Champion Hurdle 2011 Preview

2011 Champion Hurdle Preview

It might seem a long way until Cheltenham in March – and it is! – but there are a few races where we can grab ourselves some early value in the ante-post markets. And the 2011 Champion Hurdle is one of them.

So why would I think I can pick the winner of this ultra-competitive race before the National Hunt season has even begun?! Well, quite simply, most of the clues we need to steal a march on the market are already in situ, as the key clues were provided last season.

Let’s look more deeply into the facts and figures to see how they can help us dig out a few decent bets for the 2011 Champion Hurdle.

The most significant factor in identifying the Champion Hurdle shortlist is course form. And not just course form, but Festival course form. In the last nine years, since the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, the winners had all either won at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival (four Champion Hurdle winners); or, placed in the previous year’s Champion Hurdle (four); or, finished in the top four in a Festival Grade 1 race the year before (one).

The full run down is as follows:

Year     Winner         Best Run Season Prior
2010    Binocular    3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2009     Punjabi       3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2008     Katchit       WON Triumph Hurdle (G1)
2007     Sublimity     4th Supreme Novices Hdle (G1)
2006     Brave Inca     3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2005     Hardy Eustace     WON Champion Hurdle (G1)
2004     Hardy Eustace     WON RSA Hurdle (G1)
2003     Rooster Booster WON County Hurdle (G3 Hcap)
2002     Hors La Loi III   2nd Champion Hurdle 2000 (G1)
2001     No Race     Foot and mouth

And in case you think that is a coincidence, also bear in mind that prior to this a certain Istabraq demonstrated that Festival course form was key when gaining a hat-trick of wins in the race, having won a Grade 1 novice race (Sun Alliance) the year before he commenced his winning spree!

There has only been one winner who didn’t win a Graded hurdle or finish in the first three in the previous Champion Hurdle. So, we can narrow our shortlist down quite quickly into probables and possibles. Let’s do that now:

Probables

Champion Hurdle 1-2-3
Binocular
Khyber Kim
Zaynar

Cheltenham 2010 Graded Winners
Menorah
Peddlers Cross
Soldatino
Thousand Stars
Berties Dream

Possibles (placed in a Grade 1 Hurdle at Cheltenham 2010)

Get Me Out Of Here, Dunguib, Oscar Whisky, Reve De Sivola, Rite Of Passage, Summit Meeting, Barizan, Alaivan, Carlito Brigante, Najaf, Kennel Hill, Arvika Ligeonniere

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We have eight on the probable list, and let’s focus our primary attention there. Trying to figure out whether any are likely to go chasing is the first port of call. We can be reasonably confident that the first three from the Champion Hurdle will all be re-opposing this season, although Zaynar’s quote of 33/1 implies he might be going for the World Hurdle (for which he is currently quoted as 8/1 second favourite). We’ll scratch Nicky Henderson’s charge.

Of the other Graded winners, connections are undecided on the route for Peddlers Cross, who may go chasing and may go for the World Hurdle, so we’ll eliminate him.

Thousand Stars, winner of the County Hurdle, looks an unlikely runner in the Blue Riband as he’s been beaten twice since Cheltenham and is readily crossed out. Meanwhile, Berties Dream will be fencing this season.

That leaves a ‘probables’ shortlist of Binocular (3/1), Khyber Kim (12/1), Menorah (20/1) and Soldatino (25/1).

Binocular is the leading hurdler from last season, and was following up a third place in the 2009 Champion Hurdle and a second place in the 2008 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle when just a four year old. Although he seems to get to Cheltenham and he is clearly a very good horse on his day, I am more than happy to take him on at the prices. Remember that when he won the Champion Hurdle last year, he was sent off a 9/1 shot.

That reflected his form coming into the race, which consisted of two defeats to Go Native and a tinpot win in a very minor event. I expect him to lose at least one of his first two starts this season, meaning we’ll be able to back him at twice his current odds.

Khyber Kim will be nine years young this season, but is still a fairly fresh horse. 9yo’s have won the race – Rooster Booster in 2003 and Royal Gait in 1992 to name but two – so his age is only a small concern. Khyber’s course form is impeccable, with that silver medal in the Champion Hurdle joining two previous victories on Cleeve Hill. That said, he was also soundly beaten in Festival hurdle events prior to that.

His improvement last year was remarkable, and there is a question about whether he can sustain that level of form, let alone improve on it which he’d likely need to do.

Menorah got little credit for winning the Supreme last season, largely because he wandered around and gave Get Me Out Of Here a problem or two. The facts are though that he beat that horse and ‘pegasus’ Dunguib fair and square, and he did it despite wandering around and jumping poorly, not because of it!

In other words, he can improve for that. He loves fast ground which it almost always is at Cheltenham in March (or at any other time when they’re racing), and he’ll be aimed at the race. His narrow loss to General Miller can be considered irrelevant for all sorts of reasons: the track wouldn’t have suited, it may have come too soon, he made mistakes, and so on.

The 20/1 with Stan James is twice the price of Skybet’s 10/1 and, if I was forming a book, I’d be more in line with the latter quote. This makes Menorah excellent value to my eye.

Soldatino has to defy the five year old’s in the Champion Hurdle stat, one which only Katchit has managed to do since See You Then won the first of his three in 1985. Ignoring history for just a moment, he looked a highly progressive horse last season and, with just five career runs under his belt, he has vast scope for improvement. That said, he will have to find a stone and a half in order to trouble the key players, and 25/1 looks no more than reasonable.

Of the probables then, I make Menorah the best value right now, with Stan James’ ‘stan-d out’ price of 20/1.

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Moving onto the more speculative list of possibles, the thirteen can be reasonably whittled down by running plans. Reve De Sivola is likely to go for the World Hurdle; Get Me Out Of Here is in the same ownership as Binocular (J P McManus) and may well go novice chasing; the Triumph Hurdle placed horses (Barizan, Alaivan, Carlito Brigante) don’t look good enough; and Najaf, Kennel Hill and Arvika Ligeonniere are headed either chasing or for the World Hurdle.

This leaves a likely shortlist of Dunguib, Oscar Whisky, Rite Of Passage and Summit Meeting.

Much has been written about Dunguib and, amongst those myriad words are some facts:

– his rider is not as good as AP McCoy (or Richard Johnson or Barry Geraghty or Ruby Walsh, etc) and this must cost him some advantage – I don’t know how much.

– he has some improvement in him, especially if he can get his jumping up straight.

– his best hurdling form is on soft ground which he’ll never get at Cheltenham.

Dunguib is available at 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle and this might be a tradeable price, as he is likely to win a few uncompetitive races at home before running in something like the Irish Champion Hurdle. But I’d need to see a professional jockey on board before contemplating a bet on him.

Oscar Whisky was unbeaten in four starts before his fourth place behind Menorah, and he was just two lengths behind Dunguib despite bungling the last hurdle. His scope for improvement is considerable, as he got better with every run last term. 50/1 is a reasonable speculative poke, and it might be worth a couple of quid at the 200 on Betfair.

Rite Of Passage is clearly a high class horse, and his win in the Ascot Gold Cup marked him out as a strong contender for all Cup races on the flat. Given his current favoured position in the market for the Melbourne Cup, there must be a doubt about whether he can continue to race flat and jumps throughout the season.

In other words, his first priorities appear to be in flat races and, despite how talented a horse he clearly is, Rite of Passage is not for me on that basis (besides which, 16/1 is hardly generous anyway).

Finally, let’s consider Summit Meeting. Jessie Harrington’s charge is a real dark horse. His fourth, beaten six lengths, behind Peddlers Cross was his first start on ground faster than soft, and also marked a career best performance. Funnily enough, his jockey Robert Power said back in November 2009 that he’d appreciate better ground. He looks to be right.

There is a concern that this one might be pitched at staying races or fences, but personally I think that would be a shame as he has less than most to find with the leading protagonists in the Champion Hurdle and is a massive price on Betfair (not quoted with the bookies). As he’s far from a likely runner, it’s a tiny speculative at 350/1 for me. Just in case…

Selection: Menorah 20/1 Stan James

Big Prices: Oscar Whisky 200/1 Betfair, Summit Meeting 350/1 Betfair

Comments

2 Responses to “Champion Hurdle 2011 Preview”
  1. Kieran Ward says:

    Hi Matt

    Nice analysis.

    I for one however, would not be so quick to dismiss Peddlers Cross. I think there is a very good chance the Champion Hurdle is his ultimate target (backed up by a little titbit from someone with an “in” at Bankhouse). McCain himself has said that he believes Peddlers Cross is the best horse they have ever had and considerably better than Overturn.
    I would say he is a truly progressive sort and 20/1 is a massive price even taking into account the slight doubts of a run.

    Kieran

    • Matt Bisogno says:

      Thanks Kieran, that’s an interesting insight. My ‘no’ was only based on doubts about whether he ran. If you think he might be a ‘goer’ then he’d be sure to come into the reckoning on known form and historical pointers.

      I’ll have a small saver at this stage and see where he runs first. Two miles over hurdles would suggest the Champion route was favoured.

      Matt

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