Willie Mullins: responsible for nine of the 28 Champion Hurdle entries
PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
By Keith Melrose 3:00PM 18 JAN 2017
WITH the 28 entries for the Stan James Champion Hurdle revealed on Wednesday, we take you through the yards that hold the most powerful hands…
Trainer: Willie Mullins
Champion Hurdle wins: 4 (2016, 2015, 2013, 2011)
2017 Champion Hurdle entries: Faugheen, Annie Power, Nichols Canyon, Wicklow Brave, Vroum Vroum Mag, Clondaw Warrior, Diaklali, Footpad, Ivan Grozny
Willie Mullins’ grip on the 2m hurdling division has not slackened for the removal of the horses owned by Gigginstown House Stud, whose modus operandi lends itself much more easily to any of the other championship races.
Much will be made between now and March as to which of the last two winners – Annie Power and Faugheen – will line up this year. It would ideally be both, of course, but owner Rich Ricci is that rare creature, a banker who likes to spread the wealth.
Mullins, also reputedly shy when it comes to pitting his horses against one another, has run three in the last two Champion Hurdles and will probably send out a team of similar size this year.
With his big two unlikely to clash, the chances of another one-two-three, as two years ago, seem remote, with Wicklow Brave and Nichols Canyon, the best of his non-Ricci horses, both available to back at 33-1.
Wins: 5 (2010, 2009, 1987, 1986, 1985)
Entries: Brain Power, Buveur D’Air, L’Ami Serge, My Tent Or Yours, Top Notch
No one has more Champion Hurdle wins than Nicky Henderson, who has also had the runner-up in two of the last three years.
My Tent Or Yours was the horse responsible both times, but his light looks to have been fading this season and Henderson’s main challenger could be Brain Power, who has been something of a sleeper gamble for the race. Introduced at 25-1 when he crossed the line at Ascot a month ago, he is now a general 12-1 chance.
Though Henderson’s squad has plenty of depth, most have had their chance at the top level, Brain Power aside. It is entirely possible, however, that all four besides JLT Novices’ Chase-bound Buveur D’Air will run.
Wins: 1 (2008)
Entries: Yanworth, Sceau Royal
Alan King at least has the pace angle covered. In a steadily-run Champion Hurdle, the slick and flashy Sceau Royal could outrun his odds of 33-1, which he was eased to after he found the Fighting Fifth a bit too much of a test.
Yanworth’s needs are precisely the opposite. He showed his effectiveness over a sharp two miles in the Christmas Hurdle, but the feeling persists that were he in any colours besides those of supreme Cheltenham-phile JP McManus his main spring aim would be the Aintree Hurdle over half a mile further.
Entries: Ch’Tibello, Mister Miyagi, Superb Story
Dan Skelton got his first festival winner with Superb Story only last year and that same horse, winner of a competitive New Year’s Day handicap at Musselburgh off 145, probably represents the best chance among his three runners.
Ch’Tibello has twice beaten My Tent Or Yours this season, though that owes something to the latter’s struggles, while Mister Miyagi has come up short in his previous tries against Grade 1 horses.
With the four trainers mentioned above covering 19 of the 28 entries, the remainder hold the same numerical clout as Mullins alone.
Only three warrant more than a mention in dispatches. Petit Mouchoir, representing Henry de Bromhead, is the would-be stable star and an exception to the Gigginstown rule, having shown plenty of speed when dismissing Nichols Canyon at Leopardstown over Christmas. On reflection, he might have won the Fighting Fifth too, had he stood up.
The New One briefly re-entered the picture when winning the International Hurdle, but Kempton suggested that has it to do with Yanworth under just about any conditions you care to name.
Apple’s Jade, another Gigginstown entrant in the hands Gordon Elliott, is a legitimate Grade 1 contender when conditions are in her favour. That usually means soft ground, which though not exactly rare is the exception rather than the rule at Cheltenham in March.