Saturday 2 February 2019

Why Biggest Threat to Buveur D’Air Champion Hurdle Hat-Trick at Cheltenham Festival Comes from Mares


Only the Cheltenham Gold Cup carries more prize money at the Festival than the Champion Hurdle, yet – despite a big pot on offer for winning it – there isn’t great strength-in-depth to this year’s renewal.

That may be one of the reasons why dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air is a best-price 7/4 favourite with Betfair to complete a hat-trick on Tuesday, 12 March. Some six weeks out from the Cheltenham Festival, it is still double figure prices bar the first two in the market and an unusually high number of mares are leading contenders for this championship contest.

Willie Mullins, who has trained the winner four times in the last eight runnings, is naturally well-represented in the Champion Hurdle through the likes of Melon and the improving Sharjah with both 10/1 ante post punts. Of those in behind Buveur D’Air, however, the eye isn’t drawn to these geldings but to the ladies.

Only four mares in Champion Hurdle history have won the race, yet they receive a 7lb sex allowance and that weight can be the difference between winning and losing. Buveur D’Air backers know this only too well, as he was beaten a short-head by Nicky Henderson stablemate Verdana Blue when touched off in the shadows of the post during the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

If the pair re-oppose in the Champion Hurdle, then they will do so off exactly the same terms. Verdana Blue thus looks great value and a solid each-way wager minimum at a best-price 12/1 with William Hill, while you can get your Cheltenham betting information now, as well as top offers at Free Bets UK.

Irish mares may be better than boys

Annie Power from Mullins’ yard was the last mare to capture the Champion Hurdle in 2016. Laurina looks to have similar potential and has won all five starts including at the Cheltenham Festival for the Irish champion trainer in facile fashion.

While all those have been against her own sex, it is the wide-margin nature of Listed and graded victories that suggest Laurina could be something special. The six-year-old is 4/1 second-favourite with Betway for the Champion Hurdle as a result, yet Mullins and owners Sullivan Bloodstock retain the option of keeping her against fellow mares.

Gigginstown House Stud are another of Ireland’s biggest supporters of National Hunt horse racing, and the plan was for them to have a serious tilt at one of the few races that have eluded them over the years with Samcro. That hasn’t worked out due to a lung infection; however, Apple’s Jade remains an alternative Champion Hurdle contender.

Trained by Gordon Elliott, the seven-year-old has been awesome this season winning three graded races against the geldings by increasing margins. Apple’s Jade tends to contest the Mares’ Hurdle over 2m 4f at Cheltenham and got turned over by Benie Des Dieux when found to be in season during the Festival last year.

While connections are unlikely to alter their plan, the temptation must surely be there – especially if she were to demonstrate the turn of foot needed to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Apple’s Jade is as big as 14/1 with William Hill, but as short as 9/2 elsewhere and should she switch Cheltenham targets would have a huge shout.

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