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advising selections on which to wager, since March 2010.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Champion Hurdle market leaders

My early review of the Cheltenham Festival races continues.
The intention is to put together a portfolio of selections that will (hopefully) find the value in the antepost markets.
As with all the races at the Cheltenham Festival, the key to antepost wagers is to try and work out which horses will line-up at the start, and which horses have other targets.
So far, I have looked at the 
Cheltenham Gold Cup and taken £10 win at 12/1 about CLAN DES OBEAUX, 
and the 
Ryanair Chase and taken £10 win at 12/1 about POLITOLOGUE 
Both horses are trained by Paul Nicholls.
Yesterday, we learned that Waiting Patiently – who beat Politologue when they met as novice chasers at Haydock in January 2017 running over 2m4f – will now be aimed at the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f, and not the Gold Cup over 3m2f.  We shall see how much of a chance he has in the Ryanair Chase should he run this Saturday at Kempton over an extended 2m4f. Connections have always required plenty of “give” in the racing surface for this horse, who has only had 4 runs since that win at Haydock in January 2017, and the ground at Cheltenham in March may well be too quick for the horse to show his best, or even take part.   Waiting Patiently (OR170) will certainly have a test on Saturday as the field includes Charbel (OR162), Top Notch (OR162) and Black Corton (OR155); but if he’s fit enough (and he should be) then he should win easily. 

REMEMBER: Always rate the performance, NOT the race.

The Champion Hurdle run over 2m1f on the opening day of the Festival is usually a good betting race as the form is invariably solid and 5 of the last 8 runnings have been won by the favourite. 
Buveur D’Air has won the race for the last 2 years and endeavours to join the all-time greats by winning for a 3rd time this March. However, he will have to run a lot better than he did on Boxing Day when he was beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by stablemate Verdana Blue. Horses do not suddenly find 10lb of improvement unless tried for the first time over a completely new trip or on radically different ground; as such, I can’t have it that Verdana Blue went from being a mid-140’s handicapper in November to a high 150’s Grade 1 hurdler in December.  Last year, after Buveur D’Air won the Champion Hurdle in March, I rated that winning performance on heavy ground at 158.  Next-time-out he won the “Fighting Fifth” hurdle at Newcastle on 1st December, but the form of that race looks poor now as Samcro has obviously not trained-on, Vision Des Flo is probably no better than OR150, and Summerville Boy seems to have lost the plot. 
I’ve rated the performance of Verdana Blue on Boxing Day at 150, which puts Buveur D’Air on 157 (close to his Champion Hurdle rating of 158), and if Samcro ran to 150 in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (which seems likely based on his run NTO in Ireland) then Buveur D’Air ran no better than 160 that day at Newcastle.
The Ryanair Hurdle run at Leopardstown on 29th December could be a decent pointer to the future winner of the Champion Hurdle. The race was won by Sharjah (trained by Mullins) who was well beaten into 8th in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year, but then showed his potential when winning the Galway Hurdle, making-all, off OR146 (and he carried 11st 7lb – the heaviest weight carried to victory in the race since Quinze with 11st 12lb in 1999; and Sharjah was also, at 5yo, the youngest horse to win since Cuan Na Grai in 2006).  
Sharjah comprehensively beat the OR164 rated Supasundae into 2nd (he was also 2nd in 2017 to Apple’s Jade) and the only doubt over the form is that Tombstone in 3rd (beaten 5½ lengths) is no better than 150. As such, I’d rate this performance as no worse than 160, and considering the 6yo SHARJAH is on the upgrade I’m of the opinion that he should be the market leader for the Champion Hurdle, especially as his stablemate Melon (2nd to Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle) appears to have stopped improving at around 160.  
The tricky part of the formbook is rating the performance of the mares in the race, as they are in-receipt of a 7lb allowance. I don’t think we will see Apple’s Jade running in the Champion Hurdle as the 3-mile Stayers’ Hurdle looks more preferable; and the Henderson-trained pair of Apple’s Shakira and Verdana Blue don’t look good enough even with the mares’ allowance. Laurina is the one we have to get a handle on, and such is her superiority over her gender rivals at 2-miles we can only speculate on the level of her ability.  Personally, based on her speed figure of 126 when winning the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham over 2m1f last March, and comparing that with the figures recorded by Verdana Blue (not entirely accurate but, hopefully, a good guide) then I would rate her at about 150, maybe 152 but no higher.  Unless she finds another 5lb (at least) she will need every ounce of her 7lb allowance to take the Champion Hurdle.
On that basis, I’m taking the 10/1 available (Ladbrokes, Bet Victor and William Hill) on SHARJAH for the Champion Hurdle, as I think the horse should be half those odds. 
Champion Hurdle: SHARJAH - £20 win @ 10/1 

The opening race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle run over 2-mile & 87 yards, has been won for the last 10 years by horses that have run in 4 or more hurdle races, and 14 of the last 17 winners won their previous race (won last-time-out, LTO).
This isn’t good news for the current fav Angels Breath as he has only run in one hurdle race (which he won). His stablemate Champ looks a better prospect right now, although his age (he’s a 7yo) may be against him as he may not have too much improvement left in him. Personally, I doubt he’s worthy of his OR150 hurdle rating, and I prefer the horse he beat into 2nd in the Challow Hurdle on 29th December, Getaway Trump trained by Paul Nicholls, as he does not yet appear to have stopped improving. I was not overly impressed with the win of Elixir De Nutz at Sandown on Saturday 5th January, as he was clearly superior to his rivals and was not overly stretched; I like to see horses pushed as now we think he has potential improvement in him, but he may not.
The current leading Irish challenger is Quick Grabim, but he’s also a 7yo (the last 7yo to win this was Captain Cee Bee in 2008) and his last race is difficult to rate (only 4 rivals) and I prefer his stablemate Aramon who has improved with every run since joining the Mullins yard from Germany last July; he looks an exciting prospect. With Ireland providing 7 of the last 11 winners of this race, you have to give strong consideration to the Irish challenge.
Al Dancer won a 2m1f Class 3 handicap in mid-December, but his trainer (Nigel Twiston-Davies) thinks his best trip will be over 2m4f and it’s possible that he just stayed-on better than his rivals.  
It’s early days yet for this race, and we will likely see some more formlines appear in the next few weeks

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