The Champion Hurdle will take place on Tuesday, March 12th at 3:30pm. It is a Grade One National Hunt hurdle, run over two miles and half-a-furlong, for horses aged four years and upwards.
10 runners will go to post for Tuesday's showpiece race at the Cheltenham Festival - let's take a look at the runners and riders:
Champion Hurdle Trends (Last 10 Years)
10/10 had run in a Grade 1 contest.
10/10 had five or more career runs over hurdles.
10/10 run on two or more occasions that season - winning at least once.
9/10 were aged between six and eight.
9/10 were officially rated 162 or higher.
9/10 had won a Grade 1 (exception was Rock On Ruby).
Champion Hurdle Facts
2008 winner Katchit is the only horse aged five to win since See You Then in 1985.
Five horses have won the Unibet Champion Hurdle three times - Hatton’s Grace (1949, 1950, 1951), Sir Ken (1952, 1953, 1954), Persian War (1968, 1969, 1970), See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987) and Istabraq (1998, 1999, 2000).
Brain Power (Nicky Henderson)
Winner of the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last time by 1¾ lengths from Silver Streak. Nabbed the runner-up prize behind the hot favourite Footpad in last year’s Arkle, but posed absolutely no threat whatsoever to the impressive winner.
His seasonal comeback in the Shloer Chase back at Cheltenham in November saw him finish a well-beaten fourth and it was at this point that owner Michael Buckley reportedly told Henderson to put the horse back over hurdles.
Buveur D'Air (Nicky Henderson)
Dual Champion Hurdle winner Buveur D’Air is well fancied to make it three consecutive wins and emulate Henderson’s legendary past stable star See You Then.
Uneaten in seasons 2016/17 and 2017/18, the gelding won the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle by 8 lengths from Samcro in December.
He was turned over by stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton before taking a 5-runner listed event (his third win in the race) at Sandown last time by 2 lengths from Vision Des Flos.
He will be facing his toughest task to date however having to concede 7lbs to two useful mares in the shape of Apple’s Jade and Laurina.
Espoir D'Allen (Gavin Cromwell)
Has completed a hat-trick of Grade 3 hurdles victories so far this season, those being the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas, the Irish Independent Hurdle at Limerick, and the Limestone Lad Hurdle where he beat Wicklow Brave by 2½ lengths.
Stays well and the ground conditions will certainly enhance his chances.
Global Citizen (Ben Pauling)
The seven-year-old finished fourth behind Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in December but bounced back with a three-length victory in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
Global Citizen is in fabulous form and a strong pace will suit him down to the ground. He is certainly capable of nicking a place.
Melon (Willie Mullins)
Melon was second in last year's renewal and gave the two-time champion Buveur D'Air one almighty battle up the famous Cheltenham hill.
He has been disappointing so far this season season, finishing fourth at Leopardstown on two occasions.
He was well behind Apple's Jade last time out in the Irish Champion Hurdle but Cheltenham appears to bring out the best in him and he should not be overlooked or dismissed.
Sharjah (Willie Mullins)
A very much improved horse this season, winning the Galway Hurdle in August, the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown (beat Faugheen by 7½ lengths) in November and the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown from Supasundae in December.
The ground will be right up Sharjah’s street and he may still have more to offer this season.
Silver Streak (Evan Williams)
Winner of the Swinton Handicap at Haydock back in May and the Welsh Champion Hurdle in October. Ran a creditable 3 lengths second to Global Citizen in Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock last time out and is clearly in good heart.
His two visits to Cheltenham have ended with narrow defeats in the Greatwood and the International Hurdle so connections are cautiously optimistic that he can outrun his large odds.
Apple's Jade (Gordon Elliott)
The mare won the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle over two and a half miles by 20 lengths at the start of December, and she won the Christmas Hurdle over three miles by 26 lengths.
Dropping back to two miles last time she ran her best race of her career when winning the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Winner of the Mares’ Hurdle in 2017, Apple’s Jade goes back to Prestbury Park at the peak of her powers and, in receipt of the 7lb mares’ allowance from the geldings, she is going to be one hard nut to crack and has an obvious favourite’s chance.
Laurina (Willie Mullins)
Willie Mullins’ six-year-old is now unbeaten in six starts since her move across to him from France, and she already has a Cheltenham Festival win under her belt in last year’s Mares' Novices' Hurdle.
Laurina put herself bang in the Champion Hurdle picture when producing an impressive performance in the Quevega Mares Hurdle over two and a half miles at Punchestown last month.
Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson)
Verdana Blue won the 5-runner Christmas Hurdle at Kempton by short a head from a below-par Buveur D'Air but then went down herself to Gumball on the all-weather at Kempton.
Henderson says he is not expecting mare Verdana Blue to confirm the form of her defeat of stablemate Buveur D'Air, but he fully expects her to be up there in the first three home.
Her jockey Davy Russell believes soft going has to be a concern for her so all eyes will be on the weather in regard to her participation.
Conclusion: the Champion Hurdle winner is...
On all known form this race should be a three way go between Buveur D’Air, Apple’s Jade and Laurina.
Buveur D’Air will probably struggle to give the two aforementioned mares 7lb’s so the battle for this blue-riband event will come down to a dual between the two ladies up the Cheltenham hill.
If you had to push me for a selection I would just about side with Laurina.
888Sport suggests: Laurina (win).
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*