2020 Champion Hurdle tips – Two outsiders to back on day one
Champion Hurdle Tips
We take a look through the betting for the 2020 Champion Hurdle and pick out our best bets in the latest of our 2020 Cheltenham Festival tips articles.
The opening Championship race of the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle. Day one’s highlight has been won by many legends of the sport during its storied history. Hatton’s Grace, Persian War and See You Then all managed to win three Champion Hurdles on the bounce during their illustrious careers, with modern legends like Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly starring in the past couple of decades.
Sadly, last year’s Champion, Espoir D’Allen lost his life soon after his Cheltenham triumph. With a new name now guaranteed to reign supreme in 2020, I’ve taken a look through the betting and come up with my 2020 Champion Hurdle tips.
Champion Hurdle Tips – The Home Challenge
No trainer has enjoyed more success in the Champion Hurdle than Nicky Henderson, and the former Champion Trainer will fire a handful of arrows at the prize in 2020. Topping the market is filly Epatante (11/4 Unibet), who could only finish ninth in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle 12 months ago. Henderson’s mare cruised to victory in the Gerry Feilden on her return to action, before rewarding her many backers with a superb triumph in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Epatante looks to be the one to beat.
Shocked everyone when carrying odds of 20/1 to victory in the Triumph, having run just once at Plumpton before arriving at Cheltenham. Pentland Hills (5/1 Ladbrokes) proved that was no fluke at Aintree, beating Fakir D’Oudairies to end the year as the top juvenile in the land. On both his starts this season, Pentland Hill has looked the most likely winner turning in. Yet, Henderson’s charge faded rapidly when finishing fourth in the International Hurdle, and tied up late on again to allow Ballyandy beat him in the Champion Trial at Haydock. Pentland Hills has a point to prove on his return to Cheltenham.
With Pentland Hills relaxing at Seven Barrows, Fusil Raffles (16/1 William Hill) triumphed at Punchestown last spring to ensure Nicky Henderson collected all three of the major juvenile Grade Ones. The Munir & Suoede-owned five-year-old was very workmanlike in seeing off Quel Destin on his return in the Elite Hurdle. Fusil Raffles then ran very keen at Kempton, and was pulled up two-out after stopping very quickly. Could be the most talented of Henderson’s three at the head of the betting, but there was clearly an issue at Kempton and you can’t back Fusil Raffles on the back of that bizarre performance.
Champion Hurdle Tips – The Raiding Party
Benie Des Dieux & Honeysuckle
It seemed like Honeysuckle (10/1 Unibet) was set for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle after scoring in the Irish equivalent at the Dublin Racing Festival. Yet, connections have recently announced their intention to go for the Mares’ Hurdle, and it now seems very unlikely that Honeysuckle will head to Tuesday’s Championship race.
In recent weeks, Rich Ricci has claimed Mares’ Hurdle favourite, Benie Des Dieux (15/2 William Hill) could be supplemented into the mix. Benie may be better suited to two-and-a-half and three miles, but she has the class and quality two cope with a drop in trip. I don’t think she will run here, but if she does, she could even go off as the favourite.
Looks like being Willie Mullins’ leading challenger in this year’s Champion Hurdle. Sharjah (14/1 Unibet) was unlucky last year, where he was brought down by the falling Buveur D’Air at just the third obstacle. Sharjah collected his third Grade One at Leopardstown over Christmas, but was bitterly disappointing in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Everything seemed ideal for Mullins’s charge that day, but Sharjah barely landed a blow, finishing a well-beaten sixth. Good ground is key to his chances, and I doubt he’ll get that on day one at Cheltenham.
Powered up the Cheltenham hill to finish second behind Pentland Hills in last year’s Triumph. Coeur Sublime (20/1 Ladbrokes) looked to be a hurdler to follow when bolting up in Grade Three company back in November, but couldn’t keep up with Sharjah and Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown over Christmas. Gordon Elliott’s leading challenger has proven himself capable of putting in a quality display. I don’t think he has the class to win a Champion Hurdle, though, and he won’t feature as one of my 2020 Cheltenham Festival tips.
Champion Hurdle Tips – Overlooked Outsiders
Gavin Cromwell’s eight-year-old has progressed beyond belief this season. Darver Star (22/1 William Hill) entered a Rated Hurdle barring a mark of just 119 in August. Five starts later, he’s amassed three victories, and placed behind Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle in Grade Ones over two miles. Darver Star came within half-a-length of beating Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a performance which must put him in the Champion Hurdle picture. Racing at Cheltenham, and the spotlight of the Festival, are completely unknown to Cromwell’s charge, though.
After failing to see out three miles in the West Yorkshire Hurdle, Nigel Twiston-Davies decided to drop Ballyandy (25/1 Unibet) back to the minimum distance. Ballyandy has relished the return to two miles, running Call Me Lord close in the International Hurdle, before a solid third in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. Sam Twiston-Davies then took advantage of the long run in at Haydock to scoot past the tiring Pentland Hills and win the Champion Hurdle Trial. Despite some excellent form and previous at the Festival, Ballyandy can still be found at an appealing each-way price. He could be one of the best each-way Champion Hurdle tips.
Jessica Harrington’s charge made a pleasing return to action in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Robbie Power was hard at work on Supasundae (20/1 Unibet) a long way from home, but the former Stayers’ Hurdle runner-up plugged on down the home straight and crossed the line just five lengths behind Honeysuckle. Supasundae always improves for his first run after a break, and the 2017 Coral Cup winner boasts a strong record here at Cheltenham.
Made hay on good ground last season, beating Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle, while also securing an emphatic triumph in the Scottish Champion Hurdle in the spring. Verdana Blue (33/1 William Hill) has run just once so far this term, placing fourth behind Epatante at Kempton. Good ground is vital to Verdana Blue’s chances. She won’t be one of my Champion Hurdle tips, but could challenge if the ground comes up in her favour.
Picked up the pieces when the big guns flopped last season, carrying odds of 80/1 into the places. Evan Williams’ contender hacked up in a Listed contest on his reappearance, and has since placed in Grade Ones at Newcastle and Kempton. Silver Streak (25/1 William Hill) ran really well just to get within five lengths of Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle and has managed to place on all three of his visits to Cheltenham. He’s another who’s been underestimated.
Champion Hurdle Tips – Look At Those Odds
I wasn’t expecting much from Henry De Bromhead’s charge in the Morgiana Hurdle, having watched Petit Mouchoir (33/1 Unibet) finish fourth of six in a Grade Three at Tipperary. Yet, the former Champion Hurdle third managed to run a blinder to push Sharjah all the way to the line. De Bromhead’s grey followed that display with another narrow defeat to Sharjah over Christmas, and was only beaten off by Honeysuckle and Darver Star in the strides before the line in the Irish Champion Hurdle. As I mentioned earlier, Petit Mouchoir has previous in this race, but I’m not sure his front-running style will bear fruit this time around.
Call Me Lord
Dispelled the thought that he doesn’t go on left-handed tracks in the International Hurdle, where Call Me Lord (33/1 Unibet) held off Ballyandy to win by a length on his debut at Prestbury Park. Was then expected to maintain Nicky Henderson’s excellent record in the Contenders Hurdle, only to get upstaged by Quel Destin when carrying odds of 4/6 to post. While that was hardly the performance of a Champion Hurdle winner, Call Me Lord still has to be respected based on that International Hurdle triumph.
Poached a ten-length lead at the start of the Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Buveur D’Air was never able to bridge the gap. A season-ending injury suffered by the favourite may have tainted that victory, but Cornerstone Lad (50/1 Unibet) backed that performance up at Haydock, losing out by less than a length in the Champion Trial. This would be a Cheltenham debut for Hammond’s star, but Cornerstone Lad has won a Grade One this season and would enjoy soft ground, were it to come up nice and juicy.
Not So Sleepy
Absolutely hosed up from the front in Betfair Exchange Trophy at Ascot in December, cantering to a lengthy victory with just 10-3 on his back. Any hope of another front-running victory in the Betfair Hurdle was dashed at the off, where Not So Sleepy (50/1 William Hill) was the last to set off after a standing start. Hughie Morrison’s eight-year-old tried to make up some ground, but faded rapidly and finished out the back. He could still make his Grade One debut on the back of that run, but Not So Sleep won’t feature as one of my Champion Hurdle tips. An outing in the County Hurdle seems much more likely.
Champion Hurdle Tips – Verdict
Rich Ricci’s threat to supplement Benie Des Dieux seemed ludicrous at first. However, injuries to Saldier and Klassical Dream have left Willie Mullins’ Champion Hurdle squad depleted, and Ireland’s Champion Trainer pulled a similar move with Annie Power when she won this race in 2016. I still think there’s only a 20% chance that Benie Des Dieux will run in the Champion Hurdle. Read my Mares’ Hurdle preview to see how I think she’ll fare on her return to the Festival.
A bad reaction to a flu-jab apparently contributed to Epatante’s limp showing at the Festival last year. Nicky Henderson’s mare has certainly proved herself a very high-calibre hurdler this season and I see no reason to suggest she won’t handle Cheltenham. While everything seems to be in Epatante’s favour, I can’t bring myself to back a horse in such an open race at that sort of price. I’d rather take a couple of punts on long odds outsiders as my Champion Hurdle tips.
The first being SUPASUNDAE, who’s bound to come on following that encouraging return at Leopardstown. Jessica Harrington’s charge has only run in Grade Ones since winning the Coral Cup. Over two miles, Supasundae’s record is impeccable, winning three top-level races, while placing second on four of his other five outings. This will be the first time the former Festival winner has run in the Champion Hurdle and, despite his advancing years, I feel Supasundae is still capable of challenging for the victory.
I almost went for Ballyandy as my second selection, but I feel SILVER STREAK is the better option at their current odds. Sure, Evan Williams’ charge was fortunate to place last year. Yet, his performances since that third prove his performance was no misnomer. Adam Wedge’s mount made a terrible error three from home at Kempton and still got within five lengths of Epatante. Silver Streak loves Cheltenham, Williams is enjoying one of his best seasons to date and the uphill finish will suit him more than the current market leader. The gap between the two could be much closer in this year’s Champion Hurdle, and I’m confident in putting up Silver Streak as the second of my each-way Champion Hurdle tips.