Continuing my look at some of the major races at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, dear reader, let's have a sideways squint at the Champion Hurdle, for which you may or may not need Binoculars to find the winner...
It's now just two weeks until the curtain rises on the greatest four days of racing in the calendar (for this fan of the sport at least). The Champion Hurdle is the Blue Riband hurdle race in UK, and the roll of honour is long and hugely distinguished. Multiple winners are a feature of that list, so let's see what chance Katchit (2008 winner) and Sublimity (2007) have, amongst many others.
So let's get to the numbers, and see what we see:
- All of the last ten winners were 1st or 2nd last time out (in fact, 9/10 won). Of the 34 pre-entries, this reduces the field to 15, and strikes out such as Punjabi, Crack Away Jack, Jered (who I don't think can possibly win), Sizing Europe (thank God - the horse has cost me a fortune!), and the aforementioned past winners Katchit and Sublimity (and dear old Hardy Eustace).
- Previous Cheltenham Festival form is extremely beneficial, with 9/10 having already won at Cheltenham in March. This discounts Ashkazar (who was 2nd last season); 6/4 ante post favourite, Binocular (who was also 2nd last season); Catch Me (3rd in 2007); Cybergenic (who is 750/1 anyway!); Harchibald (2nd in this race in 2005); Hurricane Fly (the novice is a Cheltenham debutant, and unlikely runner in this race); Jazz Messenger (7th in 2006); Muirhead (12th last year); Osana (2nd in this race last year); Sentry Duty (stuffed out of sight last year); and, Won In The Dark (3rd in the Triumph last year).
- In fact, on this stat, there are only four possible winners: Brave Inca, Celestial Halo, Ebaziyan, and Whiteoak. For the purposes of the research, I will include any horse that has finished in the first 3 at a previous Festival, which means reinstating Ashkazar, Binocular, Catch Me, Harchibald, Osana, and Won In The Dark.
- No winner of the Champion Hurdle in the last ten years had more than two months off the track prior to running at Cheltenham. Strike out Binocular (again, and we haven't even got to the five year old stat yet!); Ebaziyan; Harchibald (again, though he is entered in an AW flat race at Dundalk on Friday - incidentally, this race will be well worth watching based on the five day declarations, as there are at least FIVE Cheltenham entries in there!!); and, Won In The Dark.
Revised shortlist then becomes: Ashkazar, Brave Inca, Catch Me, Celestial Halo, Osana, and Whiteoak. Hmm, interesting.
- Although Katchit won as a 5yo last season, he was the first since 1985. Every year, many try. Whilst I think that there are more precocious animals entered these days, I will not deviate from such a strong trend, and will drop Ashkazar, Binocular (again!), and dark horse Celestial Halo.
We are now down to Brave Inca, Catch Me, Osana, and Whiteoak.
- 9 out of the last 10 winners were aged 7, 8 or 9 (as I mentioned, Katchit defied this stat last year). Brave Inca, at 11, simply doesn't have the gears any more - he's been a fine race horse but can't win a Champion now; and Whiteoak is a 6yo (6yo's won four on the trot from 1995 to 1998, but anyway she'll likely take in the race she won last year), so I'll eliminate those two.
We are left with Osana and Catch Me.
Osana found only Katchit too good last season in the race, and only Celestial Halo too good this season in his one run to date. As a bold front running sort, he looks pretty good each way value at around 10/1 (I'm already on, win only, at circa three times those odds - see below).
Catch Me is interesting. He was heavily supported in the run up to the race last season (sent off at 10/1), and this year looks to have improved, winning four from four. However, his trainer, Edward O'Grady, has made life difficult for us by saying that he would run in the Champion only if the ground was soft or heavy. He is also entered in the World Hurdle, and has form over further than 2 1/2 miles.
IF he runs in the race, he is v-e-r-y interesting, and a small disposable wager at 50/1+ is attractive to me (so much so that I've had a cheeky tickle).
The five year old fly in the ointment is not three times excluded Binocular, but Celestial Halo. He comes from the Nicholls yard, won the Triumph last season (as did Katchit prior to winning the Champion as a 5yo), and has arguably the best form in the race. He looks the pick of the 'statsbusters', and I recommend a saver on this fellow.
So that's what I fancy for the Champion Hurdle. But what about you? Leave a comment and let me know which horse you like, and why. I'd really like some form students to tell me why Binocular is a fantastic bombproof banker bet at the evens available with Ladbrokes, totesport and Betfred (although he's as big as 6/4 elsewhere).