Everything you need to know about the Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 16.
Enjoy snap analysis of the 2020 Champion Hurdle, won by Epatante
By Harry Allwood
When and where? 3.05pm Cheltenham on March 16. Live in HD on Racing TV, Sky Channel 426.
What Grade? Grade One. What Course? Old Course. What Distance? 2m ½f (8 hurdles)
Ages: For 4yo +. Weights & Allowances: 5yo+ 11st 10lb; 4yo 11st 2lb. Allowances, mares 7lb. Sponsor: Unibet
Key statistics and trends:
• 2008 winner Katchit and 2019 victor Espoir D'Allen are the only horses aged five to win since See You Then in 1985.
• 13 of the past 16 winners were aged between six and eight.
• Only four horses over the age of eight have won since 1951, the most recent being Hurricane Fly, aged nine, in 2013.
• Eleven of the past 19 winners were trained in Ireland.
• Nineteen of the last 28 winners had won at Cheltenham before.
• 15 of the past 18 winners had raced in the previous seven weeks.
• 24 of the last 27 winners were in the top six of the betting.
• 31 of the past 37 winners won last time out.
The 2021 running will be the 91st 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.
Five horses have won the Unibet Champion Hurdle three times - Hatton’s Grace (1949, 1950, 1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954), Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987) and Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000).
Nine horses have recorded two victories - Insurance (1932 & 1933), National Sprit (1947 & 1948), Bula (1971 & 1972), Comedy Of Errors (1973 & 1975), Night Nurse (1976 & 1977), Monksfield (1978 & 1979), Sea Pigeon (1980 & 1981), Hardy Eustace (2004 & 2005), Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) and Buveur D'Air (2017 & 2018).
Comedy Or Errors and Hurricane Fly are the only two horses to have regained the Champion Hurdle crown.
Ruby Walsh is the joint-most successful jockey with four wins in the race along with Tim Molony, who won it four times in succession (1951, 1952, 1953, 1954).
Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer having won the race eight times, and J P McManus, who is the leading owner, has nine victories next to his name.
The past 13 winners and full replays:
2020 - Epatante
Epatante justified strong market support to provide trainer Nicky Henderson with a record eighth victory in the Unibet Champion Hurdle.
Few would have marked the six-year-old down as a likely contender for the two-mile hurdling crown following a disappointing display in the Mares Novice’ Hurdle at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.
However, after following up a sparkling seasonal reappearance at Newbury with an equally impressive success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, the JP McManus-owned mare was sent off the the well-supported 2-1 favourite and she won in style under Barry Geraghty, who was riding at his final Festival.
Geraghty said: "She travelled great. I was a little concerned about the ground, but she was jumping where I wanted her to. Nicky's done an amazing job with her, she's flourished from Christmas to today. There's no better trainer of a champion hurdler."
2019 - Espoir D'Allen
While Gavin Cromwell’s five-year-old brought with him a progressive profile having only lost once in his 10 races under rules to date, he was expected to find things much tougher up against dual winner Buveur D’Air, and crack Irish mares Apple’s Jade and Laurina.
Those three dominated the market, but Buveur D’Air – bidding to become just the sixth horse to win two-mile blue riband three times – fell at the halfway stage and not long after that Apple’s Jade was soon giving out distress signals. Laurina, meanwhile, was a one-paced fourth.
With the big three blowing out, Espoir D'Allen romped home by 17 lengths to become a rare five-year-old winner of the race.
Cromwell found it hard to put his feelings into words, saying: “It’s brilliant, unbelievable. He’s been winning Grade Threes this year, so to win this is fantastic. I’m shell-shocked to win anyway, but to win like that – I’m just lost for words."
Sadly, Espoir d'Allen had to be put down little more than five months later after spooking on the gallops and suffering a freak injury.
2018: Buveur D'Air
Back-to-back wins for Buveur D'Air but those who backed the 4-6 favourite were made to sweat as he prevailed by just a head from Melon.
With the ground much softer than 12 months previously, his winning time was some 14 seconds slower.
A relieved Nicky Henderson suggested his star might not of been at his best (a few in his yard were under the weather at the time) and he also lamented his lack of competition going into the race.
Buveur D'Air had three races en route, beating an aggregate of nine rivals and never being a bigger price than 2-11.
The disappointment of the race was Faugheen, the 2015 winner, who faded to be sixth after going off at 4-1.
2017: Buveur D’Air
Provided Nicky Henderson and J P McManus with their sixth success in the Champion Hurdle when he beat My Tent Or Yours - in the process leading home a one-two for the pair.
Buveur D’Air had started his season in novice chases and switched back to the smaller obstacles after Henderson’s hunch that he still had the speed and quality to win a Champion Hurdle.
2016: Annie Power
The popular mare led from start to finish to become only the fourth mare to win the Champion Hurdle and the first since Flakey Dove in 1994. She was only entered in the race, at a cost of £20,000, after stablemate Faugheen sustained an injury.
Annie Power fell at the last in the Mares’ Hurdle the year before, with the race at her mercy, but made amends in impressive fashion as 5-2 favourite.
She ran her final race on her next start with a victory in the Aintree Hurdle, which was her 15th success from 17 career starts.
Faugheen gave Ruby Walsh his fourth success in the race and led home an impressive 1-2-3 for ten-time champion trainer Willie Mullins.
Faugheen was a hot favourite to record back-to-back victories in 2016, but was ruled out a month before with a leg injury.
Sent off a 9-1 chance, the J P McManus-owned Jezki, who had finished third in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle a year earlier, outfought the more fancied My Tent Or Yours and led home a 1-2 for his owner.
It was a running tainted by tragedy as 2013 Triumph Hurdle Winner Our Conor suffered a fatal injury when he fell at the third and hampered The New One, who stayed on well to finish an arguably unlucky third.
Jezki was no match for the Willie Mullins trio 12 months later when he faded into fourth under A P McCoy.
2013: Hurricane Fly
Became the first horse for 38 years to regain the Champion Hurdle title when he beat Rock On Ruby by two and a half lengths under Ruby Walsh.
Willie Mullins’ superstar looked to be struggling at one stage, but Walsh kept his cool and his mount was eventually well on top at the finish.
Hurricane Fly had finished third in 2012, but punters kept the faith and he returned the well-backed 13-8 favourite.
The son of Arc winner Montjeu won 22 Grade ones during his illustrious career and was retired in 2015, after which Ruby Walsh said: “Quite simply, Hurricane Fly is the best hurdler I have ever sat on.”
2012: Rock On Ruby
Rock On Ruby ran out an impressive winner in 2012 and caused an upset returning at odds of 11-1 under Noel Fehily with odds-on favourite Hurricane Fly only third.
Although Rock On Ruby was trained by Paul Nicholls, it was very much a team effort as he was based at Nicholls’ satellite yard where Harry Fry, his former assistant, did much of the day-to-day work.
Rock On Ruby was retired in 2015 and now resides at Fry’s yard in Dorset.
2011: Hurricane Fly
There were doubts beforehand whether Hurricane Fly would handle Cheltenham on his first start over jumps outside Ireland, but he had no problem handling the undulating track as he got the better of the unbeaten Peddlers Cross.
Hurricane Fly was strongly fancied for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2009, and for the Champion Hurdle in 2010. He missed both engagements because of injury, however, so it was a relief to Willie Mullins that his stable star got the chance to finally fulfil his potential.
Binocular was declared a non-runner due to a muscle problem less than a month before he won the 2010 running.
Nicky Henderson’s gelding travelled like the best horse throughout and was electric over his obstacles before he pulled three and a half lengths clear of Khyber Kim under A P McCoy.
Binocular, who had finished third 12 months before, provided Henderson with his fifth victory, which equalled the record held by Peter Easterby.
Binocular was unable to regain his crown in 2012 when he finished fourth and he was retired after finishing a well-beaten fifth behind Hurricane Fly in 2013.
Nicky Henderson saddled red-hot 6-4 favourite Binocular but won it with the seemingly unfancied 22-1 chance Punjabi who outbattled Celestial Halo by a neck in a thrilling finish, with Binocular a head behind Celestial Halo in third.
There was a £1 million bonus on offer for any horse to win the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle. Punjabi would have almost certainly scooped the prize had he not fallen at the second last at Kempton when upsides.
After Punjabi’s Champion Hurdle success, Henderson said: “It was an unlucky fall at Kempton and probably the most expensive one in the history of racing.”
Katchit defied the trends to provide Alan King and Robert Thornton with their first Champion Hurdle success.
Seventy-three five-year-olds had run in the Champion Hurdle since See You Then won in 1985, and all of them, including several favourites, had failed to get their head in front.
King’s son of Kalanisi also became the first Triumph Hurdle Winner to follow up in the Champion 12 months later since Persian War in 1967.
Katchit finished a disappointing sixth in the Champion Hurdle in 2009, and did not record another victory after his success in the two-mile showpiece.
He died in 2013, aged ten, after a bout of colic.
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