Champion Hurdle Betting Tips, Stats & History

The feature race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival is the Champion Hurdle. Run over 2 miles and ½ furlong this is the final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling. First run in 1927, some legends of the sport have won the title of Champion Hurdler, including Istabraq, See You Then and Persian War. This is the third of four Grade 1 races amongst Tuesday's contests but is the second most valuable race of the entire festival, behind only the Gold Cup.

Race Info

A distance of 2m½f is the trip for the Grade 1 feature on the opening day. With £450,000 in total prize money up for grabs, 10 are expected to go to post despite the presence of two formidable names. Last year’s Champion Hurdle field battled it out in the muddiest of conditions but this time the ground is set to be far less stamina sapping.

GoingDistanceGradePrize MoneyRunnersEW Terms
Good to soft 2m½f Grade 1 £450,000 10 1/4 1-3

Champion Hurdle Betting Tips

Cheltenham, 15:30, Tuesday 12th March 2019

Buveur D’Air will make his long-awaited return to Cheltenham this Tuesday as he seeks a record matching third consecutive victory in the Champion Hurdle. Should he complete the hat-trick, he’ll become only the sixth horse to claim a hat-trick in this race since its 1927 inception.

Last year Nicky Henderson’s gelding set off as the strong odds-on favourite but he finds himself in a less dominant position this time. Apple’s Jade is right up there within him in the betting and it’s the talented mare who looks set to claim the spotlight in Tuesday’s highlight event.

Predominantly a test of speed, it is no surprise that this contest has favoured the younger runners. Ten of the past 12 winners have been aged seven or younger.

Nicky Henderson has claimed four victories in this time, putting his overall record to seven wins. No trainer has won this race more times than the current Champion Trainer and he’ll be hungry for more glory this time.

Gordon Elliot initially planned on playing it safe with Apple’s Jade at the Festival. She was all set for another OLBG Mares’ Hurdle appearance but a series of fantastic showings this season persuaded her trainer to change course.

The decision to pit the mare against the boys in this tougher, and more lucrative test is one that looks like paying off. The seven-year-old has the talent required to join a star-studded winners list as she seeks to make it five wins from five this season.

Apple’s Jade looking ripe

Twice the beaten favourite last season, Apple’s Jade (9/4) had something to prove on her return from the summer break. She’s done just that too, winning all five starts emphatically across a range of trips. On her last outing, the versatile mare proved that she had the speed for a two mile test when romping home in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Although she began as the odds-on favourite, few expected her to beat the likes of Supasundae and Melon by such a distance. The seven-year-old is in the form of her life and she’ll be difficult to stop this Tuesday.

Buveur D’Air to settle for second

A dominant showing in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle marked the perfect start of the season for the highly regarded Buveur D’Air (9/4) but he’s since lost his air of invincibility. An uncharacteristic mistake while jumping in the Christmas Hurdle put an end to an 11 race winning streak. Usually such a reliable performer, you can forgive him for the one mistimed leap at Kempton Park and expect an error-free showing from him here. This alone will not be enough however as main rival Apple’s Jade packs the explosiveness that Buveur D’Air just doesn’t quite have.

Sharjah may lead Mullins’ charge

Willie Mullins is responsible for three of the 10 Champion Hurdle contenders and it’s the 7/2 option Laurina who many are expecting the most from. The six-year-old has previously only competed against mares though and her two starts so far this season haven’t offered her a challenge. Risking being caught out by the speed of this contest, it is stablemate Sharjah who may be more equipped to deal with the rigours of Tuesday’s race. Two back to back Grade 1 victories over the minimum distance means the rapidly improving six-year-old can hold his own here.

Final Verdict: Apple’s Jade to win

A fantastic season looks set to become even better for Apple’s Jade as she makes her debut in the Champion Hurdle. She was one of the big disappointment’s during last year’s Festival but returns to Cheltenham looking far sharper and far more powerful.

Buveur D’Air is not without his claims but it’s been a long time since he faced anyone as formidable as Apple’s Jade. Nicky Henderson’s horse will push the mare all the way but may find himself lacking the cutting edge to beat her to the finishing post.

Recent Winners

2019 Espoir D'Allen 16/1 Gavin Cromwell Mark Walsh
2018 Buveur D’Air 4/6 Nicky Henderson Barry Geraghty
2017 Buveur D’Air 5/1 Nicky Henderson Noel Fehily
2016 Annie Power 5/2 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2015 Faugheen 4/5 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2014 Jezki 9/1 Jessica Harrinton Barry Geraghty
2013 Hurricane Fly 13/8 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2012 Rock On Ruby 11/1 Paul Nicholls Noel Fehily
2011 Hurricane Fly 11/4 Willie Mullins Ruby Walsh
2010 Binocular 9/1 Nicky Henderson A P McCoy

About the Champion Hurdle: Big Prize Over the Smaller Obstacles

Hurdle Horse Race
Photo © Richard Humphrey (cc-by-sa/2.0) (Image Cropped)

There’s not a bad race to be found at March’s magnificent Cheltenham Festival, but each of the four days does have its feature event, and in terms of showpiece contests Day One belongs to the hurdlers. Two miles and half a furlong is the trip for the Champion Hurdle with eight obstacles standing between the competitors and glory. Open to runners aged four and older, speed and fluency over the smaller obstacles is the name of the game here in a contest which has been won by a number of the true greats of the game.

First run in 1927, with inaugural winner Blaris taking home £365 in prize money, the race has only grown in prestige and value over the years, with the biggest hurdle event of the racing year now offering £450,000 in total prize money. Much of this growth can be attributed to the advent of commercial sponsorship which began in 1978 with the support of Waterford Crystal. A number of companies have stepped up to the plate over the lifespan of the race with betting firm Unibet taking over in 2018.

All Roads Lead to This

Cheltenham Signpost
Photo © Ben Gamble (cc-by-sa/2.0) (Image Cropped)

One of the most appealing aspects of the National Hunt season is the manner in which it steadily builds to a crescendo which reaches a fever pitch at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The structure of the racing calendar provides a number of strategically placed two mile hurdle contests, which – whilst being good races in their own right – are also widely recognised as being key trials for the Champion Hurdle itself.

Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the International Hurdle here at Cheltenham and the - less imaginatively titled - Champion Hurdle Trial held at Haydock Park make up what is referred to as the “Road To Cheltenham” for the two mile hurdling division. Another race to throw into that mix is Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, which together with The Fighting Fifth Hurdle and Champion Hurdle makes up hurdling’s Triple Crown.

Hurdling Triple Crown Races

Leg 1 Leg 2 Leg 3
Race Fighting Fifth Hurdle Christmas Hurdle Champion Hurdle
Course Newcastle Kempton Cheltenham
Prize Money (2019/20) £110,000 £130,000 £450,000

Success in any of the aforementioned races puts the winner well on course for a potentially profitable tilt at the Prestbury Park big one. Be sure to tune in to these key trials when planning those ante post Champion Hurdle punts.

Three Is The Magic Number

Previous winners have a pretty solid record in this race considering just how highly coveted and hotly contested the prize is year upon year. Up to 2019, 20 of the 89 editions to have taken place had been landed by a horse already successful in the race. Bula, Buveur D’Air, Comedy Of Errors, Hardy Eustace, Hurricane Fly, Insurance, Monksfield, National Spirit, Night Nurse and Sea Pigeon have all registered a double, but special mention must go to the five titans of the hurdling game who have claimed the title on three separate occasions.

Three-Time Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Winners

HorseTrainerFirst WinSecond WinThird Win
Hatton's Grace Vincent O'Brien 1949 1950 1951
Sir Ken Willie Stephenson 1952 1953 1954
Persian War Colin Davies 1968 1969 1970
See You Then Nicky Henderson 1985 1986 1987
Istabraq Aidan O'Brien 1998 1999 2000

The Vincent O’Brien trained Hatton’s Grace was the first to register a treble when coming home in front in 1949, 50 and 51 and was immediately followed by Sir Ken who rattled off three successes of his own between 1952 and 1954. Next to achieve the feat was the great Persian War who dominated the division in the late 1960’s, whilst Nicky Henderson’s See You Then proved unstoppable between 1985 and 1987.

For us though the best of the lot was the most recent three time winner of the race, the mighty Istabraq. A whopping 12 lengths too good for the field in 1998, nothing could get to within three lengths of the JP McManus runner in 1999 or 2000 either, and having hacked up in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January of 2001 he was the red hot favourite to become the first ever four time champion. Whether he would have managed that feat or not we will sadly never know as the foot and mouth epidemic led to the cancellation of the meeting that year, but he nevertheless stands tall amongst the best of the former champions here.

Dawn Sure Could Run

Silhouette of a Horse at Dawn

Having only won one Champion Hurdle, the mare Dawn Run perhaps can’t be compared with the likes of Istabraq when it comes to achievements in this race alone. The Paddy Mullins star did however go on to achieve something no other winner of this race has matched. Wins in the Christmas Hurdle, Irish Champion Hurdle, Aintree Hurdle and French Champion Hurdle can perhaps be expected of one successful in this race; but not only was this talented performer brilliant in two mile hurdles, she wasn’t too bad in three mile, two furlong chases either, going on to claim a famous success in the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup. A remarkable feat, which has not been achieved before or since.

Henderson The Hurdling Hero Amongst The Trainers

A number of trainers have compiled an impressive record in this race over the years, with the above table showing the five most successful in the history of the illustrious contest. Nicky Henderson is a trainer famed for his success with hurdlers at the Festival – not that he does badly with his chasers either – and it isn’t too surprising to see that it is the Lambourn maestro who is out in front here. Vic Smyth, Peter Easterby and Fred Winter won’t be catching Henderson now, but Willie Mullins is still going strong and could conceivably lay down a challenge.

Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Top Trainers Between 1927 and 2019

Too Old, Too Slow?

It is s generally held belief that – be it on the flat or over jumps – horses slow down as they get older, and therefore the older performers will tend to struggle over the shorter distances where speed is of the essence. The chart below would certainly suggest that that view holds true for this race, with only four of the 89 winners to date being older than nine years of age. In fact those four wins can be attributed to just the two horses, with both Hatton’s Grace and Sea Pigeon winning as a 10 and 11 year old.

Chart Showing Ages of Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Winners Between 1927 and 2019

Overall the race has been dominated by runners aged between five and seven, with 73% of the winners up to 2019 falling into that bracket.

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