Another Willie Mullins Contender Withdrawn From Champion Hurdle 2016

Another Willie Mullins Contender Withdrawn From Champion Hurdle 2016

A couple of weeks ago it looked likely that Willie Mullins-trained horses would storm to an emphatic 1-2-3 finish in the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival on 15th March. But then came the news that the shortest priced favourite of the whole Festival, Faugheen, had a suspensory ligament injury that would rule him out of defending his crown. And now the Closutton stable has been dealt another significant blow with the news that Arctic Fire – the second favourite for the Champion Hurdle – has chipped a bone and will thus also be withdrawn.

Of course, Mullins leaves little to chance at Cheltenham and he still has the top two in the betting: wonder mare, Annie Power, and six year old gelding, Nichols Canyon. They are priced at betting odds of 7/4 and 5/1 respectively with Betfair (though Henry De Bromhead’s Identity Thief is challenging for the second-favourite’s position). Arctic Fire’s withdrawal must surely now mean that Mullins will supplement Annie Power into the Champion Hurdle as Nichols Canyon certainly didn’t look like a world beater when finishing third in the Irish Champion Hurdle in January, some 28 lengths back from the winner Faugheen.

With Annie Power’s likely switch to the feature race on day one of the Festival, the path to Mare’s Hurdle glory should be left clear for yet another Mullins stead: Vroom Vroom Mag, who is now the 5/4 favourite with Ladbrokes and others. One thing’s for sure, Mullins certainly has plenty of aces, even amongst his reduced pack, and however he chooses to shuffle them, he has plenty of chances to get some victories on the opening day.

Turning to another top class trainer, indeed the eight-time champion trainer, and Paul Nicholls doesn’t look quite as well set ahead of the Cheltenham Festival in terms of the number of potential winners. With no out and out favourites in any of the big races, Nicholls is going to have to rely on a heavy dose of luck if he’s to saddle the most Festival winners this year (a feat he last achieved back in 2009, since when Nicky Henderson has won the top trainer title twice and Mullins four times).

One of Nicholls’ best chances comes in the form of Dodging Bullets, who is set to defend his Queen Mother Champion Chase triumph of 2015. He is certainly going to have his work cut out, however, after what looked a rather leggy run when finishing 10 lengths off the pace in a grade two chance at Newbury in mid-February. Add to that the fact that the Queen Mother field will include some true stars of National Hunt racing this year: Un De Sceaux and the inimitable Sprinter Sacre. Each of those is ahead of Dodging Bullets in the betting as things stand, and indeed each of those should make short work of the Nicholls’ mount if they run to their full capability.

Nicholls looks better stacked for the Triumph Hurdle on the final day of the Festival, in which his recently acquired four year old, Zubayr, is looking to emulate another Nicholls-trained horse, Zarkandar, by following up victory in the Adonis Hurdle with the same in the Triumph Hurdle. Zarkandar manage that back in 2011 and went on to be a contender in the International Hurdle, the Champion Hurdle and the World Hurdle (though won none of them). Recently Zubayr won by almost four lengths at Kempton on the 27th February, when he stormed from towards the back of the field with just three hurdles to go, storming past Azzuri with consummate ease.

Elsewhere, last year’s runner-up in the Gold Cup, Djakadam, still looks set to challenge once again this year for the most prestigious race on the National Hunt calendar, despite him falling last time out in the Cotswold Chase, also at Cheltenham. The French seven year old finished just a length and a half behind winner Coneygree at the 2015 Festival, but in beating the likes of Silviniaco Conti, Many Clouds and Road To Riches, Djakadam showed he has what it takes to mix it with the big boys.

A solid win at Punchestown in December (in which he ran 12 lengths clear of stablemate Valseau Lido) promised much, but then the fall at Cheltenham caused connections to ask serious questions about his chances in the Gold Cup. Of course, his trainer Willie Mullins has plenty of other options in the race, with last year’s RSA Chase victor Don Poli and JLT Novices’ Chase winner Vautour offering his best chances of success.

It is Gordon Elliott’s German nine year old that looks to be the one to beat if the betting is to be believed, though. At 4/1 with most bookies he is certainly proving popular with punters despite only managing a third place finish in the Ryanair Chase at least year’s Festival. Since then, however, he has won five of his six races, falling in the other (the King George VI), and – added to the four impressive wins prior to last year’s Festival – it could be argued that he simply had an off day in the Ryanair Chase.

Looking towards the handicaps at the Festival and Colin Tizzard’s Irish nine year old looked in fine fettle when running to a 10 length victory in the BetBright Chase at Kempton on 27th February. He is being lined up for the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day at Cheltenham, and though the manner of his triumph at Kempton will no doubt cost him in terms of his handicap, he is certainly worth considering given the style with which he ran that day.

With the 2016 Cheltenham Festival now just days away, some of the biggest bookies around are offering non runner no bet on ALL Festival races, notably Bet365. This means that you can get your bets on early safe in the knowledge that if your horse is a non runner, you’ll get your stake back, and if the odds drift, you’ll be paid out at the higher price! Add to that our odds comparison that helps you get the best betting value on every bet, and you are nicely set up to profit from the 2016 Cheltenham Festival! Good luck.