THE Cheltenham Day 1 highlight looks highly uncompetitive this season but who is Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) backing?
Champion Hurdle | 15th March 2016 | Channel 4
This race looks even more one sided than the Arkle Trophy and it's surely a case of how far Faugheen will win by. He's best price 4/1 as I type in late-January and that price in all honesty represents value!
He is a magnificent horse and I fully expect him to win this easily. But who follows him home? I think the Betting Without market is probably the best approach to this race.
Arctic Fire is a real star in his own right but in the two mile division he is always going to play second fiddle to his stablemate. After flopping over three miles he returned to something like his best when following Faugheen home in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out.
However he finished 14 lengths behind him there and it is possible he is not the same horse he was last season. He could easily finish in the places but I'm still not entirely convinced he is the same horse this year.
Nichols Canyon remains the only horse to have beaten Faugheen but was firmly put in his place by his rival last time. He tried to match him there and ultimately paid the price for that and I believe he is better than he showed there.
Mind you he's at his best when allowed to dominate from the front and with Faugheen around he won't get to do that here. I'm not sure how they will ride him in this race and I can't back him after what happened last time.
Identify Thief has made rapid progress in the past 12 months and joined the hurdling top table when winning the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
He then finished second to Nichols Canyon and comes in to this with a real chance of getting a place. With no shortage of pace in the field it's possible that the places could be filled by horses held up running on past beaten horses but at 7/2 he doesn't represent value.
I can't believe what I am going to write here but I think The New One is the value bet in this market. He has only finished out of the places twice in his career (in this last year and the Champion Bumper) and despite looking like a step up in trip might suit him he remains one the most consistent hurdlers around.
In this race last season he was keen early on in what was a steadily run race and it's likely to be run at a stronger gallop this season. His trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said he struggled to get him ready for this last year and with a better preparation he could easily run in to the places here.
He is available at 9/1 without Faugheen or 20/1 in the actual market. I make him value in both as I have a feeling that Faugheen will break Nichols Canyon again and the race may fall apart.
Champion Hurdle 2016 – The New One without Faugheen (9/1 Stan James)