If ever there was a course specialist it’s Nicky Henderson at Cheltenham. Sending out more than 60 winners since 1985, he frequently goes toe-to-toe with Irish Champion trainer Willie Mullins for leading trainer at the Festival. Though the last time he earned that honour was in 2012 when he walked away with seven winners.
For the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, Henderson goes armed with some top-class runners, any of whom are capable of adding to his already impressive tally of winners. But of all the races, it’s the Champion Hurdle that is his to lose.
With five potential runners in contention, he has two in the top five of the betting market. Epatante is as low as 3/1 and joint favourite with Benie Des Deux with some bookmakers. On odds of 9/2, Pentland Hills is another solid runner who could run a great race. Fusil Raffles is a general 14/1 with Call Me Lord on 20/1 and Verdana Blue on 25/1.
How Nicky Henderson’s Runners Are Shaping Up
Preparations for the Festival are in full swing and today Henderson sent 13 horses to Kempton for a gallop. Amongst them were Pentland Hills, Fusil Raffles and Verdana Blue. Clearly pleased with how they ran, Nicky Henderson said: “It was good and they all did what they had to.
“It just puts an edge on them and you don’t judge them by results here.
“I was happy with Pentland and Verdana and Fusil was all right.”
— Graham Clark (@GrahamClark85) February 25, 2020
That may not seem like the highest of praise but Henderson knows there is more work to be done. Fusil Raffles is a horse that comes to life on the course as evidenced by his performances this season. A very young horse at only five-years-old, he notched up his fourth career win at Wincanton in November.
However, he didn’t run well at Kempton in December and was subsequently pulled up by jockey Nico De Boinville. The Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle was then won by stablemate Epatante.
Can Epatante follow the steps of Dawn Run and Annie Power and become one of only five mares to win a Champion Hurdle? Based on her current form it’s easy to see why the odds are so low. She cruised to victory at Newbury and Kempton this season and has won four of her five hurdle races.
However, she went off as the favorite in the Mare’s Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival and was well beaten into 9th place. It was the 50/1 rank outsider Eglantine Du Seuil for Willie Mullins that won the race. Looking back, a couple of small mistakes at the fourth and fifth scuppered her chances. Can she improve on that and actually win the Champion Hurdle in 2020?
Champion Hurdle Competition
Across all of the bookmakers, Benie Des Deux is a short-priced favourite. However, Benie Des Deux was not actually entered into the race. Those odds have come from speculation that owner Rich Ricci may supplement her for the Champion Hurdle. No decision has yet been made, but there’s always a chance.
That would definitely shake things up especially as Envoi Allen is also looking like a good bet. The Gordon Elliott trained six-year-old has a 100% win rate and is three for three over hurdles.
And then there’s Honeysuckle, for trainer Henry De Bromhead, also on a 100% win rate. Another mare, she put in a great performance at Leopardstown in the Irish Champion Hurdle and could give jockey Rachael Blackmore a historic win if she can get her over the line.