INCREDIBLY, seven of the last nine Unibet Champion Hurdles (3.30pm) have been won by either Willie Mullins or Nicky Henderson, and it’s long odds-on that it will be eight from 10 after today’s race.
BUVEUR D’AIR is the shortest priced favourite of the whole week at 1/2 with Coral, while the next five in the betting come from these two powerful stables.
Shocks do happen at the Cheltenham Festival – Douvan was turned over at 2/9 in last year’s Betway Champion Chase – but it would be a huge surprise if Buveur D’Air was beaten in this.
Put simply, he is miles better than the rest of the line-up and has his ideal soft conditions.
If Faugheen was back to his very best, he would certainly pose a difficult question, but that looks highly unlikely after his last two performances at Leopardstown.
Henderson’s star hurdler has been imperious since reverting to hurdles from fences in February last year, winning all six starts.
Admittedly, his last performance at Sandown wasn’t the most impressive visually, but that was nothing more than a light jog around Sandown so expect him to be fully tuned up this afternoon.
Seven Barrows has produced some brilliant hurdlers over the years and this one could turn out to be the best of the bunch.
He gets from A to B in the blink of an eye, a trait synonymous with all the great hurdlers and I expect memories of Istabraq to come flooding back this afternoon.
JP McManus, who owned that three- time winner of this race, will be rubbing his hands together at the prospect of a seventh Champion Hurdle.
He landed a one-two last year and I think he may do that again with exactly the same horses 12 months on.
MY TENT OR YOURS is a remarkable animal.
Prior to his win in the International Hurdle here in December, he had finished second on all five starts at Cheltenham.
He has danced every dance, picking up the silver medal in all three Cham- pion Hurdles he has contested, and a place on the podium again looks likely.
Henderson has decided to keep him fresh this season with that reappearance win in the International his only start this term.
That patience can be rewarded and he has to be the each-way play in the race at 10/1 with Ladbrokes.
As an 11-year-old, he certainly can’t be improving, but he is as solid as they come and the most likely to chase home his superstar stablemate.
Faugheen is a real conundrum, while the same can be said of the enigmatic Yorkhill.
The former looked like he retained his ‘machine’ characteristics when bolting up in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November.
Nothing came to light after his abject display at Leopardstown over Christmas, while his second to Supasundae in the Irish Champion Hurdle was another headscratcher.
It would be wonderful if he was to return to his glory days, but as is often said in racing: they don’t come back.
Although you know Mullins wouldn’t be sending him if he didn’t think he was up to it, he still has an awful lot to prove, even with first-time cheekpieces.
Yorkhill has won at the last two Festivals, and there will be many hoping a return to Prestbury Park will show that the fire still burns.
However, his two runs over fences this winter have been so bad that it re- quires a huge leap of faith to back him in this.
Melon doesn’t look good enough, while stablemate Wicklow Brave, well beaten in this 12 months ago, is having his first start since a respectable 10th in the Melbourne Cup.
If there is one improver in the field, it surely has to be ELGIN, who can repay the faith of connections who stumped up £20,000 to supplement him.
The winner of three of his five races this season, he certainly deserves his place in the line-up.
The Kingwell Hurdle was an undeniably messy race last time, but you couldn’t argue with the way he put it to bed and he’s now up to a rating of 161.
That puts him in with a big chance of nicking a place and I think he will be the one to chase home the Henderson duo.
BILL ESDAILE’S CHAMPION HURDLE 1-2-3
1 BUVEUR D’AIR
2 MY TENT OR YOURS