Tony Keenan's Irish Angle

Our Irish expert Tony Keenan has a look at some early movements in the Champion Hurdle Market over the last month or so.

  • Wednesday 04 December
  • Blog
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Champion Hurdle Market Movements

Champion Hurdle Market (early November 2019)

7-2 Klassical Dream, 7-1 Buveur D’Air, 14-1 Pentland Hills, Fusil Raffles 20-1 Apple’s Jade, Benie Des Dieux 25-1 bar.

Champion Hurdle Market (early December 2019)

9-2 Klassical Dream, 6-1 Saldier, 8-1 Pentland Hills, 10-1 Honeysuckle, 12-1 Envoi Allen, Fusil Raffles, 20-1 bar.

This past weekend provided another shake-up to a Champion Hurdle market that has been in flux since the demise of Espoir D’Allen in August and the odds above show how much things have changed in just a month.

The first big card fell on Saturday when Buveur D’Air produced a flat effort when second in the Fighting Fifth though with good reason as he picked up a ‘very serious’ splinter injury in defeat, one that leaves his 2019/20 season ‘a grey area’ per Nicky Henderson.

Most firms have taken him out of their Champion Hurdle betting since and it will not be known if he can return this term until later this month; best-case scenario, he gets back for March off an interrupted prep and at his age is always going to be vulnerable to an improver, the championship races at the Festival typically the domain of the younger horses.

Fairyhouse wins on Sunday for Envoi Allen and Honeysuckle saw both shorten in the betting despite connections publicly suggesting they would have other Cheltenham targets. Envoi Allen, for one, is doing things he probably shouldn’t be at this point, essentially an embryonic staying chaser that has the pace and slick hurdling for two miles.

He is notably clued-up for an inexperienced horse, a strong traveller but also keeping a bit back for himself in the finish, shaping like he should thrive off a proper championship pace. His time performance on Sunday was an excellent for one having just his second start over hurdles.

I am less convinced by Honeysuckle’s suitability for the Champion Hurdle at this point, the Hatton’s Grace hardly the strongest running while her hurdling is not the slickest. Still, in terms of ability and like Envoi Allen, it is hard to put a cap on her at this stage.

Henry De Bromhead had voiced concerns in Saturday’s Irish Field about her not being able to run in a mares-only hurdle over Christmas due to being a previous Grade 1 winner though petty affairs like Grade 3 races can hardly be considered now. Going left-handed does seem to be on their minds and the trainer has referenced it before so perhaps there is something in it. However, it seems sensible to assume she will be fine that way around until proven otherwise.

Suitability for the Champion Hurdle is one thing, participation quite another. If this were Willie Mullins there would be no discussion, both would be heading for the easiest race possible at the Festival but Gordon Elliott and De Bromhead are different and their respective owners need considering too.

Elliott has at least some history with this, albeit at Punchestown, running both Samcro and Labaik in the Champion Hurdle there after Cheltenham wins, and his owners Cheveley Park may be in this more for kicks than with their flat horses.

De Bromhead might be the more likely to give into the temptation as I suspect he is a racing romantic, a dreamer who doesn’t want to die wondering. Why else would he persist with running Sizing John against Douvan when there were softer races available or keep on the belief that Monalee is a Gold Cup horse? His owner Kenny Alexander comes from a bookmaking background, a group that have different attitudes to risk, depending on your point-of-view!

One thing that is for certain is that both sets of connections are at least thinking Champion Hurdle as the two horses were entered in the Leopardstown December Hurdle at the Christmas meeting. I had thought they might hold off with the Grade 1 two-mile entry until the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival but not a bit of it.

They may also have in mind the stark reality that the window for success in the Cheltenham feature races can open and close quickly. For every Hurricane Fly that seemed to make it back to the meeting each year, there are more horses like Coneygree and Espoir D’Allen who burn bright all too briefly. Waiting makes sense on one level but planning long-term for national hunt horses can be tempting fate.

There are likely other cards to fall in this division too. Connections of high-class hurdlers that have been sent chasing may be having a rethink with Felix Desjy and City Island a couple of names that spring to mind. The latter missed a target at Naas last month and has no entries at the moment but if time starts to run out on a novice chase campaign, connections may be tempted by a run over hurdles before Cheltenham, his proven stamina and Ballymore win no negatives with a view to the Champion Hurdle.

Missing Entries

The entries for the feature races over Christmas at Limerick and especially Leopardstown were released on Monday with the presence of some of the ex-Supreme Racing horses perhaps the main takeaway.

Sometimes however it is the horses that aren’t entered that are most interesting, particularly those from the Willie Mullins yard, the trainer tending to cover all eventualities with entries and then add a few extra to be on the safe side.

Saldier was not put into the December Hurdle, Mullins reporting that he was ‘not 100 per cent happy with him’ after the Morgiana so plans are on hold for the moment while Douvan and Getabird (not entered in the John Durkan or Hilly Way this weekend) were another notable absentees from the yard.

Nor was there any entry for Franco De Port, a good winner at Gowran last month who had been in the Royal Bond at one point, so all may not be well there either.

Tony Keenan's Irish Angle
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