Can anyone stop Buveur D’air turning the Champion Hurdle into a one-horse race, asks John Doyle
The 2018 Champion Hurdle is looking like the ultimate one-horse race at this early stage, but things are never quite as straight forward and there are numerous scenarios that could unfold to change the complexion of the race come Festival time.
Buveur D’air returned to hurdling last season following a couple of wins over fences where he hadn’t been overly impressive, to turn himself into a top hurdler.
After winning a small field Contender’s Hurdle at Sandown, he went to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham with a decent chance, but was not ridden by the owner’s Jockey.
He travelled and jumped well in midfield before coming smoothly through to win the race. Afterwards, he went to Aintree and ran out an easy winner of the Aintree Hurdle.
Returning in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle, Buveur D’air looks to have improved for the summer and won easily with his low slick jumping.
He followed up with a fluent success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and a repeat win in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown.
He has looked ultra-dominant in all these races and is rightly a short-priced favourite to retain his crown.
At Punchestown, Faugheen made all in the Morgiana Hurdle, looking for all the world that he retained all his latent ability.
On his second start over Christmas at Leopardstown, the wheels began to come off as Faugheen ran a lifeless race and was pulled up.
With no subsequent explanation of that run, Faugheen returned at the Dublin Festival where he ran a good race, but was beaten by Suspendae.
It will be a real solid training performance from Willie Mullins to restore Faugheen to his old sparkle for this year’s Champion Hurdle, as Faugheen tries to overcome the age statistics too.
My Tent or Yours has a fabulous record of running well at the Cheltenham Festival without ever winning a big prize.
It is very likely that this consistent animal will be in the mix again without having enough to get to the front.
When winning the International Hurdle at the December meeting, he was receiving weight from the other main contenders, so he was entitled to win that race.
With bookmakers likely to have extended place betting on the day, My Tent or Yours will be a value each way bet but it is still hard to see him winning the race.
Melon ran well in the Supreme last season and has been competing in the toplevel contests this season but hasn’t been living up to the hype that surrounds him.
This horse is frequently well backed, suggesting connections expect far more than Melon has delivered so far.
With this type of horse, the hype is usually not wrong and when the penny finally drops, these types find considerable improvement quickly.
In the case of Melon, that improvement could come for the better ground at the Cheltenham Festival. Willie Mullins also has the conundrum that is Yorkhill to solve.
This horse has serious ability but he also has his own ideas about the game. On the positive side though, he has produced his best performances so far at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and if he were to turn up in the Champion Hurdle, he could be a big threat to all the contenders.
When he won the Ballymore Novice Hurdle in 2016, he travelled and jumped like a dream and then pulled away from a good field.
A repeat of that type of form would go a long way towards winning a Champion Hurdle Apples Jade is another progressive Mare who would be competitive here if switching from the Mares Hurdle.
Apples Jade has looked an improved performer this season and with his added staying power, together with her front running style, would make all the field go and she wouldn’t be stopping at the end.
Connections are adamant that she will head for the Mares Hurdle but nonetheless, she still maintains an entry for the Champion Hurdle.
In conclusion, form points to Buveur D’air being an exceptionally strong contender for this year’s Champion Hurdle but with so many unknowns about the make-up of the field, especially around Yorkhill and Apples Jade, there is plenty of potential for the market to be shaken up.
Buveur D’air’s low style jumping is fantastic to watch and crowning him as champion for the second time seems the most likely outcome.