Cheltenham Festival ante-post update: Champion Hurdle, Stayers and Mares

CHAMPION HURDLE

From looking like a walkover for Buveur D’air, this year’s Champion Hurdle has now turned into one of the races of the Festival. The prospect of Apples Jade taking on the duel champion is one to relish and add the still relatively unknown quantity of Laurina to the mix and you have the recipe for one of the best renewals in years.

In terms of ante-post value however the joker in the pack could be Espoir D’allen. Gavin Cromwell’s five-year-old probably doesn’t have enough to win the opening day feature but if he lines up does have claims of breaking into the first three, so the 16/1 NRNB available with Coral does hold some appeal. If you draw a line through his lacklustre performance at Leopardstown last February, when he clearly wasn’t right, he is unbeaten in his other eight runs in France and Ireland. It’s fair to say he hasn’t faced anything of the calibre of Buveur D’air and Apples Jade but he’s passed every test so far and I’d be confident he will put on a bold show.

STAYERS’ HURDLE

Following his performance in the Cleeve it’s difficult to look beyond Paisley Park, although the best price 9/4 holds little appeal. Fortunately your’s truly is on at 10/1 and I hope some of you took some early value too about Emma Lavelle’s stable star. There can be no doubt he’s the best of the British contenders but it’s very dangerous to forget about the Irish, including last year’s winner Penhill, who looks like taking a similar path to 12 months ago and going straight there. 11/2 NRNB looks more than fair.

There’s no doubt the most popular winner would be Faugheen and I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility as he seemed to be giving Apples Jade a good race when falling at Leopardstown at Christmas. We all know how he obliterated a good field, including Penhill, at Punchestown over three miles at the end of last season too. The former Champion Hurdler can be backed at 9/1 NRNB.

At a much bigger price, I’d also like to throw the claims of Pallasator into the mix. Available at 40/1, the winner of the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot last summer has yet to show his ability on the Flat over hurdles but never had his ideal conditions last season and could be interesting if there’s a sound surface at Cheltenham next month. He was originally set to go novice chasing this term, with the four miler mentioned by Gordon Elliott, but that’s now been put on the back-burner. Staying over timber I think he’d be a lively outsider if he does line up at Prestbury Park and could be worth a few pennies now at huge odds.

And finally, Gordon Elliott’s comments in today’s Racing Post about the possibility of Samcro turning up certainly raise a few eyebrows. He’s available at 8/1 NRNB and if he can return to the form of last season would have to hold every chance, over a distance that would suit far more than the two miles he’s been campaigned over so far this season.

MARES’ HURDLE

With Apples Jade and Laurina both looking Champion Hurdle bound the 7/4 NRNB available with Skybet on last year’s winner Benie Des Dieux could well turn out to be very good value. The Willie Mullins mare, who is set to return next weekend, looks head and shoulders above the rest of the field and could easily start odds on.

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