5 Champion Hurdle Contenders for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival
This year`s Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival is very much up for grabs. There is no strong favourite like in other races at the meeting, so who are the main contenders and why?
We take a look at five leading fancies for the most prestigious hurdle race in Britain, which begins on Tuesday, 10 March.
Connections - trainer Nicky Henderson and owner JP McManus - are the most successful in Champion Hurdle history, so six-year-old mare Epatante has to be respected. She has improved an awful lot this season, stepping up on a Listed handicap victory around Newbury by landing the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Epatante beat the best of British hopefuls that day, and so her odds on Cheltenham 2020 are the shortest as the 7/2 favourite here. She isn`t stronger in the market, because of reports she was coughing at home and the fact that she disappointed at last year`s Festival when fancied for the Grade 2 Mares` Novices` Hurdle.
Having burst onto the scene when winning the Triumph Hurdle 12 months ago, Pentland Hills has been regarded as a contender for this ever since. It isn`t easy for juveniles stepping into open company the following season and so it has proved with this other inmate of Henderson`s Seven Barrows stables.
A fading fifth in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham on his return to action, Pentland Hills traveled like the best horse for much of that race. The five-year-old was then denied on the line by Ballyandy in the official Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock, but retains plenty of scope to improve and is a 5/1 chance as a result.
Topping the official British Horseracing Authority ratings is Irish raider Sharjah. He won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas, but doesn`t have the same lofty reputation as other Willie Mullins-trained horses like Hurricane Fly, Faugheen, and Annie Power that have won the Champion Hurdle during the last decade.
A below-par run when sixth in the Irish equivalent at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out is part of the reason why Mullins has supplemented Cilaos Emery for this. Sharjah was unlucky to be brought down in last year`s Champion Hurdle by Buveur D`Air, however. If the ground dries, he won`t be 10/1.
You will do well to find a more consistent horse at Grade 1 level in the field than Supasundae. Although the oldest in the Champion Hurdle this year aged ten, Jessica Harrington`s charge is one of the each-way Cheltenham tips given by experts on the race.
A gallant winner of the Coral Cup in 2017, Supasundae has almost always turned up and hit the frame at the highest level when called upon. He stays further which is an advantage when tackling the unique demands of the course and has been backed into 10/1 in the weeks leading up to the Festival.
With Irish Champion Hurdle heroine Honeysuckle going back against fellow mares, that Leopardstown form is represented in this by Draver Star. He is trained by Gavin Cromwell, who saddled Espoir D`Allen to victory 12 months ago.
Darver Star ran the race of his life when making Honeysuckle work like never before to win, so building on that is well worth his place in the Champion Hurdle. He finished ahead of Supasundae and Sharjah last time out, making odds of 12/1 tempting from an each-way perspective.
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