The Champion Hurdle is one of the biggest races at the annual Cheltenham Festival. A Grade 1 race, it is where the best two-mile hurdlers go in search of the prestigious win. And 2021 will be no different. With the entries submitted, 27 potential runners have been given the green light with last year’s winner, Epatante heading the list.
Trained by Nicky Henderson, Epatante’s victory secured his position as the most successful trainer in the race with a staggering eight wins. See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur d’Air (2017, 2018) and Epatante (2020) have all brought home the gold for Henderson so can he do it again in 2021?
Covering all of his bases, he could potentially saddle six runners in the Champion Hurdle. Epatante and Buveur d’Air, who was successful in 2017 and 2018, could be joined by stable mates Buzz, Call Me Lord, Marie’s Rock and Verdana Blue.
But the path to victory is never that smooth and there are plenty of other potential runners who could scoop the victory from under him. Epatante may be the race favourite with the bookies but the likes of Honeysuckle, Sharjah, Silver Streak and Saint Roi will all be hot on the mare’s heels.
The Top Two Trainers
What makes this year’s Champion Hurdle interesting is that Epatante has already been beaten this season by none other than Silver Streak. The two met last time out at Kempton in the Christmas Hurdle and the defeat was by quite a margin.
So can Silver Streak go better than his 6th place finish from 2020? His form is good and the odds are quite generous at around 9/1, though you may be able to find better with some good racing sign up offers.
While everybody may be talking about Epatante, we can’t forget about Buveur d’Air who won the race in 2017 and 2018, also trained by Nicky Henderson. Now a 10-year-old, he had been off the track since sustaining an injury in 2019. But he returned this season, in January with a trip around Haydock in the Champion Hurdle Trial.
He finished second to Donald McCain’s Navajo Pass but it was a good return race and bodes well for the Champion Hurdle. Incidentally, both horses are owned by J P McManus, the most successful owner ever in the Champion Hurdle with an amazing nine wins.
However, JP McManus also has Saint Roi in contention with trainer Willie Mullins. He won the Handicap Hurdle at last year’s Festival so has excellent form around the course. However, when he headed to Leopardstown in December, he was well beaten by Sharjah.
Sharjah is owned by the Ricci’s and is also trained by Willie Mullins. He too has multiple entries in the Champion Hurdle, with five lively contenders including Saint Roi, Sharjah, Concertista, James Du Berlais and Saldier.
So with two trainers responsible for 40% of the entries, who else makes up the potential field?
Champion Hurdle Entries
Song for Someone from trainer Tom Symonds is well in the mix. He has impressively won his last three starts, all of which have come in Grade 2 company. He beat Silver Streak in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.
Despite the lure of the Champion Hurdle, plans are not set in stone. Symonds said: “Song For Someone is in great form and the plan would be to either run in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham or the Aintree Hurdle.
“We have entered him in the Champion Hurdle and we will make a decision nearer the time.”
At the other end of the betting market is Petit Mouchoir from trainer Gordon Elliott. At a general 66/1 the odds are long but given the horse hasn’t won a race since October 2017 it’s easy to see why. He has run in the Arkle (2017), the Stayers Hurdle (2018) and the Champion Hurdle (2019) – but has never managed better than third place.
I should point out, however, that in all that time he was with trainer Henry De Bromhead and only recently transferred to Gordon Elliott in October 2020. Can Elliott wave a magic wand and finally get Petit Mouchoir to fulfill his potential? It’s a big task and with so little time to turn things around, it may be too late for 2021.
With 27 Champion Hurdle entries, it’s quite tricky to narrow down the field at the moment. Generally, between 11 and 17 runners take to the starting tape so almost half the entries will not run in the race. Once they have been declared the picture will become clearer as will the front runners.