There is no doubt that the best horse running in Britain and Ireland over the weekend is Douvan but a potential winner of the Champion Hurdle could win the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown. Buveur D’Air has been backed literally off the boards for the Cheltenham Festival after being targeted at the Champion Hurdle this week. The horse will have to win the trial at Sandown with something in hand to justify the bets.
The four best days of racing anywhere in the world take place in just over five weeks. This weekend fits in with preparations and the right time for a trial run. Yanworth was due to run at Sandown but a slight injury means the horse is absent. The trainer Alan King believes the horse needs to run before the Festival but it is a concern that Yanworth was withdrawn from the Contenders Hurdle.
Douvan is the shortest priced favourite for any ante post market for Cheltenham and the Champion Chase is seen as a penalty kick. Bookmakers are now offering the concession of non-runner/no bet for the four championship races, including the Champion Chase which looks like Douvan’s for the taking. Backing a horse at 4/9 for a Grade 1 contest so far in advance carries some risk but at least bets will be refunded if the horse does not run.
If Douvan is a good thing for the Champion Chase he must be an absolute certainty for the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on Sunday. However, only the seriously wealthy or professional money buyers would be playing at 1/10. Investors would be all over a 10% return in about six minutes but the fences are there for a reason and have to be jumped. Altior could still have a say in the Champion Chases but Douvan looks rock solid on Sunday and for the race that matters most.
There are no leading contenders for the Gold Cup running this weekend. The Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham last Saturday was the last major prep race and it left some unanswered questions. Sadly with Many Clouds we will never know the answers! The horse ran a wonderful trial for the Gold Cup beating Thistlecrack off level weights. We now know Many Clouds will not get the chance to become just the second horse ever to win the Gold Cup and Grand National in the same season.
Even in defeat Thistelcrack ran a great trial for the Gold Cup and you could argue the biggest danger will not be at Cheltenham for all the worst reasons. Thistlecrack was outstayed by Many Clouds after the last fence but still looked the most likely winner in the closing stages. The horse is still by far the best in the race but Native River has a similar profile to Many Clouds and looks a real danger. At this stage of proceedings there appears to be no major worries for Unowhatimeanharry in the stayer’s hurdle.
Faugheen is the favourite for the Champion Hurdle but missed an engagement in Ireland last weekend and has not run for almost a year. Connections have already lost Annie Power from the race and she may not run again and it seems they are cursed in the context of this year’s race. If Faugheen is declared a non-runner the race becomes wide open so Yanworth’s absence this weekend is galling for his connections as the horse could have put down a marker for the Champion Hurdle.
Buveur D’Air must beat Brain Power and Irving by several lengths to then be fancied to win the Champion Hurdle. On novice hurdle form that could happen but this is the acid test for a horse trained by Nicky Henderson who knows the time of day when preparing horses for the Champion Hurdle, a race he has won five times. In selecting the hurdling championship Henderson must know his horse has the qualities to win over two miles in the most prestigious race of the season in the division. Buveur D’Air can cement a position in the betting for Cheltenham by winning at Sandown.
All roads now lead to Cheltenham and some winners at the meeting could appear this weekend. Douvan is the banker of the Festival but Buveur D’Air can emerge as another potential champion but must put the Contenders Hurdle to bed with the minimum of fuss and that task is achievable.