The Cheltenham Champion Hurdle has proved to be one hell of a rollercoaster ride for antepost investors in this particular market in recent weeks but it does appear now that there is a settled market with some fairly definite participants being priced up.
After the long term odds-on favourite, Faugheen was ruled out of the race through injury along with stable mate Arctic Fire, the complexion of the betting has now changed completely and many would now argue that we now have a quite open championship race.
Here is a runner-by-runner look at the market principles as well some of the other lively outsiders.
Annie Power – 2/1
Annie Power is the new favourite for the Champion Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival, a race that she currently is not even entered for, such has been the drastic turn of events in the fortunes of Willie Mullins’ army of Festival entries.
It is widely believed she will be supplemented for the race but it is by no means a certainty and punters are advised as always to proceed with caution.
Annie Power had two other Cheltenham options and she drifted for both the Mares’ Hurdle (best-priced 3-1) and World Hurdle (4-1) over the course of the last week.
She completed her Cheltenham preparations with an easy success at Punchestown at odds of 1-20, admittedly against just two inferior rivals.
Annie Power can be added to the race five days beforehand at a cost of £20,000. Will it be a £20,000 gamble owner Rich Ricci is willing to take?
Nichols Canyon – 5/1
Nichols Canyon is a talented horse, having six Grade One wins to his credit, but he did disappoint at Cheltenham last year when only third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle when sent off favourite.
After beating another Champion Hurdle hopeful, Identity Thief in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, Nichols Canyon was a distant third to Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.
Nichols Canyon however holds the proud distinction of inflicting the only defeat to date on Faugheen when just beating him by half a length in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November.
Nichols Canyon’s gritty nature and tenacity makes him a likeable sort and he is sure to be a much better horse in the spring with the better ground favouring him more than in the winter when it is tacky going.
He looks like another major Mullins player in this race.
Identity Thief – 11/2
With all the attention focused on the Mullins’ horses in this race over the winter, Identity Thief has gone relatively unnoticed, but he must come into the reckoning now with the departure of Faugheen from the scene.
He won the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November and then he gave Nichols Canyon a race at Leopardstown in late December and has been laid out since then for the Champion Hurdle.
Paul Nicholls recently flagged Identity Thief up as the one to beat at a Cheltenham preview evening which pleased his trainer, Henry de Bromhead considerably.
Could Nicholls be onto something?
My Tent Or Yours – 8/1
One of five Nicky Henderson entries still engaged in this feature and probably the one carrying his best hopes.
He was runner-up to Jezki in 2014 and has been absent since suffering a shock defeat at Ayr in the April of that year.
Now a nine-year-old, My Tent Or Yours looked fit when last seen in public having a racecourse gallop.
It will probably take a leap of faith to back this horse after such a long absence but his price is remaining quite static so he must have plenty of supporters.
The New One – 13/2
Nigel Twiston-Davies feels his stable star has never had the credit he deserves but if it comes up as decent ground next month, he is confident The New One can run a big race.
The New One is probably the best of home grown talent on show here and he is another horse that may have been overlooked.
He has recorded five course wins at Cheltenham already, including the Neptune in 2013 and he was an unlucky third in the Champion Hurdle of 2014 after being badly hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor.
Now an eight-year-old, this is probably his last real chance of capturing this blue riband prize for hurdlers and putting some well deserved icing on the cake.
Top Notch – 14/1
Top Notch was second in this season’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, form that ties him in closely with Nichols Canyon, but there is a marked difference in their odds for the race.
Nicky Henderson’s five-year-old disappointed in the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, but last season’s Triumph Hurdle runner-up showed something like his old form by winning the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso with ease.
Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede are no strangers to the winners enclosure at Cheltenham and they will be buoyed by their horse’s return to form.
Old Guard – 16/1
It is always foolish to rule out a Paul Nicholls outsider at Cheltenham and Old Guard is certainly an outsider on paper in this race.
He will however be going to Cheltenham a fresh horse and if he can recapture some of that excellent form that brought him three wins on the track at the end of 2015, he may have somewhat of an each-way squeak.
The five-year-old was never really at the races when firmly put in his place by Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day but back at Cheltenham the horse appears to thrive.