Cheltmental’s 2023 Champion Hurdle Preview

The Champion Hurdle is the Championship race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, and has been won in the past by some true greats of the sport, including:

  • Istabraq
  • Hurricane Fly
  • Buveur D’Air 
  • Honeysuckle

Last year saw Henry De Bromhead’s star mare Honeysuckle land back-to-back victories, with a dominant display that saw her run out a 3½ length winner. 

This year should be a superb renewal, featuring Nicky Henderson’s unbeaten superstar Constitution Hill and Willie Mullins’ State Man in the mix. Here, racing expert Dave Young (A.K.A. Cheltmental) guides us through the key runners and gives us his advised bet for the Day 1 feature.

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Achieving a Racing Post Rating (RPR) in excess of 170 is a rarity over hurdles, yet this horse was able to do that in his Novice season; and after just 3 runs under rules. That number came in the Supreme Novice Hurdle last season where he broke the course record and he’s shown since that the performance was no fluke.

He beat stable-mate Epatante (a champion hurdler of her own) by 12 lengths in the Fighting Fifth and then beat her again next time at Kempton in The Christmas Hurdle, this time by 17 lengths and in each he won with ease. There is something about this horse that just screams that he’s a freak. The way he travels, the way he settles, the way he jumps is textbook and when he’s asked to go on it’s simply an effortless extension in his legs to a faster pace, but so much so that you realise he’s been making very good horses look ordinary, while not even close to his top gear.

He’s a 1/3 favourite though, so you don’t really need me to keep singing his praises or point out what he may go on to achieve because it’s there for all to see. Distance bets may be the way to play considering his smallest winning margin to date is 12 lengths.

Nicky Henderson knows how to train a Champion Hurdler, he is armed with one of the biggest weapons in racings history and you really are taking a massive punt if you look anywhere else for the winner. But anything is possible right!?


Willie Mullins loves a Champion Hurdler and Hurricane Fly, Faugheen & Annie Power are just a few recent examples of his ability to turn his ‘need for speed’ into successes. In State Man he has a horse who came to the racecourse with a recognised x-factor at home and despite falling on his Hurdling debut for the yard, plenty hadn’t forgotten that he really had high expectations of this horse. He was well supported for the County Hurdle in which Willie has recent experience in turning an exciting Novice hurdler who might just be Supreme quality, into a handicap good thing if they fail to on their first start for him (Saint Roi is the example I’m referencing). So while Willie might not have been quite right about some others turning into Champion Hurdlers, we know he’s not often wrong and you might think he’s due to be proved right sooner rather than later.

State Man has been progressive and improved in each run. His hurdling is better than it was and he’s unbeaten this season to afford him the title of Ireland’s best 2 mile hurdler. Tactically I think he will stalk Constitution Hill throughout and he’ll attempt to travel and head for home early to try and get first run on the favourite. He looks relentless, like a horse who would gallop all day at the same high speed. Whether that high speed is capable of putting Constitution Hill in an real danger is an exciting prospect to unveil.

It’s clear in him that he is a very fast horse so he’s certainly got a major chance of being one of the best 2 mile hurdlers in the coming years. He is however, arriving at a time when there is an absolute freak in the same division. He did fall on that hurdle debut, and he might not be ridden with his best interests in mind if he does follow the favourite. So, while he’s clearly a serious threat to Constitution Hill, he may forfeit his true place in this line up by bidding for all or nothing. The price about him in the without market or even as a low risk E/W play in the outright, really isn’t appealing.


Another Closutton inmate but he’s just turned 5 and will be looking to follow in the recent footsteps of Espoir D’Allen to win this race at that age. That came with a devastating performance and in a renewal where you had three very strong fancies in Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade & Laurina, but none of that trio even made the frame. While the similarities in age do not mean the same shock result is on the cards, it does give you food for thought in how much could he progress from The Dublin Racing Festival into Cheltenham – I would say quite a lot.

In Cheltenham last season he won the Triumph with an RPR of 147 and a season peak 153 which are very high numbers for a Juvenile. He’s not won this term but he has been thrown into the deep end which is Willie’s way. He did post a 161 RPR on his first start in open company behind State Man with an omitted last flight forcing him to swerve in the run in. His jumping was lazy throughout and next time it was worse.

That Triumph victory last March was arguably so impressive because again, he jumps poorly. He clearly has an engine and he’s clearly an exciting prospect, but his chance of running a best effort here relies on him improving that jumping significantly and putting in a clear round. In doing so I think he can beat State Man, but he’ll never beat Constitution Hill.

Finally do I think he can put in a clear round off the back of this season’s efforts? The answer is no.


Hardly the typically type to feature in a Champion Hurdle preview but he’s earned his spot following a monster effort in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. That’s a grade 2 though and while there’s been some winners of the race fancied for March off the back of emphatic wins, history tells us they don’t win Champion Hurdles. Goshen & Yanworth both recent examples.

But if we try to look at the positives; he posted an RPR of 165 in that race which was higher than both State Man & Vauban last time out. He does have Cheltenham winning form, albeit outside of The Festival, and he does love this good ground we’re encountering right now. The slight issue with the ground factor is that I cannot believe that Cheltenham will let the course ride as quick as it did in November for the start of a Festival (but you never know). In doing so you change I Like To Move It’s form from 1111 on good ground into 1 1 2 9 1 5 2 18 6 on slower.

He was also 19 lengths behind State Man in last years County Hurdle and while he’s posted a 165 and 159 RPR in two of his three last runs, he posted just 141 and 134 around those which shows he might just not always get things the way he likes and that he’s still got a bit to find even in perfect conditions. However, I am going to recommend a bet on him.


I LIKE TO MOVE IT W/O Constitution Hill @ 7/1 (Bet365)

So I touched on how I LIKE TO MOVE IT might just need everything in his favour to be able to show his best and that even on his best he’s no chance of beating Constitution Hill, but I also mentioned that State Man might just be trying to go for boom or bust in his effort to land this race, and considering he’s the same price in the without market as Constitution Hill is in the outright market I think the better value is with the latter.

Vauban I don’t believe jumps well enough to get anywhere close and this will be the fastest he’s had to jump, especially in those closing stages where the omitted flight on that seasonal re-appearance may have looked to make things harder for him having to move out, but it might have made things easier as he didn’t have to jump it at speed.

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