I have many friends who love the Champion Hurdle and who view it as the prime race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The fourth race on the first day is a rip roaring affair that sees the elite of the hurdling world line up against each other for what can only be described as the most magnificent hurdling race on the planet. I know I sound excited, but not only is this a great race in its own right, the Champion Hurdle is also a fantastic betting contest and one that punters at the Festival love to get stuck into.
Winners of the Champion Hurdle in the recent era have included some of the biggest and best known horses in racing, such as multiple winners: See You Then, Hardy Eustace and Istrabraq.
In the major Cheltenham Festival races such as the Cheltenham Gold Cup (link) or the Champion Hurdle, it seems that the racing public absolutely love a multiple winner. Take Kauto Star (link) or Hardy Eustace (link) as recent examples and you can see why it tends to be in the major races of the festival that stars of the racing world are made.
So hopefully up to this point on day one of the festival you have had a couple of winning bets and are feeling in good spirits about your selection for the Champion Hurdle.
In terms of betting on the Champion Hurdle, backing favourites in the past has been relatively successful, though in recent years some longer priced and improving horses have taken the spoils.
The Champion Hurdle is certainly a race that I like to bet on and is one which has often rewarded astute punters (not that I am one) over the years. So whether you have smashed into the favourite, or gone each way on a progressive, younger horse at a longer price, sit back and soak up the greatest hurdles race on earth.
The Champion Hurdle is a grade 1 national hunt hurdle race.
In recent years, the race has been run at a start time of 15:20 and takes place on the first Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival.
Age qualification for the race is 4 years old and upward.
The race is run over a distance of just over 2 miles. 2 miles and 110 yards to be precise.
In 2011 the total purse was around £370,000, with the winner taking home a touch over £200k.
There are a total of 8 hurdles across the 2-mile course.
- In the past 25 years, there has only been one 5-year-old winner of the Champion Hurdle: Katchit in 2008.
- 24 out of the last 28 winners won on their previous outing.
- 17 out of the last 21 winners started the race in the top 5 of the betting market.
- Cheltenham form is important, 16 of the past 23 winners had previously won a race at the course.
- Over the past 19 years, only two horses of 9 years or older have won the race.
- Multiple winners are relatively commonplace within the Champion Hurdle, with Istrabraq (3 times winner) and Hardy Eustace (2 times winner) having triumphed more than once within the past 13 years.
- Within the last 15 years, Nicky Henderson, Dessie Hughes and Aidan O’Brien have all won the Champion Hurdle more than once.
- Irish trained horses have been a good thing over recent years, winning 8 times out of the last 13 renewals.
- A Supreme Novices’ success does not necessarily mean you are onto a winner for the Champion Hurdle the next year, in-fact the last dual winner was Bula in 1970/1971.
Betting On The Champion Hurdle
If you have been betting on the Champion Hurdle over the past four or five years, then you may have noticed the slightly erratic nature of the prices of winning horses. What is the reason for this?
There is no reason as such, however my suggestion would simply be that there are a number of horses that are open to vast improvement on known form and can be classed as extremely progressive.
Are the favourites for the Champion Hurdle good things for betting on? With an average SP over the past 6 years of just over 10/1, it would suggest in recent years that this is not the case. In 2007 Detroit City finished only in 6th place when 6/4 favourite, Sizing Europe disappointed in 2008 at odds of 2/1 and Binocular was beaten into 3rd place in 09 after starting the race as 6/4 favourite.
If you are someone that enjoys backing favourites at the Cheltenham Festival, then all is not lost in the Champion Hurdle, as 3 favourites have won over the past 10 years.
Trends in recent years would suggest that we should be potentially looking at a 6 or 7 year old to win the race, who is open to improvement and progressive, however 8 year old horses cannot be ruled out.
Incredibly, the 5 year old Katchit in 2008, was the only 5 year old to win the Champion Hurdle over the past 25 years. On top of this, only two nine year olds over the past 19 years have won the race. So folks, if you are looking at betting on a 5 or 9 year old horse, make sure you have a good reason to do so!
The Irish have a fantastic record in the Champion Hurdle, so give serious respect to Irish Raiders when assessing your betting selection. They have won 8 of the past 13 renewals.
To break it down very simply, I would predominantly be looking at backing horses that have won on their last outing, are aged either 6 or 7 years old and who look to be open to improvement. Keeping an eye on Irish trained horses is also recommended, due to an impressive record over the past ten years.
For the 2012 Cheltenham Festival the leading offers are: Bet365 £200 free bets, BetVictor £25 free bet, and Stan James £150 free bets.
History Of The Race
The Champion Hurdle has a fantastic history that spans back almost 100 years. It was during the Cheltenham Festival in 1927 that Blaris won the first ever Champion Hurdle and picked up prize money of £365. Back in 1927 £365 was not to be sniffed at and would buy a gentlemen many a shoe shine and yards of ale, however it is humbling to know that this year the Stan James Champion Hurdle will be contested for a prize fund of £370k.
Over the past 5 years, the average field for the Champion Hurdle has been around 14 runners, which makes it amazing to hear that back in 1932, a field of just 3 runners disputed the race.
The Champion Hurdle has been cancelled on four separate occasions. World War II being the reason during 1943 and 1944, a bout of frost making racing conditions unsafe in 1931 and in the modern era the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001 stopping all races at the Cheltenham Festival.
As touched upon in the racing and betting trends section, we can see from the history books that multiple winners of the Champion Hurdle are not uncommon. Vincent O’Brien was the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle three times, with Hatton’s Grace between 1949 – 1951.
Another horse to claim the Champion Hurdle crown three times was the Maurice Kingsley trained Sir Ken, between the years of 1952 to 1954. In the six years between 1949 – 1954, only two horses won the race and I believe two treble winners in succession landing a race at the Cheltenham Festival is a feat only ever achieved in the Champion Hurdle. If anyone has evidence to the contrary though, please let me know.
On another note relating to the treble winning Sir Ken, you may not know that he was the shortest priced favourite ever to win the Champion Hurdle. In 1953, the bookmakers would have given those betting on Sir Ken as favourite for a second victory the measly price of 2/5. Not much for a race as challenging as the Champion Hurdle, so I guess Sir Ken must have been recognised as a seriously talented hurdler.
If we look to recent years for short priced favourites to win the Champion Hurdle, the legendary Istrabraq galloped to first place in 2000 at odds of just 8/15 after defending his crown successfully for the third successive time.
Istrabraq was also one of only 5 horses to win the Champion Hurdle on three consecutive occasions. See You Then achieved the same feat between 1985 – 1987, as did Persian War between 1968 – 1970 and the above mentioned Hatton’s Grace (1949 – 1951) and Sir Ken (1952 – 1954).
Istrabraq was winner of the Champion Hurdle between 1998 to 2000 and incredibly was also winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle on four consecutive occasions between 1998 to 2001.
Istrabraq was a crowd favourite at the Cheltenham Festival before retiring in 2002. On that occasion he went off as 2/1 favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle and in-spite of pulling up, was given a standing ovation by the crowd on his return to the grand stand.
The most recent horse to win consecutive Champion Hurdle renewals was crowd favourite Hardy Eustace, who recorded back to back victories in 2004 and 2005.
You may be interested to know that Dessie Hughes, the trainer of Hardy Eustace, had also previously been the winning jockey above Monksfield in 1969. That made good old Dessie one of only four people ever to have trained and ridden a Stan James Champion Hurdle winner. Well done Dessie!
During the 1963 Cheltenham Festival, the Champion Hurdle winner was a gallant horse by the name of Winning Fair. Living up to his name sake, Winning Fair won the race with only one eye, beating his two eyed adversaries under the guidance of jockey Alan Lillingston.
On a final note in our run down of the history of the Stan James Champion Hurdle, you may not know that only one horse has ever won both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup. This was Dawn Run, who successfully completed the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup double in 1984 and 1986 respectably. Imagine the odds of betting on that to happen in the modern era!