Champion Hurdle Tips – Runner-By-Runner Guide To Tuesday’s Big Race

Epatante (centre) clears the last on her way to winning the 2020 Champion Hurdle.

Epatante (centre) clears the last on her way to winning the 2020 Champion Hurdle.

2021 Cheltenham Festival –  Champion Hurdle Tips

The feature race on day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival is shaping up to be an absolute cracker with reigning champion Epatante taking on unbeaten Honeysuckle and Goshen. Dabiel Overall has studied the field to give you his verdict on the championship race.

Abacadabras

A narrow second to Shishkin in last season’s Supreme, many thought that he had the attributes needed to make up into a Champion Hurdle contender especially given the perceived weakness of the division.

He has not progressed as hoped this far for all that he did beat Saint Roi in the Grade 1 Morgiana back in November before finishing a distance behind Sharjah in the Matheson. He was found to have mucus in his trachea after that effort so it can be forgiven and there were certainly more encouraging signs in the Irish Champion Hurdle for all that he was ten lengths adrift of Honeysuckle. A strongly run race will suit and you can certainly envisage him travelling well into the race although it will be a tough task to concede weight to the two mares.

Aspire Tower

Second in last season’s Triumph Hurdle (would have been third if Goshen hadn’t fallen), many ex-juvenile’s struggle to make the step up to open company but Aspire Tower has performed admirably in two starts this season; winning the WKD Hurdle before finishing second in the Matheson Hurdle.

However, his weight-for-age allowance is no more while Rachael Blackmore, who has ridden him on all five six starts over hurdles thus far, will not be in the saddle on this occasion. Also, he won’t get an easy time of things in front so on balance, he’s opposable.

Goshen

The enigma that is Goshen broke many a-heart with his final-flight departure in last year’s Triumph, where he was in the process of registering a breath-taking performance. It has not been plain sailing since then; he was well beaten on two starts on the flat, which were forgivable before bombing out in the International Hurdle having missed a series of previous intended engagements.

Gary Moore has been bullish about this horse, proclaiming him to be the best he has ever trained and he did plenty to restore his trainers and the public’s faith when bolting up in the Kingwell in a style reminiscent of his juvenile days. You can poke holes in that run, as his main rival, Song for Someone, never travelled a yard while he will experience far quicker ground in the Champion Hurdle.

Five-year-olds don’t have the greatest of records in thus race, with 105 lining up since 1985 resulting in three wins. Still, Goshen’s inclusion adds another fascinating dimension to the race as there is the potential for him to bolt up or bomb out. On balance, he looks to have a tough task and he is short enough in the betting at present.

James Du Berlais

A fascinating inclusion, he came with a big reputation from France having won listed and Grade 3 races while he also finished second in a couple of Grade 1’s.

Representing top connections, he was brought with chasing in mind and his participation is somewhat of a shot to nothing while this run will be his debut for Willie Mullins. Just a five-year-old, it would be a performance of some magnitude were he to win this and while he is held in high regard, he’s best watched with an eye to next season.

Not So Sleepy

Considered to be one of the livelier outsiders for this race in 2020, Hughie Morrison’s precocious front-runner was disappointing twelve months ago but he’ll come here a fresh horse this time around having won the Betfair Exchange Trophy Handicap for the second year in a row.

He won’t be able to dominate this field as he has done at Ascot previously and having pulled up in last season’s renewal, he has a tough task here.

Saldier

It seems like we talk about Saldier as a “dark horse” for most festivals and this year’s is no exception. With that in mind, it’s hard to believe that he’s only a seven-year-old although it’s approaching the time where he needs to deliver on his hype.

Well beaten on his two starts this season, you’d be hoping that the better ground and the first-time cheekpieces make a difference but they’ll need to if he is to get competitive here. Willie has used cheekpieces in Champion Hurdle’s before on both Faugheen and Melon in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with the latter doing best when second at 20/1.

Sharjah

Last year’s runner up returned over hurdles in fine form when beating Aspire Tower in the Matheson Hurdle, conceding three pounds to that rival. While he was no match for Honeysuckle last time out, you can certainly argue that the race was not run to suit him while he has a clear preference for quicker ground.

Often ridden patiently, he’ll need a strong pace to aim at and quite whether he’ll get that in a ten-runner renewal is questionable, while the old course doesn’t favour those who come from off the pace. Furthermore, this looks to be a deeper renewal than 2020 and he will be without regular rider, Patrick Mullins. You can certainly envisage him staying on into the places but he looks vulnerable for win purposes.

Silver Streak

An admirable performer, Silver Streak seems to have raised his game to another level this season despite being an eight-year-old with twenty-five starts over hurdles to his name.

He beat Verdana Blue on his seasonal reappearance under her ideal conditions before being carried out early in the Fighting Fifth. Perhaps he should’ve won the International Hurdle but the omitted hurdles wreaked havoc in a falsely run affair before he landed his well-deserved Grade 1 when winning the Fighting Fifth under an enterprising ride from Adam Wedge, beating the below-par Epatante.

Sixth in this race last term, he was never in a rhythm that day and the ground was softer than ideal; his new found tactical versatility combined with a sounder surface will be in his favour and a big run is expected.

Epatante

Last year’s winner cast asides the concerns about her liking for Cheltenham having disappointed in the 2019 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle as Barry Geraghty delivered her to a comfortable three-length success.

However, she faces some new rivals this year and while the field size may be smaller, the quality of opposition has increased. Furthermore, she will need to bounce back from a disappointing effort in the Fighting Fifth. She was never herself that day, having acted up in the preliminaries before making uncharacteristic jumping mistakes.

While she will need to bounce back from that run, there is no better trainer at readying a horse for the Champion Hurdle than Nicky Henderson while he seemed positive that it was an issue with her back that caused her poor run when last seen, which he is optimistic that he’s managed to resolve.

Epatante is entitled to plenty of respect and she has a tremendous record when fresh although she faces a tougher challenge than she did last season.

Honeysuckle

The 2020 Mares’ Hurdle winner lowered the colours of Benie Des Dieux last year, proving her aptitude for Cheltenham in the process while taking her record to a perfect eight out of eight over hurdles.

A scrambling win in the Hatton’s Grace followed before an emphatic display in the Irish Champion Hurdle; while she won the race last season too, this year’s performance was on another level as she routed a decent field under a brilliant ride from Rachael Blackmore. Her pace for two-miles at the top level had always been queried but she looked full of speed at Leopardstown, while her jumping was significantly slicker than it had been previously.

With that performance behind her, connections effectively had no choice but to target her at the Champion Hurdle and she holds leading claims on the back of a career-best effort. The ground shouldn’t be too quick for her given that it’s the opening day while she arrives as the horse in the best form; it will take a good gelding to concede seven pounds to her, or a career-best from Epatante.

Champion Hurdle Big-Race Verdict

A fascinating renewal but preference is for Honeysuckle who looks as good as ever while there is every possibility that she’s still on the upgrade. Her jumping will need to be as slick as it was last time out but there aren’t many reasons to think that it shouldn’t be.