Don’t discount Mullins in a wide open Champion Hurdle

The day one showpiece has been kind to punters in recent years with four favourites triumphing in the last six renewals. All four of them were trained by Willie Mullins.

But with the 2016 champion Annie Power and 2015 champion Faugheen both ruled out through injury, Mullins is the forgotten man this time around.

Could the Irish champion trainer cause a shock and enhance his unbelievable recent record in the race or can a British trainer win the race for the first time since Rock On Ruby in 2012?

Special Offer

Tuesday 14th March - 3.30pm OddsWon/LostBet
Champion Hurdle    
Tips Footpad (each-way)    Best Bet @ 20 / 1  

Tuesday 14th March - 3.30pm OddsWon/LostBet
Champion Hurdle    
Tips Wicklow Brave (each-way)    Best Bet @ 28 / 1  

Let’s take a look at the contenders.

JP McManus holds a strong hand

The famous green and gold hoops will be sported by three horses in this year’s race – the likely first and second favourites Yanworth and Buveur d’Air and the two-time runner up My Tent Or Yours.

The legendary Irish owner has won this race twice in recent years through Jezki (2014) and Binocular (2010) and a further three times thanks to perhaps the finest Champion Hurdler of them all – Istabraq- who triumphed from 1998 to 2000.

Whilst the odds suggest that McManus will be celebrating another victory come 3:45 on Tuesday, I’m not convinced by the claims of any of his three runners.

Yanworth is undoubtedly a high class horse but he isn’t the slickest of hurdlers and the feeling persists that his jumping may let him down when the going gets tough. At 3/1 he looks on the short side and he is passed over.

Buveur d’Air would likely go off favourite should the rain hit Cheltenham but with the forecasts all predicting dry weather, his chance has been severely compromised. He may still run a big race but at 9/2 there looks to be better value to be had elsewhere.

My Tent Or Yours saves his best for this race, finishing 2nd behind Annie Power in 2016 and Jezki in 2014. A reproduction of that form would make a mockery of his 16/1 odds but he has shown nothing at all this season and he looks past his best at the age of ten.

Bigger priced alternatives make plenty of appeal

Taking out the top two, it’s about 7/1 the field meaning that an each-way bet can return a profit if your horse finishes in the first three.

Nicky Henderson has suggested that on better ground, Brain Power may have the edge on stablemate Buveur d’Air which could lead to that horse shortening if the rain, as expected stays away. He was only eighth in the Greatwood Hurdle over C&D earlier this season though which makes me doubt his suitability for Cheltenham.

At around the same price as Brain Power (7/1), Petit Mouchoir holds slightly more appeal having won the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out at Leopardstown. A prominent racer – there shouldn’t be any issues with luck in running – but will he just set the race up for one of the stalkers? I think so.

This leads us to the runners at double figure prices and this is where I think the value lies in a wide open race.

Moon Racer has course and festival form having won the 2015 Champion Bumper and the Supreme Trial over hurdles earlier on in this campaign. David Pipe has opted to go for this over the Supreme indicating a certain level of confidence.

The New One has finished third, fourth and fifth in this race and he should once again give his running. With this year’s race having a slightly weaker look to it, he could nick a place although he would prefer softer ground.

Footpad represents Willie Mullins and is the choice of Ruby Walsh. He was only a length behind Petit Mouchoir in the Irish Champion staying on well at the finish. He finished third behind Ivanovich Gorbatov and Apple’s Jade in last year’s Triumph so Cheltenham may bring out the best in him. At 20/1 he could be value to hit the frame.

Chtibello is another interesting runner. The winner of last year’s Scottish Champion Hurdle hasn’t really progressed this season but he is reported to have had a wind op ahead of his biggest ever assignment. If that brings out a decent level of improvement, he is another who could reward each-way backers at about 33/1.

Sceau Royal is a two-time course winner but finished only 12th in last year’s Triumph and looks held by Yanworth and Chtibello on last month’s running of the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. He holds little appeal.

At the very bottom of the market lurks Wicklow Brave and Cyrus d’Arius. The former, also trained by Willie Mullins, is a top class stayer on the flat, having contested the Melbourne Cup last time out and being one of the few horses to have beaten Order Of St George (2016 Irish St Leger).

He has some pretty impressive hurdles form to his name too, having won the 2015 County Hurdle and finished only 1 ¼ lengths behind Faugheen in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle. His fitness has to be taken on trust but, with the strong pace expected to suit, he is another who appeals at a big price.

Finally at the very bottom of the list is the unexposed Cyris Darius who can be backed at a massive 40/1. Malcolm Jefferson’s gelding won a Grade 2 Novices Hurdle by 10 lengths in 2015 but he has only been seen on a racecourse three times since then, winning the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last time out by 7 lengths. There will be far worse 40/1 shots running this week.

Split your stakes on the Mullins pair

I’m keen to oppose the horses at the top of the market here and instead split stakes on each-way bets on a couple of outsiders.

At the beginning of the article I mentioned that Willie Mullins has trained the winner of the Champion Hurdle four times in the last six years. But even more remarkably, if you concentrate on the two most recent runnings, Mullins has trained five of the six horses to finish in the places, including Arctic Fire (20/1), Hurricane Fly (8/1) and Nichols Canyon (15/2) in addition to Annie Power and Faugheen.

Footpad and Wicklow Brave may not be the household names we expect to see representing Mullins in the Champion Hurdle but, just one of those hitting the frame will see us make a profit.

We’ll have half a point each way on each and hope that Mullins can continue his incredible Champion Hurdle record.

2017 Champion Hurdle Odds

Posted: Monday, 13th March 2017
Author: Paul Dunn

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