With no hot favourite to scare other hopefuls off, there are set to be a whopping 17 Champion Hurdle runners in Tuesday’s Cheltenham Festival showpiece.
Nicky Henderson has a strong hand as he seeks an eighth success, while owner JP McManus is eyeing an incredible ninth win and fourth consecutive victory.
BALLYANDY @ 16/1
A Cheltenham Festival veteran after following up his 2016 Champion Bumper win by finishing fourth in the Supreme and third in the Coral Cup.
That isn’t the CV of a Champion Hurdle winner, but he was placed in two high-class December contests before edging out Pentland Hills at Haydock, so will feature in some each-way wagers.
CALL ME LORD @ 20/1
Disappointed at Sandown last month but showed plenty of spirit to beat Ballyandy by a neck in the International Hurdle here in mid-December, so can’t be written off.
CILAOS EMERY @ 6/1
Was a well-beaten fifth in the 2017 Supreme but has since developed physically and looked a hot prospect over fences until falling in the Grade One Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.
That prompted a switch back to smaller obstacles and hacking up at Gowran Park should have restored his confidence ahead of trying to give Willie Mullins a fifth win in 10 years.
COEUR SUBLIME @ 14/1
Was only overhauled by Pentland Hills on the run-in when second in the Triumph 12 months ago and kicked off this term with a 15-length romp at Down Royal.
Laboured in third behind Sharjah and Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown over the Festive period but a subsequent wind operation could give him a boost.
CORNERSTONE LAD @ 25/1
Sprang a 16/1 surprise when upsetting Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and wasn’t far behind Ballyandy and Pentland Hills at Haydock, so not without a chance at big Champion Hurdle odds again.
DARASSO @ 40/1
Returned from a lengthy absence to finish eight lengths further back in fourth in that Haydock trial and also had his limitations exposed by Cilaos Emery in Ireland recently.
DARVER STAR @ 12/1
Likeable sort who has already picked up five wins over hurdles and ran well in defeat behind Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse and Honeysuckle at Leopardstown, both of which are well fancied for other Festival events.
FUSIL RAFFLES @ 16/1
Was a good winner at last year’s Punchestown Festival and reappeared with a game success in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton, but has plenty to prove here after being pulled up in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.
GUMBALL @ 100/1
Was only 12th of 24 in a hot handicap at Newbury last month and hard to make a case for him at this level.
LA PATRIOTE @ 100/1
Another who would be more at home in handicap company and was last of eight behind Call Me Lord in December’s International Hurdle.
NOT SO SLEEPY @ 25/1
Below par at Newbury a month ago but had previously picked up a couple of nice wins at Ascot after finishing fourth of 30 in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket on the Flat, so probably worth tilting at windmills with his handicap mark now sky high.
PENTLAND HILLS @ 5/1
Has a bit to find on two runs at Cheltenham and Haydock this season, but pulled too hard early on each time and a faster pace here should suit.
Last year’s smooth Triumph success is still fresh in the memory, showed that was no flash in the pan by following up at Aintree and would be a major player if back to that form.
PETIT MOUCHOIR @ 20/1
Ran a cracker when third behind Buveur D’Air in the 2017 renewal of this race and returns in good heart after a consistent run of placed efforts in Ireland this term.
His overall Cheltenham Festival record is not great, though, finishing well beaten in the 2016 Supreme, the 2018 Arkle and last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle.
SHARJAH @ 10/1
Carries the Rich Ricci colours of past winners Faugheen and Annie Power and has three Grade One triumphs in Ireland on his own card, so could be a contender if on his best behaviour.
However, there have been plenty of off-days too, including when fading back into sixth behind Honeysuckle in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown last month.
SILVER STREAK @ 20/1
Belied huge odds of 80/1 to finish third 12 months ago, albeit a long way adrift of ill-fated runaway scorer Espoir D’Allen, and started out this season with a convincing victory at Kempton.
Had his limitations exposed in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and could not match Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle, but will be ridden to run on past beaten horses and that could tempt some place punters at a nice price.
SUPASUNDAE @ 10/1
Jessica Harrington’s 10-year-old veteran will be making his sixth visit to the Cheltenham Festival and warmed up with an eye-catching fourth in the Irish Champion Hurdle, when doing his best work at the business end.
This stiffer track will play to the strengths of last year’s 2m 4f Aintree Hurdle hero, who won the Coral Cup here in 2017 and finished second in the Stayers’ Hurdle 12 months later.
EPATANTE @ 10/3
Stormed to the head of the ante-post market when quickening clear to land Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle by five lengths and receives a handy 7lb allowance as the only female in this field.
Flopped when favourite for the mares’ novices’ hurdle last season but Henderson blamed that on a bad reaction to a flu jab in the build-up.
VERDICT: We’re sticking with the old ‘horses for courses’ mantra and backing PENTLAND HILLS to be rejuvenated by this return to the scene of his excellent Triumph Hurdle success.
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