Just seven short weeks separate us from today and the tapes going up for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle as the Cheltenham Festival gets under way for 2021.
And while that famous Cheltenham roar (which doesn’t really exist to the extent people say) won’t be heard this year, the festival will still hopefully throw up its usual mix of top quality action, competitive handicaps and history making moments.
Each Tuesday between now and mid February I will take a look in-depth at one of the four championship races, starting with today’s look at Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle, which looks a lot more wide open now than it did on Christmas morning and seemingly gets more complex by the week.
There is a suspicion that this division has been in a slightly weak period for the past few years – and what a joy it would have been if Espoir d’Allen was still with us to offer more depth to the contest.
JP McManus has of course won the last four runnings and looks to have an extremely strong hand this year, with current champion Epatante, Saint Roi and two time winner Buveur D’Air in the field.
But can the green and gold win a fifth on the bounce? Lets take in the latest runners and riders.
CHAMPION HURDLE, GRADE 1, 2m87y
EPATANTE, best price 9/4
Last year’s winning mare looked absolutely untouchable after November’s Fighting Fifth where she gave a career best performance. She won this very well last year, but her performance in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in 2019, coupled with her thrashing at the hands of Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle shows she isn’t necessarily one to trust despite the fact she is probably the most likely highest class horse in the field.
SHARJAH, best price 9/1
This tough as old boots gelding tries to land the Champion Hurdle at the third time of asking, While you cannot deny his talent, with four Grade One wins and a Galway Hurdle to his name, he will almost certainly find one too good here. Possibly a great each way play, but I just can’t have him winning this.
SILVER STREAK, best price 11/1
If this horse was trained by Nicky Henderson I suspect he may be closer to the 5/1 mark. He’s unfashionable, has an unlikely backstory for a Champion Hurdler and again will probably find one too good, but his beating of Epatante at Kempton was no fluke and he deserves his place high up the running order.
SAINT ROI, best price 14/1
He looked a potential major contender after scooting up and justifying favouritism in the County Hurdle by more than four lengths last spring and then backing that up in a Grade 3 at Tipperary in October. However, he was beaten fair and square by Abacadabras in the Morgiana and was then well beaten in the Matheson at Leopardstown over Christmas. Has it all to prove currently.
HONEYSUCKLE, best price 14/1
She’s nine from nine and won the Mares’ Hurdle here with an outstanding performance last year. She did just enough to win the Hatton’s Grace and if she comes to this race and is in top form would come into the reckoning seriously.
ABACADABRAS, best price 16/1
Was potentially unlucky in last year’s Supreme when hampered and beaten only a head by the monster that is Shishkin. Has been in and out this winter, winning the Morgiana but beaten some way out in the Matheson over Christmas. Will need some improvement now to figure in this, but you wouldn’t rule that out given his connections.
SONG FOR SOMEONE, best price 20/1
Simply hasn’t put a foot wrong over his last three starts, taking three Grade 2 events including the International here. He ticks an awful lot of boxes and looks a horse on the serious upgrade. Still only six, he appears to have an awful lot of potential and really appeals at a huge price.
BUVEUR D’AIR, best price 22/1
The two time winner made a stinking return to action on the face of it after more than a year off at Haydock last Saturday but in a messy race on bad ground you wouldn’t be too devastated if you were a fan. He is bound to come on for that and you can never rule Nicky out from bringing one back, but this would be a major feat even by his standards.
VERDICT: A messy race at this stage, with question marks hanging over every runner in the field. A top form Epatante would be very hard to beat if she runs to her best as shown both last year in this and in the Fighting Fifth, but if she blows out there are all manner of solid looking each way options. Silver Streak would be bang in contention if he turns up at his Christmas Hurdle best, but SONG FOR SOMEONE looks as solid as any of the challengers and is huge at 20/1 for an each way ante post position. He is young, progressive and proven at the track and could easily take the step up to Grade 1 level in his stride.
RECOMMENDATION: Back Song for Someone 2.5pts each way at 20/1 with Hills. (⅕, three places)