Five key talking points from the 36-strong Champion Hurdle entry
After a total of 36 entries were made for the Unibet Champion Hurdle on Wednesday, James Stevens reflects on the key talking points for the Cheltenham Festival spectacular on March 10.
1. Will Envoi team take Champion gamble?
With Buveur D'Air out and Klassical Dream proving disappointing, it's fair to say everyone is fancying their Champion Hurdle chances. Five of the 36 entries are novices, with Envoi Allen undoubtedly the most high profile of those.
Trained by Gordon Elliott for Cheveley Park Stud, the unbeaten star has demolished his rivals in the Irish novice hurdling division, leaving his team tempted by a shot at the big league.
Envoi Allen is as short as 4-1 for the Champion Hurdle and it will be interesting to see whether connections are willing to roll the dice.
Abacadabras, another top novice from the Elliott team, was also a surprise name among the entries. He heads the betting for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, although since being entered for the Champion his price for that contest has increased to 9-2 (from 7-2).
2. Honeysuckle and Epatante head marvellous mares
The Champion Hurdle market is headed by Epatante, who is one of a number of top mares in the reckoning.
Honeysuckle versus Epatante alone is a mouthwatering prospect, but it will be down to their connections to decide whether that clash will take place.
There is also the option of the Mares' Hurdle on the same day, with Apple's Jade more likely to run in that contest than take up her Champion entry.
Benie Des Dieux was not among the Champion Hurdle entries, which probably confirms her place in the mares' race. She'll be looking to gain compensation after her gut-wrenching last-flight fall last season.
3. Seasoned handicappers given a shot at the top level
Everyone loves the thought of backing a Graded horse in a handicap, but not often do you see a regular handicapper make a winning step up to championship level.
It could be down to a lack of a star in the division – or perhaps just the temptation of taking a shot at a Champion Hurdle – that the likes of Gumball, Ballyandy, Elgin, Mohaayed, Le Patriote and Monsieur Lecoq could make the step up in grade.
Not So Sleepy and Eldorado Allen are on course to clash in the Betfair Hurdle next month and then the festival.
4. Can Supasundae strike on sixth festival run?
Supasundae is one of eight former Cheltenham Festival winners who could feature – with none of these are former Champion Hurdle winners – and perhaps a drop in trip could turn his festival fortunes around.
Jessica Harrington's charge has raced at the past five festivals with his only victory coming in the 2017 Coral Cup. Since then he has run with credit in two Stayers' Hurdles but now he may be tested over the sharper trip. It worked for Supasundae when he won at last season's Punchestown festival, maybe he can replicate that success here.
5. Will a switch to hurdles bring a change in fortunes for Samcro?
Things just haven't worked out for Samcro this season. Since he delivered as the Irish banker in the Ballymore in 2018, his mighty reputation has been dented, leaving connections to consider a switch back to hurdles.
You wouldn't have expected him to be in this position when he won on his chase debut in November, but now Gordon Elliott and his team are considering all option. If Samcro could bounce back, it would be an incredible story.
Thomas Darby is definitely heading back over hurdles. His trainer Olly Murphy felt it was best to rethink his chasing career after two defeats, but perhaps he can bolster his reputation with a big run in the Champion Hurdle. Second in last season's Supreme, he certainly has to be a live outsider.
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