In the latest of GG’s Cheltenham Festival previews, Andrew Mount (@trendhorses) gives us his Champion Hurdle tips, which includes backing a 25-1 shot
This is a weak renewal, with the 159-rated Epatante currently heading the betting (the front two in the market last year were rated 166 and 172). Nine of the last ten winners were trained in Ireland or by Nicky Henderson, with Paul Nicholls’ Rock On Ruby the exception in 2012.
Let’s have a look at the key contenders
At the time of writing Epatante heads the market at around the 3-1 mark and it’s difficult to pick too many holes in the form of Nicky Henderson’s mare.
If we include her French form, her record since her racecourse debut stands at 1111911 (6-7). That unplaced effort did come at the Cheltenham Festival – when ninth of 22 in the Dawn Run – but she wore a hood for the first time and hurdlers in such headgear have a poor record. She impressed in the Christmas Hurdle, even allowing for the fact that she raced wide on the better ground, and looks sure to go close in her bid to give owner JP McManus his fourth straight win in this race.
On the subject of first-time hoods, it has been suggested that Epatante’s stablemate Pentland Hills, the current 5-1 second favourite, might be fitted with one here. That would not be a good idea in my opinion, as the five-year record of hurdlers in this particular form of headgear in Class 1 races is just one winner from 81 runners.
The five-year-old achieved a rare feat at last year’s festival, graduating from maiden hurdle winner to Grade 1 hurdle winner in a single step when taking the Triumph Hurdle at odds of 20-1.
He followed up at Aintree and can be forgiven both runs this term - he was too free when fifth of eight at Cheltenham in December and again pulled hard when going down by a nose in a four-runner line-up at Haydock. The likely big field and strong pace will help him to settle and he has to be high on the shortlist – but only if there’s no hood involved.
Made it seven wins from seven starts when narrowly justifying cramped odds in the Irish Champion Hurdle, holding on by half a length from Darver Star. She’ll reportedly miss this in favour of the Mares’ Hurdle.
Bombed out behind Honeysuckle at Leopardstown, trailing home an 11-length sixth of nine. He’s never shown much at this time of year and now has form figures of 7846B6 (0-6) when racing from January to April.
Ran third in this race at 80-1 last season and another placed effort could be on the cards. Since joining the in-form Evan Williams he has run best when fresh, recording form figures of 1112U1131 (6-9) when rested for more than six weeks. He was five lengths behind Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle but he raced on the inside of the track where the ground was slowest and he went into that race off a break of just 26 days. He handles any underfoot conditions but won’t mind if it’s good to soft or quicker.
Could only finish a 12-length third of five behind Sharjah over Christmas but the small field wouldn’t have been to his liking. He’s had only four runs in double-digit line-ups, recording form figures of 11F2 (2-4). He had every chance when falling in the Knight Frank at Leopardstown last term and the second place came in a field of 14 in the 2019 Triumph Hurdle. He was three lengths behind Pentland Hills that day and probably doesn’t deserve to be about five times the price.
Has taken an unorthodox route – he won a handicap hurdle on his latest start (albeit a Grade 3 one) and he had two goes over fences beforehand.
Like Pentland Hills, he can take a keen hold in his races and is another who could improve markedly for a big field/strong pace scenario. If we ignore his chase runs, his record reads 1123121 (4-7).
The first runner-up effort was a head defeat at Ascot, the third place – behind Mister Fisher at Kempton – can be excused as he was left with too much to do in a slowly-run contest – and the other second place came in last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Champion Hurdle runners who prepped in a handicap hurdle are just one from 45 since 1997 but most were big prices and I can see him running well at juicy odds if the field doesn’t cut up significantly.
Epatante is solid enough at the head of the betting but the main play has to be last year’s runner-up SILVER STREAK, whose trainer is having a fantastic season. Back him each-way at around the 25-1 mark and play him on the day in a forecast with the favourite. They finished one-two at Kempton last time and, at current prices, a repeat would pay around 75-1. Pentland Hills will be a danger to all granted a strong pace, while Thomas Darby and Coeur Sublime also hold each-way claims.
Andrew Mount’s best bets
Silver Streak 25/1 each-way bet365
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