We’re taking a look at the 2019 Champion Hurdle runners ahead of the feature event on day one of this year’s Cheltenham Festival.
A perfect 10 contenders are set to go to post at 3.30 for what promises to be yet another thrilling renewal of one of National Hunt racing’s blue riband events.
All of our Cheltenham Festival tips can be found here, but this is the bwin News Champion Hurdle preview:
Regarded as Nicky Henderson’s third string but powered up the hill when winning the International Hurdle here in mid-December and has always had a touch of class about him.
Henderson said: “He could be a good little each-way bet. He was very good in the International and we have not run him since on purpose.”
The reigning champion has only tasted defeat once in his last 13 outings and will be bidding to join former greats such as Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq by completing a hat-trick of wins in this contest.
Trainer Henderson reported: “I think I would be comfortable to say he is as good as we have had him all year.
“Barry (Geraghty) came and schooled him and then rode him in a bit of work last week and thought he felt great – sometimes he tells me he doesn’t.
“It would be great if he could do it, as he would join history if he could. I do think it is more competitive than last year, but I don’t think he was right last year.”
The five-year-old has won all his three starts this term, claiming a decent scalp when beating Wicklow Brave at Naas, and his trainer Gavin Cromwell expects to be in the picture.
He stated: “All is good and we’re really looking forward to it. Hopefully he can give a good account of himself. It’s obviously his biggest ask, but I think he’ll run a big race.”
Stayed on strongly to score in a trial race at Haydock in January but was well beaten in fourth when competing at this level in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle and needs to improve to figure.
Hasn’t sparkled this season but has shown a liking for this course in the past, finishing second in the 2017 Supreme and then only going down by a neck to Buveur D’Air in last year’s Champion Hurdle.
“I’m very happy with him at the minute,” Willie Mullins told At The Races. “We have our own reasons why we think he disappointed in the Irish Champion Hurdle and we are going to change a few things for Cheltenham that will hopefully help him.”
Has progressed into a proper money-spinner, landing the Galway Hurdle last August and more recently enjoying Grade One triumphs in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Trainer’s son Patrick Mullins will be in the saddle and said: “I’m delighted to keep the ride. It looks a red-hot race and Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina are all high-class horses.
“My horse has been impressive in Punchestown and Leopardstown and has a lot of speed. I just hope there’s not too much rain, as he’s definitely a better horse on better ground.”
Ultra-consistent but has it all to prove after being beaten by Brain Power here in December and by Global Citizen at Haydock the following month.
This former winner of the Mares’ Hurdle has earned the right to figure amongst the best-fancied Champion Hurdle runners this term following four straight wide-margin victories in Ireland, the last three of which were in Grade One company.
Trainer Gordon Elliott beamed: “She was awesome the last day and has been awesome all season.
“If she wins a Champion Hurdle, she’ll be a hero. She’s a hero in my eyes already, but if she could do that, she’d be something special.
“She’s proven how good she is – she’s 10 Grade Ones won – and if she went and won a Champion Hurdle it would be the icing on the cake.”
Hacked up by 18 lengths in the mares’ novices’ hurdle here 12 months ago and deserves a tilt at the big one after making it six consecutive wins since joining the Mullins camp.
Mullins saddled the last mare to win the Champion Hurdle in Annie Power three years ago and said: “This has been the goal all along. We just haven’t had the ground for her, which is why she hasn’t run much.
“She’s a different type of mare to Annie Power. They’re both tall, rangy mares, but they’ve got different temperaments.
“Laurina’s temperament has changed dramatically since last year. She was a bit on the excitable side, but she has settled down hugely this year.”
Lowered the colours of stablemate Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle, but Henderson seems to think that form will not hold up on this much-stiffer circuit.
“Verdana Blue did beat Buveur D’Air on fast ground at Kempton, but you will see a big turnaround on that,” said the Seven Barrows handler.
VERDICT: Apple’s Jade will seek to run her rivals ragged but we believe BUVEUR D’AIR can benefit from that strong pace, settling nicely in behind and then coming through at the business end for a famous treble.
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