The Champion Hurdle has a history of multiple winners and the ante post market suggests Faugheen can win the race for the second year in succession. However, with conditions in the horse’s favour Arctic Fire could reverse the form from the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival last year. Faugheen could be the third leg of a four horse accumulator for Willie Mullins that was thwarted last year.
Douvan and Un De Sceaux had already won the first two races of the meeting when Faugheen won the Champion Hurdle with something in hand. The bookmakers were staring at an estimated £40 million payout until Annie Power fell at the last obstacle when in control of the Mares’ Hurdle. Arctic Fire could be the horse to get the bookies out of trouble this time given luck in running and a good round of jumping.
The Champion Hurdle is the most prestigious race in the division. It is run over two miles on the Old Course at Cheltenham and eight hurdles are jumped. The race is open to horses aged four and over but horses at the minimum age rarely take part and are often directed at the championship race for juveniles. The race has had several sponsors but from 2010 it has been known as the Stan James Champion Hurdle. The most instructive trials are the Fighting Fifth, International and Christmas Hurdles.
Five horses have won the race three times but at aged eight Faugheen could win the next three and thus become the first four-time winner. Of connections currently involved in the sport Nicky Henderson is the leading trainer and JP McManus is the leading owner, both with five wins. Sir Anthony McCoy won the Champion Hurdle three times and Ruby Walsh has ridden three of the last five winners.
Six of the last seven winners were aged six or seven and when Hurricane Fly won the race for the second time in 2013 aged nine he was oldest winner since 2003 when Rooster Booster won from the same age group. Favourites have prevailed in three of the last five renewals but the average price of the winner since 2006 is about 8/1. Horses carry the same weight except mares who receive a sex allowance.
The best form guide for the Champion Hurdle is often the previous year’s race. Horses tend to appear in a number of running’s as hurlers can compete at the highest level for at least five years. Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly have won two Champions since the start of the millennium. Faugheen is odds-on across the board to win back-to-back races and on ratings the horse should come out on top again.
Faugheen made all in the 2015 Champion Hurdle. The horse quickened clear before the last and kept on well without looking in any danger. The winning distance over Arctic Fire in second place was one and a half lengths. The runner-up edged right on the flat and may have given up some distance before keeping on well and not quite overhauling Faugheen.
The favourite was beaten by Nichols Canyon in Ireland in November but looked back to his best when winning the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. The New One was seven lengths back in second place and that horse is a solid measure of hurdles form. Faugheen quickened and was soon clear after the final hurdle and produced an impressive performance in getting his season back on track.
In contrast Arctic Fire was only fourth of five runners in the Irish Christmas Hurdle at Leoparsdtown. The 5/4 favourite was running over three miles which is not the horse’s best distance. However, it was disappointing that he made no impression against horses not at Champion Hurdle level. However, two miles around Cheltenham in March will be more to his liking and beating Faugheen and winning the Champion Hurdle is feasible.