The 2015 Cheltenham Festival is now just five months away and the excitement for this showpiece of the national hunt season is already starting to build. It will all begin on March 10th and the highlight of day one is undoubtedly the Champion Hurdle. Run at a ferocious clip over a trip of two miles, this grade 1 race is open to horses aged four years and upwards, and is run on Cheltenham’s Old Course.
Being the premier hurdle race of the season, this event attracts the very best hurdlers from the UK and Ireland, and has been won by some real legends of the sport down the years. Notable Champion Hurdle winners include Istabraq, See You Then, Persian War and Sea Pigeon to name but a few. The Jessica Harrington trained Jezki will arrive in Prestbury Park as the defending champion following his impressive victory in the 2014 renewal, when seeing off both My Tent Or Yours and The New One.
The layers at Betfair have put the Irish raider in as their 6/1third favourite behind the unlucky in running The New One, and exciting youngster Faugheen. Jezki confirmed his improvement by beating Hurricane Fly comfortably two months after the Festival and looks set to make a bold attempt at successfully retaining his crown.
The NigelTwiston-Davies trained The New One is the current favourite for next year’s Champion Hurdle, with odds of 9/2 currently available on the exchange at betfair.com. The six year old son of King’s Theatre was particularly unlucky when being badly hampered during the early part of the 2014 Champion Hurdle and following that interference, his chance looked to have gone completely. However, The New One showed just what a tough and talented horse he is by battling his way back through the field and using his powerful turn of foot to take third spot in the race. A previous Festival winner in 2013, The New One gained compensation for his defeat at Aintree in the Doom Bar Hurdle where he coped with the step up to two mile four furlongs, but was made to fight all the way to the line by 2012 Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby. Harry Fry’s horse looks very unlikely to try and recapture his Champion Hurdle crown next year and is available at odds of over 100/1 for small money at Betfair.
Arguably the biggest danger to The New One’s bid to win the Champion Hurdle will come from the Willie Mullins trained Faugheen. Unbeaten in his six career starts to date, Faugheen is one of the most exciting hurdlers to be seen for many years and this horse has the potential to dominate the Champion Hurdle for many years to come. The manner of this horse’s victories in both the Neptune Hurdle at Cheltenham as well as the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown suggest that Faugheen is a very special thoroughbred indeed. At last year’s Cheltenham Festival, Faugheen had any amount in hand when accounting for a field of top class novices and he was even more impressive at Punchestown, with his nearest rival a full twelve lengths away.
The layers on the Betfair betting exchange are not prepared to go any bigger than 5/1 about this horse and I can completely understand why that is the case. It will be interesting to see where Willie Mullins chooses to send Faugheen for his seasonal debut, but another top class display could well see the horse’s Champion Hurdle price shrink further. Punters may do well to take the 5/1 available at Betfair now.