Faugheen hot favourite for Champion Hurdle as 19 entries revealed

Defending champion Faugheen (Willie Mullins), the 4/7 favourite with Stan James, stars among 19 entries for the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle, the £400,000 feature race on the opening day of The Festival, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 15 at Cheltenham.

Faugheen powered home in the extended two-mile hurdle championship contest in 2015 by a length and a half from his stable companion Arctic Fire (10/1), who is entered once again. The eight-year-old is after his third consecutive victory at The Festival, having taken the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle in 2014. Faugheen, only beaten once in 12 starts, was last seen out when winning the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day for the second year in succession.

Ireland’s champion Jump trainer has also entered the only horse ever to overcome Faugheen, Nichols Canyon (7/1), as well as Sempre Medici (50/1), who was runner-up in the Grade Two StanJames.com International at The International at Cheltenham in December. There are five Irish-trained entries as Henry de Bromhead has entered this season’s Grade One StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Identity Thief (12/1).

Nicky Henderson is the joint most successful trainer ever in the Stan James Champion Hurdle with five victories and the Lambourn handler has made five entries this year. The quintet from Seven Barrows are dual Grade One winner and 2014 Stan James Champion runner-up My Tent Or Yours (25/1), Sign Of A Victory (66/1) and the first three horses home in the Grade One JCB Triumph Hurdle at The Festival last year – Peace And Co (14/1), Top Notch (33/1) and Hargam (40/1).

Paul Nicholls landed the Champion Hurdle in 2012 with Rock On Ruby and has two entries this year – Old Guard (40/1) and All Yours (66/1). Five-year-old Old Guard has proved himself at Cheltenham this season with wins in the Grade Three StanJames.com Greatwood Handicap Hurdle at The Open and the Grade Two StanJames.com International in November but could only finish fourth behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle. All Yours was a Grade One winner at Aintree last season but disappointed on his only outing this campaign at Wincanton.

The New One (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 20/1) finished second to Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle and has lined up at The Festival the past four years, faring best when taking the 2013 Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. He has contested the Stan James Champion Hurdle twice, coming home third to Jezki in 2014 and fifth last year.

Of the 14 British-trained Stan James Champion Hurdle entries, 13 are located in England and one in Scotland. James Ewart, based near Langholm in Dumfriesshire, is responsible for the Scottish hope, Aristo Du Plessis who has won his last six completed starts, rising from a rating of 109 to 150 after his latest success in the £40,000 totepoolinfo.com Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year’s Day. Characteristically, the French-bred six-year-old made all the running under top-weight to triumph by four lengths.

The progressive Aristo Du Plessis will return to Musselburgh for the third consecutive time in the £25,000 Scottish County Handicap Hurdle on Sunday, February 7.

Ewart said: “Aristo Du Plessis is the flagship horse for us and we will consider our options after Musselburgh. We could go to Cheltenham but he is still a young horse and his main aim this season is the Scottish Champion Hurdle (a limited handicap hurdle at Ayr on April 16). But if he runs very well at Musselburgh and everybody is in agreement the Champion Hurdle will be seriously considered.”

Aristo Du Plessis, owned by John and Jill Dodd who are based near Newcastle, is a 66/1 chance with Stan James.

Ewart continued: “He has not run in a Listed or Graded race but his rating is now 150 and he is rated not far off Grade One winners. We will have to see how he gets on in a level weights contest – hopefully the handicapper is right.

“Most of our horses are from France and he came through our usual connections. He won a National Hunt bumper in France and I went over and saw him. He is not much to look at but we did a piece of work with him and he shone so we bought him.

“He had exactly the same problem as Cue Card – a trapped epiglottis – and that was operated on last summer and has led to a marked improvement.

“So far so good with him but he has not moved up yet into graded races where everything is different. If the Champion Hurdle cuts up and there were only seven or eight runners then I could see us taking our place in the race.

“But we will know a lot more after Musselburgh. If he wins there and the handicapper raises him another 8lb then he would be rated the same as Peace And Co and would be entitled to be there. He is a very progressive horse. He should have won nine races – he was second in one (Sedgefield, February, 2015) when we got the tactics wrong and he fell at Wetherby (October, 2015) where he would have won if he had stood up.

“He is predominantly a speed horse and therefore you have got to use him from the front. It is tremendously exciting to have a horse like him – I have been training here since 2004 and I have only had two runners at the Cheltenham Festival because it is so hard to produce a horse good enough to go there let alone to compete in a Grade One Blue Riband contest like the Champion Hurdle. It is what we all work for.”

Other entries include War Sound (Philip Hobbs, 66/1), not seen out since landing the valuable Swinton Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park in May and Camping Ground (Robert Walford, 20/1), who emerged as hurdler of rare talent when taking the Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle over two and a half miles at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Completing the entries are the John Ferguson-trained pair of Parlour Games (66/1) and Purple Bay (100/1), both Grade Two winners, plus Mad Jack Mytton (Jonjo O’Neill, 100/1).

“As sponsors, and racing enthusiasts, we are delighted with the strength in depth to the entries in this year’s Stan James Champion Hurdle,” said Ed Nicholson, Head of Marketing at Unibet Group Racing, parent company of Stan James. “Not only do we have last year’s first and second entered, in Faugheen and Arctic Fire, but last year’s second favourite for the race, The New One and the first three from last season’s Triumph Hurdle in Peace And Co, Top Notch and Hargam. When you add into the mix the only horse ever to beat Faugheen, Nichols Canyon, and Stan James Champion Hurdle Trials winners Old Guard and Identity Thief- you really have the who’s who of two mile hurdling entered.”

Stan James Champion Hurdle 2016 – Stan James bet: 4/7 Faugheen, 7 Nichols Canyon, 10 Arctic Fire, 12    Identity Thief, 14 Peace And Co, 20 Camping Ground, 20 The New One, 25 My Tent Or Yours, 33 Top Notch, 40 Hargam, 40 Old Guard, 50 Sempre Medici, 66 War Sound, 66 Sign Of A Victory, 66 All Yours, 66 Aristo Du Plessis, 66 Parlour Games, 100 Purple Bay, 100 Mad Jack Mytton

 

Stan James racing ambassador, Nicky Henderson, has five horses entered and Stan James make it over 500/1 that he fills the first three places – as he did in last year’s JCB Triumph Hurdle, and something Willie Mullins achieved only last season in the Stan James Champion Hurdle itself.

Seven Barrows Champion Hurdle: 1/2 Peace And Co, 5/2 My Tent Or Yours, 12 Top Notch, 14 Hargam, 25 Sign Of A Victory

Nicky Henderson To Train The Winner Of The Stan James Champion Hurdle 2016: 7/1.

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