As we have just seen Honeysuckle‘s brilliant 10th grade one win and 14th straight victory, it seems like as good a time as any to go over the Champion Hurdle. A race that has traditionally been extremely competitive, the last few years have been somewhat subpar in terms of depth. This year unfortunately seems to be heading down that same path with very few challengers announcing themselves to take Honeysuckles crown.
At the top of the market, best priced 8/13 we have Honeysuckle. The brilliant mare that looks set to win this en route to being the undisputed best mare of all time, she likely won't end up winning a Gold Cup like Dawn Run, but her bombproof unbeaten record speaks for itself. Yes the opposition she has faced could arguably be described as weaker than the other great mares, but unless this years' novice division throws up a genuine contender or connections decide on a chasing career, she looks set to win three Champion Hurdles in a row. I personally don't think they will go chasing with her as she is too valuable for them to risk anything happening to her. I think she wins the same four races next season and retires for breeding. Her offspring will surely fetch record prices. I won't be taking her on in terms of win bets, as I can't see anything beating her, bar a fall. But her making the market does throw up some options in terms of each way angles for the race.
Her main rivals in the market are last years second, Sharjah, at 9/1; and thanks to a slight set back that put an end to his novice chasing season, last years brilliant Supreme winner, Appreciate It, at 8/1. Appreciate It would be fascinating should he turn up here, but I would just have slight reservations as he missed the Irish Champion Hurdle yesterday. Although Mullins has earmarked the Grade Three Red Mills Trial Hurdle later this month, I would worry that two races in less than a month may be too much for a horse that hasn't run in nearly a year and had an injury setback. I wouldn't be surprised if he were to miss Cheltenham this year altogether and instead be aimed at Punchestown to try and catch Honeysuckle at the end of her season. Sharjah is a horse that I love and think is always underrated for this race, he opened at 20/1 at the start of the year, but has been very good in his two runs so far. Mullins advised all along they would be missing the Dublin Racing Festival as he is never at his best there, though I don't think going to Cheltenham fresh is enough for him to beat Honeysuckle, I find it hard to imagine him not grabbing a place for the third consecutive year.
Outside of those three, next best price is 14/1 for Epatante. Epatante has had a mixed bag in terms of her runs this year, looking a little flat on her reappearance she was forced into a dead heat with Not So Sleepy, which isn't Champion Hurdle winning form in my mind. That run was so far below her best that Henderson admitted that connections were considering the Mares' Hurdle as an alternative festival target. She then was much better winning the Christmas hurdle. Though it was better, she beat Glory and Fortune and Soaring Glory just under three lengths and you wouldn't argue their chances here, and would still leave her with something to find. The one from that race who I would consider as overpriced for this race would be Tritonic at 100/1. He was a well beaten fourth in that race, but it came only a week after a tough win in the Betfair Exchange Trophy. He would need to improve a fair bit but could run himself out of a handicap option this weekend if he performs well in the Betfair hurdle.
Zanahiyr is 16/1 and has run some very good races in defeat this year. Winning a grade two in good style on his return, he was then a close 2nd twice to Sharjah and most recently ran another good race chasing home Honeysuckle. He made a few mistakes in the jumping department and looked likely to be passed by Echoes In Rain, but kept on well to keep second spot. I'd give him a decent place chance here. Echoes In Rain is interesting on that form, as she was given an easy time of it and settled much better than she had in her previous starts. I personally think that she was ridden with a County Hurdle in mind, she is clearly a good horse and a mark of 143 (minus Irish tax), could underestimate her. If she were to turn up here on the day and there were some extra places on offer, I think the 40/1 NRNB that's available is good value if she interests you at all.
Tommy's Oscar at 28/1 looks to be the UK's best chance outside of Epatante, he is the type of horse you would love to own. Progressing well this year he won 3 good handicaps in a row before taking the step up to grade two company in his stride. He has more than earned a shot at this race and now rated 156 you would be surprised to see him line up in a handicap. But I don't think he is quite at the level to be challenging for this.
At bigger prices there are lots you could make cases for but not really compelling ones, Monmiral at 50/1 has a lot to prove after disappointing first time out and hasn't run since which would be a concern, but had strong juvenile for last term. Goshen is 66/1 even after a brilliant win in the Contenders‘ Hurdle this weekend, bouncing back to his best. He is however, not the same horse going left handed and I doubt they even run him here. I've already mentioned Tritonic, but he would need to improve massively. Adagio has a similar profile to Tritonic, but appears to need heavy ground and at 33/1 I'm happy to leave him. Not So Sleepy is 66/1 and on his dead heat form with Epatante, you could argue that the discrepancies in the prices is too much, but again his most recent run was disappointing and you couldn't have any real confidence. Saint Roi is 40/1 and has some good form in the book, but he has never quite looked up to this level.
With a massively short favourite, I haven't backed many Ante Post for this as I don't particularly like taking such short prices. The few advised are:
Echoes In Rain - Champion Hurdle 20/1 0.5pts each way (12/04/2021)
Sharjah - Champion Hurdle 20/1 0.5pts each way (16/08/2021)
Echoes In Rain hasn't been as good as she looked last year and probably won't threaten in the race this year, but back in April last year she looked to have a lot of potential. However, her run behind Honeysuckle and Zanahiyr this weekend, was much better and she settled well. She could sneak a place here, but I'm thinking they'll opt for the county as she was tenderly handled yesterday and has a decent mark to exploit, alternatively her settling better possibly opened the door for a slight step up in trip to the mares hurdle. The 20/1 about Sharjah was ridiculous as he has firmly cemented himself as the best two miler outside of Honeysuckle and is rightly 9/1 second favourite in what looks like a weak enough race.
The other two bets that I advised were two doubles with Honeysuckle in.
Honeysuckle/Thyme Hill - Champion Hurdle/Stayers - 17/1 double 1pt win (18/10/2021)
Honeysuckle/Bob Olinger - Champion Hurdle/Turners - 5.5/1 double 2pts win (29/11/2021)
The prices on Honeysuckle and Bob have come in even further and 5.5/1 the pair is decent value as it would now pay less than 3/1. With the stayers looking very open with the main horses all beating each other, I'm still happy enough with that bet too and that has also nearly halved in price to 9/1 from 17/1.
I will be adding another each way bet, but you might be better off waiting for extra places if we were to get them nearer the time. I'm advising it now because 40/1 NRNB is a big price for this horse, and could come into a much shorter price should he be declared. Abacadabras at 40/1 each way, he was being aimed at the Stayers' Hurdle and has been campaigned as such. He was third in the Hattons Grace ridden cold and staying on at the end. He was then stepped up to 3 miles over Christmas but appeared to be a non stayer being beaten 38 lengths by Klassical Dream. That put an end to his Stayer's Hurdle target and importantly his only entry at Cheltenham is now this race. He ran in the race last year going off just 10/1, before falling at the 3rd hurdle, after that he won well at Aintree over 2 and a half miles. It may be they opt to go straight for that race and don't bother here at all, but that's the beauty of NRNB. Just the half point each way.