After winning the Champion Hurdle over two miles at the Cheltenham Festival in the last two seasons, Buveur D’Air is a respected market leader to make it three in a row this year.
As the eight-year-old gelding represents the race’s most successful owner in JP McManus and trainer – Nicky Henderson – in history, Buveur D’Air is a worthy favorite. Very few horses, even top thoroughbreds, are unbeatable, so his Cheltenham streak could possibly fall short.
Here are four horses that could dethrone him in the feature race on day one of the Festival; Tuesday, March 12.
Mares have won the Champion Hurdle four times throughout its illustrious history. Most of the main challengers to Buveur D’Air, according to the betting, are female horses. Heading those is Irish raider Apple’s Jade, who has really kicked her form up a notch this season.
Trainer Gordon Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud have never had a Champion Hurdle winner between them, so in Apple’s Jade they have arguably their best ever chance of finally ending that long wait. The seven-year-old has won Grade 1 hurdle events in Ireland at distances ranging from three miles down to two impressively. We therefore have a tough, versatile horse who won’t shirk a battle with Buveur D’Air.
Sticking with the Irish mares theme, Willie Mullins-saddled Annie Power to Champion Hurdle glory in 2016. Laurina is a Cheltenham Festival winner like Apple’s Jade and looks set to take on the geldings here.
Having won a match race at Listed level around Sandown on her only run of the season so far, we still don’t know just how good the six-year-old French-bred mare is. Laurina has form over further so that’s a plus if stamina comes into play, although Mullins has kept her off good ground. In an open race that the Champion Hurdle is shaping up to be this season, it is well worth your while checking the latest horse racing bets from the pros on betconnect, a social betting site, before taking a punt.
Could the biggest threat to Buveur D’Air come from inside his own stable? It seems to hinge on getting a sound surface to race on, but seven-year-old Verdana Blue beat him in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day by a short-head when the favorite made a crucial mistake at the third last jump.
The Henderson stable companions will meet again off the same terms. It’s worth highlighting that Buveur D’Air will have to give half-a-stone in weight to all of these mares in the Champion Hurdle because the race rules specify a sex allowance for them. That gives Verdana Blue a better chance of confirming the Kempton form than her current odds suggest.
Owner McManus has often run two horses in the race in recent years. With My Tent Or Yours retired, if there is to be a second string in this renewal, then the improving Espoir D’Allen may go to Cheltenham. Trainer Gavin Cromwell has given mixed signals about that prospect, however.
There’s no doubt Espoir D’Allen is improving, but this gelding is only a five-year-old. A horse must be exceptionally talented in order to cut it in a Champion Hurdle at such a young age, and this year might be tackling too much too soon. However, he has won multiple Grade 3 races, as well as a Grade 2 during his juvenile season.