THE UNIBET Champion Hurdle is set to be one of the races of the Festival.
There’s bound to be plenty of opinions flying about and the Sun Racing experts have had their say on the Tuesday feature.
Right now, my bet would be SHARJAH each-way. I just can’t see him out of the places and he’s bound to go off shorter on the day.
But, and it’s a big but, he’s pretty one-dimensional when it comes to the ground and he’d need the forecast rain to slip past Prestbury Park.
He’s certainly the forgotten horse of the race and while Ruby is 99% sure to ride Laurina, it would not surprise me if it had at least crossed his mind to get the leg up on Sharjah.
The race should be run to suit, with a decent pace guaranteed. Paul Townend gets on well with him and will have him held up nicely off the pace ready to pounce.
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I think there’s still plenty to come from him. His Ryanair Hurdle was mightily impressive the way he quickened away and while this is much harder, I think he’s a superb each-way angle.
Out of the big three – Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina – I would have to be with Gordon Elliot’s Apple’s Jade.
I’m scared to say it a week out, but I can’t have Buveur D’Air this time around, whilst any juice in Laurina’s price has long gone.
Up the Sharjah.
Callum's Champion Hurdle Pick
SHARJAH (each-way): 12-1 William Hill
Callum can’t have BUVEUR D’AIR? Did I read that right? He must’ve been on the beers at lunchtime.
I can’t have anything but the reigning champion hurdler.
Nicky Henderson’s star was well short of his best when beating Melon by a neck last year to retain his title and he still came out on top.
Hendo has revealed in the past couple of weeks that the horse had an excuse that day, and he has resumed in good nick this year.
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After a shock defeat to Verdana Blue at Kempton, on ground quicker than ideal, he breezed to an effortless success at Sandown (the runner-up has since won a Grade 2).
He is a serially underrated champion who isn’t flashy but knows how to get the job done. He has the best form, loves the track and will relish the forecast rainfall.
I respect Apple’s Jade, but for me she’s better on a more conventional track and I’m sceptical about the level of opposition she’s been bashing up this year.
I can’t have Laurina one jot. For all it’s unoriginal, I’ll be sticking with the defending champ on day one at the Festival.
Jack's Champion Hurdle Pick
BUVEUR D’AIR: 2-1 William Hill
Remarkably, for all that I usually lock horns with my colleagues (who I respect enormously by the way), much of my thinking is very similar.
I agree with Jack in that Buveur D’Air is most certainly the one to beat.
He’s the class act and the fact he’s been there and done it – twice – counts for a huge amount in this kind of contest.
The ladies are definitely worth taking on, for all that their ability is beyond debate.
Laurina has been imperious against her own sex in Ireland, but to expect her to be able to down the world’s best hurdlers at her first attempt is asking too much. She’s no Annie Power.
Apple’s Jade has only produced her best once at the Festival and something about the place doesn’t agree with her. I reckon she’ll struggle back over the minimum trip, too, for all that she has enough toe across the Irish Sea.
Buveur is clearly the one to catch, but provided they get quick ground then SHARJAH is the one to serve it up to him.
He needs quick ground but has looked very good so far this season against the best, quickening up really impressively at Christmas. He can do the business in the big one.
Keep an eye on Verdana Blue and Espoir D’Allen too, in what looks a race to savour.
Bully's Champion Hurdle Pick
SHARJAH: 12-1 William Hill