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2019 Unibet Champion Hurdle tips – Star rating guide for Cheltenham Festival’s first Championship race

Jonathan Vine in Tips 12 Feb 2019
Buveur D'Air (near) battles bravely to see off Melon (far) to win his second Champion Hurdle.

Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, looking at each of the top contenders in detail before rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

Days, weeks and months of anticipation will finally come to a head during the middle week of March, as the eyes of the sporting world turn to Gloucester for the Cheltenham Festival. Day one at the Festival features a number of thrilling races, with four Grade Ones and the historic National Hunt Challenge Cup adorning the Champions’ Day card. 

The headline act on Tuesday is always the Champion Hurdle, which has been won by many of the sport’s greatest hurdlers since it’s inception in 1927. Five horses have managed to land a fabled hat-trick of Champion Hurdle victories, with the names of Hatton’s Grace, Persian War and Istabraq shining bright on the glittering trophy.

This year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be one of the races of the entire meeting and our expert has published his star rating guide – looking at each of the primary challengers and rating their chances out of five stars.

*Note – Chances of winning and value for money at current odds are combined to decide star rating*

2019 Champion Hurdle Star Rating Guide

Apple's Jade



At the start of the season, few were even considering Apple’s Jade as a possible Champion Hurdler. Yet, after a series of peerless performances, Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown have decided to reroute their star mare from the Mares’ Hurdle and Apple’s Jade leads the way in the Champion Hurdle betting.

The former Festival winner has swept every rival aside this term, winning Grade Ones over two, two-and-a-half and even three miles. Comfortable victories in the Hatton’s Grace and the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle was followed by a superb triumph in the Irish Champion Hurdle, where Jack Kennedy’s mount powered to a lengthy win without overextending herself.

Apple’s Jade has a fantastic blend of speed and stamina. She goes on any ground, is a very dependable jumper and has proven form on the course. That being said, Apple’s Jade was well beaten at Cheltenham last year and you could see Willie Mullins employing a pace-maker to ensure this exuberant front-runner doesn’t have everything her own way and try and put the favourite off her game.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if Apple’s Jade won the Champion Hurdle, but at her current price, there are others who represent better value.

Apple's Jade Star Rating ⭐ 4.5 ⭐

Brain Power



Nicky Henderson and owner, Michael Buckley were handsomely rewarded after deciding to drop Brain Power back to hurdling, with the eight-year-old running out a comfortable winner in the International Hurdle. Turning for home, it seemed Brain Power would win by a streak, but the way he came back to the field in the final furlong was a little alarming and I’d be surprised if he was good enough to trouble the market leaders.

Brain Power Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Buveur D'Air



Shockwaves reverberated around the National Hunt racing world at Kempton in December, as Buveur D’Air suffered his first defeat over jumps for the best part of three years. A terrible leap at the third-last ruined the two-time Champion Hurdlers’ rhythm and Verdana Blue was on-hand to capitalise with a well-timed charge in the final 100 yards.

Despite suffering defeat, I doubt Nicky Henderson will have been too discouraged. Buveur D’Air looked fantastic when seeing off Samcro in the Fighting Fifth up at Newcastle on his reappearance and registered his annual victory in the Contenders Hurdle last month, shaking off the memory of that unexpected defeat with a composed, trouble-free display.

This is, undoubtedly, the toughest task Buveur D’Air has faced in the Champion Hurdle. Henderson’s eight-year-old hasn’t faced any rival as good as either Apple’s Jade or Laurina in either of his two previous victories and he will have to give seven-pounds to both. Yet, I remain confident Buveur D’Air is the finest two-miler in the business. Nicky Henderson will ensure his training peaks perfectly for Cheltenham and I think he remains the best bet in this year’s Champion Hurdle.

Buveur D'Air Star Rating ⭐ 5 ⭐

Espoir D'Allen



Gavin Cromwell clearly had a talented juvenile on his hands last season, as Espoir D’Allen powered to back-to-back Graded victories. A maiden Grade One triumph was then expected in last year’s Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, only for Espoir D’Allen to flop on the big occasion and finish tailed off out the back.

Some experts have highlighted Espoir D’Allen as a genuine contender in this year’s Champion Hurdle. I, however, remain unconvinced. Cromwell’s charge may be three-from-three this season, but he hasn’t been in with any Champion Hurdle entrants and was forced to work hard in seeing off Wicklow Brave and Tombstone last time out.

Espoir D'Allen Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Global Citizen



I’m a big fan of Ben Pauling’s hurdler, but I highly doubt whether he has the class to challenge in a Champion Hurdle. True, Global Citizen was impressive in seeing off Silver Streak in the Champion Hurdle Trial and deserves his spot in the field, but he was beaten a long way from home as Verdana Blue pipped an under-par Buveur D’Air at Kempton. He would have to improve ten-pounds on that Haydock win just to get involved at Cheltenham.

Global Citizen Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Laurina



The X-Factor in this year’s Champion Hurdle market is undoubtedly Laurina, who remains unbeaten during her short jumping career. Willie Mullins has only managed to get his top mare out on the track once so far this term and that wasn’t much of a contest, with last year’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle winner seeing off just one rival over two-and-a-half-miles at Ascot.

While clearly a horse of the highest calibre, I’m finding it very difficult to see why Laurina would finish ahead of Buveur D’Air and Apple’s Jade in the Champion Hurdle. Mullins’ mare seems very ground dependant, she’s never been pushed to her limits and is yet to show she has the electric turn-of-foot required to be a top two-miler.

Underestimate Willie Mullins at your peril and he’s the best in the business at helping mares improve. That being said, I won’t be backing Laurina to win this year’s Champion Hurdle and it wouldn’t be a shock if she was thrown into the Mares’ Hurdle instead.

Laurina Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Melon



This time last year, Melon came into the Champion Hurdle in similarly indifferent form, but ran a blinder when pushing Buveur D’Air all the way to the line. Willie Mullins’ hurdler has been well-beaten on both his starts this season, looking short of pace on good ground which clearly wasn’t to his liking. 

Little rain is forecast between now and the Cheltenham Festival, meaning the ground will probably come up good-to-soft, soft at best. Melon has still only won two of his ten outings over hurdles, but he's proven himself capable of a big performance on his day and currently represents some each-value.

Melon Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Petit Mouchoir



It was hardly a surprise to see Petit Mouchoir revert back to hurdles this season, considering the way his jumping fell apart during the second half of his novice chasing campaign. Henry De Bromhead has watched his eight-year-old finish well down the field on both of his starts this term and I’d be amazed to see Petit Mouchoir was in good enough shape to replicate the third-place finish he managed in this race back in 2017.

Petit Mouchoir Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Sharjah



Surprisingly, Sharjah has been Willie Mullins top two-mile hurdler this term. Since losing out to Bedrock and Samcro in the WKD Hurdle, the Rich Ricci-owned hurdler has progressed beyond belief, claiming back-to-back Grade Ones in the Morgiana and Ryanair Hurdles, running out a comfortable winner on both occasions.

On seasonal form, Sharjah has to be in the discussion and offers punters some each-way value at his current odds. The ground, however, has certainly been in his favour so far this term and I fancy, on more appropriate going, Sharjah will find himself outclassed in this sort of company.

Sharjah Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Silver Streak



Another entrant to have made startling progression over the last 12 months, Evan Williams’ dazzling grey has gone from Swinton Handicap winner to Cheltenham Festival contender, thanks to series of encouraging results. Victory in the Welsh Champion Hurdle has been followed by three runner-up finishes, coming out second best in the Greatwood, the International Hurdle and the big Trial at Haydock.

Those performances, while encouraging, have ensured Silver Streak is too high in the weights to enter one of Cheltenham’s handicaps - company which he would certainly be more comfortable in. I’d love to see Silver Streak run a big race and challenge for a place, but Williams’ hopes can’t be particularly high.

Silver Streak Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Supasundae



Like Silver Streak, Supasundae travels to Cheltenham on the back of three runner-up finishes. Two lengthy defeats behind Apple’s Jade are sandwiched between a three-length defeat to Sharjah at Leopardstown over Christmas, where Supasundae was found a little wanting for pace on unseasonably good ground.

Jessica Harrington’s charge was the most successful two-miler in Ireland last season and continues to be one of the most consistent hurdlers on the circuit. Supasundae is a former Coral Cup winner and a Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up, so he clearly enjoys running at the Festival. I don’t think he’ll be quick enough to win a Champion Hurdle, but he’s certainly in with a big each-way chance.

Supasundae Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Verdana Blue



There must have been a strange atmosphere at Seven Barrows the day Verdana Blue beat Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle. Nico De Boinville looked rather sheepish in his post-race interview and Nicky Henderson’s victory speech was tinged with a little disappointment after watching his two-time Champion Hurdle winner come up short.

The fall-out from that race has overshadowed the performance Verdana Blue produced that day. Henderson’s mare jumped beautifully, as she did when winning at Wincanton the month previous, and showed great determination in getting her nose to the line first. Good ground is crucial to her chances, but even if the going comes up good-to-soft, Verdana Blue has proven she is worthy of a crack at this Grade One and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Verdana Blue Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Full Champion Hurdle Star Ratings

Buveur D'Air - 5 ⭐
*
Apple's Jade – 4.5
*
Laurina – 4
Supasundae – 4
*
Melon - 3.5
Sharjah – 3.5
Verdana Blue – 3.5
*
Brain Power – 3
Espoir D'Allen – 3
Global Citizen - 3
Silver Streak - 3
*
Petit Mouchoir – 2.5

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2019 Unibet Champion Hurdle tips – Star rating guide for Cheltenham Festival’s first Championship race

Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Champion Hurdle, looking at each of the top contenders in detail before rating their chances of winning out of five stars on Tuesday 12th March.

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