The final declarations for the Champion Hurdle have been announced, and twelve horses are set to battle it out for the right to be crowned the 2017 Champion Hurdler.
Most of the recent money has been for Yanworth, and the Alan King Trained runner is no bigger than 3/1 in the market-place. However, if recent Cheltenham Festivals are anything to go by, it’s likely that his price will be bigger come Tuesday morning, with bookies offering competitive-pricing to entice the hundreds of thousands of punters who will be betting at Cheltenham this week to bet with them.
The big drifter amongst the market leaders this week has been Buveur D’Air, mainly due to the fact the ground is forecast to be good-to-soft, as his trainer Nicky Henderson has made it clear he thinks the JP McManus owned horse would be ideally suited by softer conditions. In the absence of JP’s retained jockey Barry Geraghty, the booking of his second jockey Mark Walsh for Yanworth also suggests there’s more confidence behind the current favourite. However, the booking of Walsh may be another reason why bookies will be keen to take Yanworth on, as the jockey has yet to taste success of any kind at the Festival, let alone in one of the Championship Races.
Nicky Henderson also has two other runners in the shape of Brain Power and My Tent Or Yours, and it could be good-ground loving Brain Power who attracts support, especially as many of the respected pundits have been tipping this one in the Festival Preview Nights.
Petit Mouchoir remains solid in the market, however the one that might attract money is former Champion Bumper winner Moon Racer. He may be a lightly raced novice but, having powered up the hill in winning all 3 of his previous starts at Cheltenham, there will be plenty of people willing to give him a chance as he beat Yanworth at the Festival in 2015.
The other declared runners are Ch’tibello, Cyrius Darius, Sceau Royal, The New One, Wicklow Brave and Footpad, with the latter two set to represent Willie Mullins, who failed to declare either of his mighty mares Vroum Vroum Mag or Limini.
The two mighty mares won’t be missing from the Festival though, as Mullins aims both of them at the Mares’ Hurdle, a race he has plundered in each of the last 8-years courtesy of 6 consecutive wins for Quevega, and a win each for Glen’s Melody and Vroum Vroum Mag.
However, despite Vroum Vroum Mag returning to defend here crown, Ruby Walsh looks set to ride Limini instead. The race looks between the top-3 in the betting, which includes Apples Jade as well as the two Mullins’ Mares, and it’s easy to see why Walsh has opted to ride Limini. Vroum Vroum Mag was just touched-off by Apples Jade earlier in the season when conceding the Gordon Elliott trained Mare 4lb, whilst Limini cantered all over Apples Jade off level-weights last time out. Limini is also bred to be top-class on the flat and, if she isn’t affected by big-field and big occasion, her turn-of-foot could be the decisive factor at the business end of the race.
The other big battle that’s been heating-up with every twist and turn of the markets is the Prestbury Cup, the annual battle between England and Ireland to have most winners at the Festival. There are have been plenty of complaints from Irish Trainers about English Handicapper Phil Smith raising Irish Trained runners significantly above their Irish Marks, however Smith justified his actions with statistics that showed Irish Trained runners had such a superior strike-rate to English runners in handicaps as a percentage/per runner. Bet365 bet England 2/5, Ireland 10/3, Draw 13/2.