For horse racing fans, the turn of the New Year means just one thing; the Cheltenham Festival is just a matter of months away. Whilst there’s more than likely only going to be a few thousand spectators in attendance, as opposed to the usual roaring 70,000+ crowd, there’s still plenty to look forward too, including 15 Grade 1 races.
The Champion Hurdle is the race that gets everyone’s attention on the first day of the meeting, so whilst you’re scouring the form guides and looking for the best early racing tips, let’s take a look back the last five winners of the Grade 1 race for some inspiration.
Epatante – 2020
Last year, Epatante landed Irish trainer Nicky Henderson his third Champion Hurdle since 2016, and if the early Cheltenham odds are anything to go by then the 6-year-old is going to win the race again this year, and therefore land the 70-year-old his ninth Champion Hurdle triumph. Epatante went into last year’s race as the 2/1 favourite, and he showed why he was the market leader with an assertive three-length victory over 16/1 shot Sharjah.
Espoir D’Allen – 2019
The iconic gold and green colours of JP McManus are often the first to cross line in the Champion Hurdle, especially in recent years, with four wins since 2016 – Epatante included – and 2019 was no exception. Buveur D’Air was the more fancied of McManus’ two entries. However, when he fell at the third hurdle, that opened the door to 16/1 shot Espoir D’Allen, who jockey Mark Allen guided to a whopping 15-length victory.
Buveur D’Air – 2018
That’s right, Buveur D’Air was gunning for a hat-trick of victories when he agonisingly fell in the 2019 edition of the Champion Hurdle. In 2018, the nine-year-old went into the Grade 1 race as the odds-on favourite. However, despite being the heavily fancied market leader, the Henderson-trained horse was pushed right to the end, eventually beating 7/1 shot Melon by little more than a neck. It was back-to-back wins for Buveur D’Air at the festival after he won the race in 2017…
…Buveur D’Air – 2017
The 2017 Champion Hurdle was just Buveur D’Air’s second outing at the historic Cheltenham Festival, as he finished over eight lengths behind the legendary Altior in third in the 2016 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Henderson-trained horse came home four and a half lengths clear of 16/1 outsider My Tent Or Yours, landing jockey Noel Fehily his second Champion Hurdle victory and owner McManus a monumental 50th winner at the Cheltenham Festival. For Henderson, it was a record-breaking sixth triumph in the race, but his first since Binocular’s victory in 2010.
“All records are there to be broken. It’s the horses and the people that make it. It’s rather surreal really. Of course, it’s special, it’s just fun. When this thing happens it’s even better fun,” the Irish trainer said afterwards.
Annie Power – 2016
Punters may have been reluctant to back the Willie Mullins-trained Annie Power in the 2016 Champion Hurdle after the horror show at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, when she devastatingly crashed at the last flight in the Mares’ Hurdle, saving the bookies an eye-watering £50 million. However, she repaid her backers with an empathic four and a half length triumph. It was My Tent Or Yours who fell short in second once again.