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How do Champion Hurdle Greats Compare to Current Crop Aiming at 2020 Cheltenham Festival?

Posted on January 08, 2020 by Jack Erikson

Some commentators will tell you the Champion Hurdle isn’t what it once was. Sending racehorses over steeplechase fences has become infinitely more fashionable, so the result is a dearth of two-mile hurdlers and an open betting heat come the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

Many of the finest equine athletes to ever race under National Hunt rules have tasted Champion Hurdle glory, but how do the current crop of hopefuls compare to the legends in whose hoofprints they hope to follow?

Five racehorses in the illustrious history of this Cheltenham Festival feature have been fortunate enough to win it three times. Each of the mighty Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq completed their Champion Hurdle hat-tricks in consecutive years.There are two ways of looking at such feats. These Champion Hurdle legends dominated their respective eras – from the post-war Britain of Hatton’s Grace and Sir Ken through to the dawn of a new millennium with Istabraq.

Was the opposition they faced up to much? The betting is a good indicator of this with Sir Ken sent off favorite on all three occasions alongside Istabraq. Persian War and See You Then, meanwhile, were returned at the shortest starting price in two of their respective Champion Hurdle triumphs.

Espoir D’Allen was sent off at the biggest odds of any winner of this race for the preceding decade in 2019 at 16/1. The Champion Hurdle has been kind to Irish owner JP McManus who has had five different horses land the spoils on eight occasions.

He has sent some of his best purchases to be trained by Nicky Henderson, who has saddled four different animals to seven victories in this. With dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air injured, progressive mare Epatante is now the 3/1 favorite for the 2020 renewal and among many Cheltenham Festival tips given by experts.

Four mares have bested the geldings in the race’s history, and by far the most famous of those is Dawn Run. She is the only horse of either gender to have won both the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup.

If Epatante is to justify herself as a leading fancy, then she will have to put previous Festival disappointment behind her. She was sent off favourite for the Grade 2 novice hurdle race for mares in 2019, but trailed in a well-beaten ninth.

Parallels could be drawn between Epatante and Annie Power, the last mare to win the Champion Hurdle back in 2016. She fell at the final flight in the Mares’ Hurdle the previous year with the race at her mercy, but earned redemption.

Away from the 2020 Champion Hurdle favorite, it could pay to look for proven Grade 1 form. Klassical Dream was an exciting novice for Irish trainer Willie Mullins, but hasn’t backed up those runs in open company. That is why more experienced stable companions Saldier and Sharjah are shorter prices in the Champion Hurdle betting.

Decisions on the Henry De Bromhead-trained mare Honeysuckle – twice a Grade 1 winner in Ireland over a longer distance – and exciting Gordon Elliott novice Envoi Allen will further shape the market. All of these Champion Hurdle contenders have some way to go to be mentioned in the same breath as those among the pantheon of hurdling greats, though.

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