2m0f87y Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) (4yo+)

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The winner of the Champion Hurdle Grade 1 over 2m is normally one of the fancied runners. More recently the Irish runners and those from the Willie Mullins stable have dominated. The 2020 running will be the 90th running of the Champion Hurdle which has been won by some greats over the years. The race attracts the best horses in the two-mile division on the first day of the Festival.

The Cheltenham Festival 2020 (Home Page)

Nicky Henderson trains our horse Pentland Hills (just 2 winners aged 5yo have won since 1985) and is the leading trainer having won the race six times whilst J P McManus is the leading owner with seven victories. This combination supply the current favourite Epatante and the two horses named looks the obvious place to start. 

3.30: (Old) Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) 2m87y

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23/23: Ran since Christmas (100%)
21/21: Won at 2m-2m1f (100%)
16/16: Top 4 on both previous starts when completing (100%)
12/12: Won that season (100%)

15/16: Top 3 on previous start (2014 was 4th) (94%)
14/15: Ran since Christmas finishing top 3 (93%)
12/13: Geldings (92%)
11/12: Placed on their last run before Cheltenham (92%)
11/12: At least 7 runs over 15-17 furlongs (92%)
11/12: At least 5 wins over 15-17 furlongs (92%)
11/12: At least 2 runs that season (92%)

19/21: Won Grade 1 hurdle or Grade 3 H'cap Hurdle (90%)
24/27: Top 6 in the betting (89%)
16/18: Raced in previous 7 weeks (89%)
18/21: Placed at previous Cheltenham Festival (86%)
11/13: Won last time out (85%)
31/37: Won last time out (84%)
17/22: Aged 6-8yo (77%)
16/21: Returned 11/1 or under (76%)
..9/12: Aged 6 and 8yo (75%)
..9/12: Won on their last run (75%)
..9/12: Ran within the last 51 days (75%)
19/28: Won at Cheltenham before (68%)
12/19: Trained in Ireland (63%)
..6/12: From top 3 in the betting (50%)
..9/21: Winning favourites (43%)

..3/35: Aged 5yo (9%)

..4/70: Aged over 8yo (6%)

Recent winners

2019:  ESPOIR D’ALLEN (16/1)
2018: BUVEUR D’AIR (4/6f)
2017: BUVEUR D’AIR (5/1)
2016: ANNIE POWER (5/2f)
2015: FAUGHEEN (4/5f)
2014: JEZKI (9/1)
2013: HURRICANE FLY (13/8f)
2012: ROCK ON RUBY (11/1)
2011: HURRICANE FLY (11/4f)
2010: BINOCULAR (9/1)
2009: PUNJABI (22/1)
2008: KATCHIT (10/1)
2007: SUBLIMITY (16/1)
2006: BRAVE INCA (7/4f)
2005: HARDY EUSTACE (7/2jf)
2004: HARDY EUSTACE (33/1)
2003: ROOSTER BOOSTER (9/2)

RACE TYPE: Winning favourites in non-handicap hurdles 50-117 for 43%

Our figures are strong for this race with the top 4 trends showing 72/72 for 100%, the top 11 trends show 157/164 for 96%. Our personal thoughts are a little at odds with the top trends, see below...

  Today's Pacafi: click here

The Racing Horse Verdict

1st: PENTLAND HILLS 9/1 (9th)  2nd: Epatante 5.00 (WINNER)  3rd: Cilaos Emery 7/1 (4th)

We have firmed up our advice regarding the 1-2 and will wait for the final nominations before completion. As we update on Saturday morning our horse is available at 7.8 and that must represent value!

Before nominating we accept it is very hard indeed for a 5yo to win this race (3-35 for 9%) and this is reflected when measuring against the top trends, also the winner (generally) needs an OR of 162 to 165 so improvement needed.

The racing press consensus over the past few weeks has been talking toughness of Pentland Hills or the lack of it but as we keep reminding our members this is clearly at odds with him winning three times in the space of just 38 days last season including two Grade 1s on two completely different courses! If you add the fact he has won races on good to firm and beaten a nose on heavy ground, we can use the words versatile and hardy.

The manner of the win at Aintree surprised his trainer: "He was very slick and jumped like a proper hurdler. That's his third race in five weeks, since he appeared at Plumpton - it's extraordinary! We sent him to Henrietta Knight to teach him to jump and by God he was slick today - he's like Buveur D'Air." Either the racing press is wrong or Henderson is?

The Aintree race came just 20 days after winning the Triumph, he took a keen hold but again impressed with his fast, fluent jumping and, having travelled strongly into contention, showed a really good attitude to get up. The way he held off Fakir D'oudairies on soft ground and a fast pace showed he does not capitulate as per the silly comments of Kevin Blake.

Furthermore, Blake told us he needs to find/improve a stone from his run in the International at Cheltenham if he is to win, these comments are at odds with Nicky Henderson who has trained a few Champion Hurdle winners. We were at Cheltenham for the race and not expected to beat Call Me Lord rated 160 first time up. After the race Henderson told me "Call Me will never beat Pentland again, I was delighted given he needed the run. He is easily the best horse in that race and will prove it going forward."

The Blake argument is not supported by the bookmakers, the horse has been second favourite and no bigger than 5/1 for quite a while now. If he needs to find a stone then surely they would offering much bigger odds? We had priced the race up 9/2 Epatante and Pentland Hills as joint favourites, though readily accept our 5yo has more to prove but that is likely to happen. There might be a slight concern about the current favourite and her liking for Cheltenham - whilst there are no worries with our horse. 

Pentland Hills was late coming back from his holidays looking like a bull and was of concern to his trainer, so much so expensive day-time lights were installed to help him forward. The International run should be forgiven and Nico was not at his best (caught out by the long run in) at Haydock next time up, a race he should have won despite being very keen again early.

So, to win at Cheltenham you have to travel, jump and then show resolve/stamina at the business end and ours will do the first two best of all, now he is almost fully fit and with a fast pace on better ground, he is going to step forward considerably and hit those rating numbers.

Another Mullins contender is Cilaos Emery, this 8yo would also have to be supplemented but we are less worried about him beating us than Epatante, chasing looks his game. Others who may run do not give us cause for concern if we arrive fit and ready and the latest bulletin received from Henderson was very encouraging indeed especially after his minor operation that went particularly well.

Regarding the racecourse gallop it would have been nice to have heard the good news before Betway, but we are already on at prices between 8/1 and 12/1. Henderson said he was thrilled with Pentland who was among 13 horses sent to work at the Sunbury track on Tuesday morning.

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