Champion Hurdle Preview: Cheltenham 2009

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.

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- 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.

Champion Hurdle Ante-PostSo 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).


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16 replies
  1. James couldwell says:

    Not so sure on Osana as Pipe has said at start of the season Ashkazar is ten lengths better than Osana.

    If Binocular is to be beat then i would say Sublimity or Ashkazar. But have backed both ew.

  2. Colin Metcalfe says:

    I think irrespective of trends Celestial Halo would be most people’s alternative to the ‘jolly’ here. Having said that he has been soundly beaten by Binocular on two separate occasions. Binocular gives the impression of an improving horse and it is not as though he ran badly last year at Cheltenham. Second to Captain Cee Bee and well clear of the remainder is fair form. A reverse forecast with Celestial Halo may be a good bet though.
    I think Binocular is probably as ‘bomb proof’ as any horse at the festival (with the exception of Master Minded), but a reverse forecast with Celestial Halo, may not be the worst bet in the world.

  3. Nick Boyd says:

    Nicky Henderson made the point the other day, that the recent spate of bad weather had interrupted his training schedule and with the seven barrows gallops closed by snow, he took the decision to let them down for a couple of weeks. This would explain [possibly???] recent runnings. So effectively the yard has had a 2 week break, five weeks before Cheltenham. What might that imply? And what about all the other Lambourn-based Cheltenham runners?

  4. Matt Bisogno says:

    Excellent points chaps. I will be especially interested to see how trainers who have had interrupted preparations fare this year. For instance, Binocular will have a racecourse gallop at Kempton tomorrow morning, along with a number of his stable mates.

    But a racecourse gallop is not a prep run, and it doesn’t prepare a horse for the blood and thunder of a championship race.

    I just don’t think Binoc is far enough clear on raw ability to dodge both the trends and an interrupted preparation and justify very short-priced favouritism.

    But then, my lay of the meeting last year was the aforementioned Master Minded!!!


  5. NEVILLE says:


  6. Anthony Currie says:

    Well Chaps,
    Binocular is BEST WHEN FRESH and he had a 195 day respite before his first run over hurdles at Ascot in 2008. He doesn’t go on very soft neither heavy but definitely a Superstar on Good and good/soft. He is an ISTABRAQ in the making at least so says AP and the trainer has not given us any hint that he isn’t. Beating Celestial Halo twice, the last time more impressive than the first clearly shows the remarkable and versatile entire he seems to be.
    Inexperience and getting warm with soft/slow conditions along with a strong headwind at Cheltenham proved to be his undoing last year. This year, one can easily throw away the Stat Book.
    Evens or 10/1, Binocular is still the one they all have to runaway from because come the second to last on the day, he will be cruising just behind the leaders with AP having a big grin on his face before he destroys them all with his superb turn of foot and flat speed… How Far? the pundits will be asking once he jumps in the lead over the last ….

  7. Matt Bisogno says:

    Interesting (and very bullish!) opinion Anthony. I hope you’ve backed him at 10/1, because you can’t be sure it won’t be soft on the day, or that there won’t be a strong headwind.

    It’s all about opinions, and I love the way you’ve put yours (even if I don’t agree with it). Good work!


  8. SEAN says:

    I have backed KATCHIT to win, place and win w/o BINOC.

    Listening to Alan King the horse needs 2.5m on the speed tracks he has run on so far this year, as he doesn’t have the speed.

    What he does have is stamina, which comes into play at Chelts.

    On Gd/Sft, watering policy probably guarantees this, KATCHIT is the one for me.

    BINOC MAY be the next ISTABRAQ but he hasn’t proved it yet.


  9. john purnell says:

    The reason no 5 year olds have won the champion is a lot of them have tried but they have been not good enough. I am a trends man and religously do my stats every year for cheltenham and aintree and I know this stat but have never really understood it. It took a horse of Katchits qaulity to win and bust the other stat about triumph hurdle winners not winning the champion the following year. I have done the trends on this race but the 5 year old stat doesnt stand up with the quality of horses entered this year. I not saying a 5 year old will win but there are some very high quality ones in the field this year and they shouldnt be ignored. I am personally waiting to see the state of the ground fo r celestial halo. The irish seem weak this year but have won 7 of the last 10. Stats should not be taken to literally and only form part of the picture but good luck with catch me although 17 of the last 18 winners have come from the first 6 in the betting.

  10. Matt Bisogno says:

    Interesting again John. But…

    2007: Detroit City 5yo 6/4f (stuffed)
    2005: Essex 5yo 9/1 (stuffed)
    2002: Bilboa 5yo 14/1 (3rd)
    2001: Foot and mouth (remember that?!)
    2000: Hors La Loi 5yo 11/1 (2nd)
    1998: Grimes 5yo 12/1 (stuffed)
    1997: I’m Supposin 5yo 13/2 (4th)
    Sanmartino 5yo 9/1 (6th)

    My point, laboured as it is, is that many fancied 5yo’s have tried and failed to win the race. I don’t say one of the juniors won’t win; merely that statistically I’d sooner be betting something else.


  11. nick says:

    hi all, with mc coy on binocular and ruby on celestial halo ,2 jockeys who well know that with a half a mile left to run in the champion the last horse they want on their shoulder is brave inca. we will see then what binocular is made of!im a harchibald fan myself and pray the rain stays away for his sake.

  12. Ray says:

    Hi, Can anyone tell me if a decision has been made on whiteoak yet? Im really hoping they opt for champion hurdle but thats because I’d rather back in that at 150 than 4 in the mares race. Can only assume they have gone for mares otherwise 150 is madness. Personally I’d be as confident of whiteoak cutting down Brave Inca and Katchit up the hill as I would Binocular and really hope they go for it.

  13. nick says:

    whiteoak is running in the mares race.i think united will take that race though.

  14. Mark says:

    I’ve put a few antepost bets on for this race and would definitely agree Osana is an each way cert and am impressed with the odds you got. Can I ask when this bet was placed however?

  15. Ray says:

    Im well pleased with my 150 on Whiteoak. Cant disagree about Osana. Pipe may well have said Ashkazar is 10 lengths better but hes not shown it yet and Im not sure he’ll shine in this. Fully expect Whiteoak to reverse the form, Binocular not travel well and not pick up. Crack Away Jack far too short compared to Osana. Heres the result 1st Whiteoak, 2nd Osana, 3rd Katchit, 4th Brave Inca.

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