For the first time in years the Champion Hurdle betting is not led by a Willie Mullins hotpot. Instead Alan King’s Yanworth is the 5/2 favourite with Bet365 in an unusually open renewal on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival 2017 (3.30pm Tuesday, live on ITV).
Yanworth has won his three starts this season but he is not convincing, especially as he was a beaten favourite in the Neptune last year. This seven-year-old’s hurdling was anything but fluent when he won last time out at Wincanton in the Kingwell in mid-February. He was wearing cheekpieces for the first time and started as the 2/5 favourite but only beat Ch’Tibello (28/1) a length after four backhanders. Jockey Barry Geraghty thought that the stiffer test of Cheltenham would suit him better. Owned by JP McManus, Yanworth is strong on stamina but if his rhythm is checked by hurdling errors then he has to be vulnerable, especially on decent ground. Geraghty is injured and the gelding will be partnered by Mark Walsh for the first time.
Petit Mouchoir (15/2) is the most fancied Irish raider. Trained by Henry De Bromhead (pictured) since owner Michael O’Leary’s fall out with Willie Mullins, Petit Mouchoir has won his last two starts. Most recently he beat Footpad a length in the Irish Champion Hurdle under David Mullins on ground described as good at Leopardstown in late January. He started as the 9/10 favourite and made all as usual and ‘held on well’ when Footpad staged his challenge.
In his previous run Petit Mouchoir confirmed his credentials as a very decent horse when winning the Ryanair Hurdle at the same track in December. He was a 6/1 chance and beat the odds-on favourite Nichols Canyon by an impressive seven lengths on yielding under Bryan Cooper. Petit Mouchoir also defied his starting price of 40/1 in the Grade 1 Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April, second by only a neck to Buveur D’Air with Limini eight lengths behind him.
This striking grey French-bred six-year-old is clearly a force to be reckoned with, sharing a rating of 164 with Yanworth. David Mullins described him as a monster with ‘some engine and no real flaws’. Cooper takes the ride here and has a decent chance of prevailing.
Another Irish raider, Willie Mullins’ Footpad (16/1) is a hold-up horse and confirmed testing conditions specialist, winning top class races in the mud at Auteuil. This five-year-old is not the fastest but has plenty of stamina, winning over nearly two and a half miles in France. His second to Petit Mouchoir last time gives cause for optimism but he was outpaced when it mattered in the Neptune last year, beaten seven lengths into third. Owned by Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, Daryl Jacob will probably try to keep him just behind the leaders as he cannot afford to let them get away.
Mullins’ other runner Wicklow Brave (28/1) has a Cheltenham win under his belt, taking the County Handicap Hurdle in 2015 by a whopping eight lengths after being sent off at 25/1. He has not won over obstacles since but has been campaigned mainly on the flat and sprung a surprise in the Irish St Leger in September by beating the 1/7 favourite, Aidan O’Brien’s Order Of St George. His only run since was in the Melbourne Cup which proved to be a wasted journey as he finished with just two horses behind him in November.
Now an eight-year-old, this son of Beat Hollow is a very talented, quirky individual who can dwell at the start and is not the most natural jumper but you cannot discount him. He usually runs well fresh and would not have been sent to Australia if he needed mud. He may well run much better than his odds suggest.
A more reliable nine-year-old The New One (12/1) is looking rather second hand these days but this likeable bay is rated just 1lb lower than the market leader. Nigel Twiston-Davies has made a pretty good job of patching him up, there have been joint injections, treatment for back problems and input from the event rider Andrew Nicholson who suggested a new bit to help keep him straight.
The New One triumphed here on his seasonal debut in December, beating My Tent Or Yours three lengths in the Grade 2 International Hurdle when giving him 8lb on soft. Next time out only Yanworth’s younger legs outpaced him on the good ground at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle. He was beaten three lengths and had Ch’Tibello (28/1) two lengths behind him in third with My Tent Or Yours a further two lengths in his wake. We last saw The New One winning the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in January on testing ground but he must need slower ground than he is going to get to fulfil his trainer’s dream.
The lightly raced Cyrus Darius (33/1) was beaten 26 lengths by The New One at Haydock, probably needing the run after a 16 month absence. In February he won a lesser affair at Kelso but the hot favourite, Dan Skelton’s Born Survivor, fell when looking the likely winner. Trained by Malcolm Jefferson, this relatively unexposed eight-year-old is open to further improvement but, currently rated 146, he has 18lb to find with the best here.
The novice hurdler Moon Racer (9/1) is rated just 2lb higher at 148 but is much more popular at 9/1 with Bet365. He was purchased for €5,000 as a four-year-old by the canny Michael Ronayne who won a Fairyhouse bumper with him and promptly sold him for £225,000 to David Pipe. This extremely fragile eight-year-old has only managed five starts since. He won two of his three bumpers for Pipe and was a winning favourite in the Champion Bumper here in 2015. Moon Racer reappeared over a year later and suffered his only defeat, beaten less than a length in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown in April.
In September Moon Racer made a winning debut over hurdles at Perth, beating the useful Ballyandy three-quarters of a length. He was last seen winning the Supreme Trial here in November with Ballyandy nearly three lengths behind him in third. Connections decided on Saturday to skip the Supreme as they love this race and have opted to aim high while he is fit and well. Moon Racer has won all his three starts here and has hopes rather than expectations of maintaining his unbeaten record under Tom Scudamore.
Nicky Henderson is triple-handed but, while this season’s form makes it is difficult to fancy My Tent Or Yours (16/1), both Brain Power (13/2) and Buveur D’Air (4/1) have realistic chances of providing him with his sixth Champion Hurdle win.
The six-year-old Buveur D’Air was third in the Supreme last year, beaten eight lengths by the mighty Altior, and followed up with a win in the Top Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April. This season he switched codes and scored in both his runs in two mile novice chases in December, starting as the odds-on favourite in both and beating nothing on soft ground.
We did not see him in January but, owned by JP McManus, he reappeared in early February getting the better of Rayvin Black in a listed hurdle at Sandown under a motionless Barry Geraghty. If he had stuck with hurdles he would probably have gained a higher rating than his current mark of 157. Buveur D’Air will have the inestimable assistance of Noel Fehily but he is at his best on soft ground making him difficult to fancy at his current price.
In contrast Henderson describes Michael Buckley’s Brain Power as ‘a good-actioned horse’ who should enjoy conditions. He floundered in the soft ground at Prestbury Park on his seasonal debut in the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November, finishing 20 lengths behind the winner.
He was last seen ‘scooting clear’ in the valuable handicap hurdle formerly known as the Ladbroke at Ascot in mid December. Having started at 12/1 he beat his more fancied stablemate Consul De Thaix five lengths under David Mullins, giving him a stone. The race was run at a strong pace and both horses were wisely held up in the midfield. The handicapper was so impressed that his mark was raised from 149 to 162.
In his previous run in a handicap hurdle at Sandown two weeks earlier Brain Power also won, finishing nearly a length ahead of Consul De Thaix, giving him 10lb. Having Mullins on board again has to be a positive.
Our Preview’s Champion Hurdle Betting Tip
Yanworth is too short to be interesting. He is a dodgy jumper who has already acquired cheekpieces and we have to look elsewhere. Wicklow Brave is an interesting each-way proposition at 28/1, expect him to shorten dramatically if Ruby Walsh is declared as his jockey.
- Brain Power is a likely beneficiary of conditions but our Champion Hurdle tip has to be an each-way punt on PETIT MOUCHOIR, currently priced at 15/2 with Bet365 who are one of only a few bookies currently offering ¼ the odds on the first three places. Don’t worry if his odds drift because you will get Best Odds Guaranteed if you place your bet with Bet365.