his previous success over Nichols Canyon when taking the Irish Champion Hurdle in taking style. One verdict can be a fluke but I think two in a row needs taking notice of. I suspect that he went far too fast for his own good at Leopardstown in this Grade 1 hurdle race judging by the way that he tired on the run in; the way that Footpad made up many lengths on him from two out to the line offers further substance to this possibility. Moreover, his sectional time comparisons with Lets Dance (who won earlier on at the meeting) support the notion that Petit Mouchoir went very quickly from the off and then kicked again from four out to two out before tiring from the second last to the line, at least in comparison with Lets Dance.

If we compare this form literally with Nichols Canyon's run in the Champion Hurdle then there would not be a lot in it between him and Annie Power. How reliable a marker that Mullins horse is, however, is open to plenty of debate. That said Petit Mouchoir looks uncomplicated and will presumably be ridden aggressively in the Champion Hurdle thus offering, at least, a simple in-running trade option.

Video Form
29 Jan 2017:
29 Dec 2016:
26 Nov 2016:
4 Nov 2016:
26 Apr 2016:

The New One (IRE)

He must be a brilliant horse to own and his win to run strike rate remains very high after his latest fighting display at Haydock in late January. A lot went wrong for him on this day and it is to his credit that his battling qualities were still able to save the day.

The runner up, Clyne, was much better then him over three out and the penultimate hurdle and The New One still had the best part of two lengths to make up after a very safe and slow jump over the final obstacle. Ultimately he had just too much pace for the 143 handicapper in second place. Clyne substantiated the form with an excellent third place finish in the Betfair Hurdle behind two top novice hurdlers who are both now rated close to 150 on the approach to the festival.

The New One has won that same Haydock race three years running whilst having to battle hard to beat an inferior horse rated around the mid 140 mark on each occasion. I think he wins despite the conditions rather than because of them.

Given his unsuitability for those testing conditions I do not think that this is the day to be judging his Cheltenham Festival chances on. He has been beaten by precisely eight and three quarter lengths in each of the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle and would have been looking at a similar beating if one of the two Willie Mullins hotpots had turned up in the best of form (Annie Power and Faugheen). The race looks very different now with Yanworth heading the market as The New One looks more than capable of competing on equal terms with that Alan king gelding.

Those two horses met in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day. The New One was hassled in front by My Tent Or Yours throughout the contest which opened the door for Yanworth to come through late and snatch the prize. My Tent Or Yours was clearly ridden in such a manner to suit Yanworth rather than to aid his own chances. Consequently, Yanworth enjoyed a much easier trip on the day compared with The New One. I doubt that there is as much between the two horses as the three and a quarter length winning margin would suggest.

The New One has won 18 of his 28 starts under rules and has finished in the first two in twenty of his 24 attempts over hurdles. His record at the Cheltenham Festival reads: 6 1 3 5 4 – and he holds every chance of adding another place finish to that superb record in the 2017 Champion Hurdle.

Yanworth

  • 7-y-o; chestnut gelding
  • Breeding: Norse Dancer - Yota (Galetto)
  • Trained by: A King
  • Last Race: Aintree, 8 Apr 2017 16:20
  • Result: Won/11, towards rear, headway from 6 out, led 2 out, ridden before last, held on towards finish, driven out
  • View full form

On his most recent outing in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton the pace was not particularly quick in the first half of the race and the home straight sprint would not have been in his favour. He showed plenty of determination to get to the front and should be seen in a better light when competing in a more stamina oriented contest. He did appear to jump more cleanly in his first time cheek pieces at Wincanton.

Previously at Kempton on Boxing Day Yanworth had been less than fluent over three or four of his hurdles which may have been something to do with having to travel quicker than he was comfortable with. He did wear the front two down on the run to the last before ultimately running out a three and a quarter length winner. This does not tell the real story; however, as My Tent Or Yours was clearly given a tactical ride to support Yanworth's cause rather than his own. This allowed the Alan King-trained winner to enjoy much the easiest trip on the day as he was able to stalk two horses that duelled without a breather from half way down the far side. He will not always enjoy such an advantageous trip and, on the other hand, he might be better suited to two miles round Cheltenham compared with Kempton.

He has to be in the mix for the Champion Hurdle; however, I feel his current odds of 7/2 favourite are as much to do with the lack of viable contenders rather than through anything he has achieved thus far. Moreover, I don't think the difference in his price and the 14/1 available for The New One is an accurate reflection of their respective claims based on their encounter on Boxing Day.

Yanworth’s chances of success will increase markedly in the event of the Champion Hurdle being run on a soft surface. On the likely quick ground he would probably struggle for early speed and be seen in his worst light in the early stages of the contest; consequently, given this latter scenario, if Yanworth is the horse for you, I would suggest that there is a reasonable chance he will trade bigger in-running compared with his starting price irrespective of the outcome.

REST OF THE FIELD

At the time of writing Yorkhill is apparently all set to go for the JLT Novices’ Chase. Un De Sceaux is surely going to line-up for the Ryanair Chase and Vroum Vroum Mag is odds-on to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown. The next in the betting is Tombstone who would surely need a soft surface to finish in the prize money. He is followed by Footpad who has too much to find with Petit Mouchoir and then Nichols Canyon who would be a danger based on his 2016 Champion Hurdle run. The fact that the Mullins camp look set to supplement Limini implies that Nichols Canyon is probably not in the same form he was showing at home prior to the 2016 renewal.

CONCLUSIONS

Stan James Champion Hurdle

This appears to be a competitive affair between five or six fairly closely matched contenders.

I think that both Yanworth and Buveur D’Air are likely to trade bigger in running compared with their respective starting prices; even more so if the Champion Hurdle is run on a quick surface. Therefore, if one of the two current favourites is for you it might pay to wait until after the off to play part or all of your stakes.

Although I can see that Limini holds some sort of a chance in such an open looking contest; at the same time I would suggest that her price of around 5/1 overestimates her claims based on what she has actually achieved. Brain Power might make the step up from handicap company to Grade 1 class; at a single figure price, however, I would prefer to look elsewhere.

THE NEW ONE is the most reliable horse in the field and arguably the most consistent hurdler in training. He is surely overpriced at 14/1 for this contest. I remember thinking exactly the same in 2016 (and possibly in 2015 too!) The difference is that he does not have an obvious superstar standing between himself and Champion Hurdle glory in this 2017 renewal. That said, given his tendency to fall short of what is required over the minimum trip at the festival; I do see him as a horse more likely to place then win. Consequently, I would prefer to play him as an 80/20 place over win bet or as a strong supporting selection in my placepot perm.

I think that the safest way of trying to make a profit from such a difficult race to call is to play PETIT MOUCHOIR as a simple and conservative trade. He is almost certain to be ridden in an aggressive manner and is therefore likely to shorten up in the final hour before the race as well as over the first three or four hurdles. The alternative would be to support him each-way at 11/2 NRNB and, although there may be a few better value each-way plays at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival; there will also be plenty of worse ones.

Previous Winners

Year Winner Trainer Jockey Age/Wt SP
2016Annie PowerW P MullinsR Walsh8 11-35/2f
2015FaugheenW P MullinsR Walsh7 11-104/5f
2014JezkiMrs J HarringtonB J Geraghty6 11-109/1
2013Hurricane FlyW P MullinsR Walsh9 11-1013/8f
2012Rock On RubyP F NichollsN Fehily7 11-1011/1
2011Hurricane FlyW P MullinsR Walsh7 11-1011/4f
2010 Binocular N J Henderson A P McCoy 6 11-10 9/1
2009 Punjabi N J Henderson B J Geraghty 6 11-10 22/1
2008 Katchit A King R Thornton 5 11-10 10/1
2007 Sublimity J G Carr P A Carberry 7 11-10 16-1
2006 Brave Inca C A Murphy A P McCoy 8 11-10 7-4f
2005 Hardy Eustace D T Hughes C O'Dwyer 8 11-10 7-2jf
2004 Hardy Eustace D T Hughes C O'Dwyer 7 11-10 33-1
2003 Rooster Booster P J Hobbs R Johnson 9 12-0 9-2
2002 Hors La Loi III J R Fanshawe D Gallagher 7 12-0 10-1
2001 No Race
2000 Istabraq A P O'Brien C F Swan 8 12-0 8-15f
1999 Istabraq A P O'Brien C F Swan 7 12-0 4-9f
1998 Istabraq A P O'Brien C F Swan 6 12-0 3-1f
1997 Make A Stand M C Pipe A P McCoy 6 12-0 7-1
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