Mullins Powers Up Champion Hurdle After Machine Failure

Mullins Powers Up Champion Hurdle After Machine Failure

Last week’s single biggest piece of news concerning the Cheltenham Festival was the withdrawal of Champion Hurdle favourite and defending champion, Faugheen. Thankfully the injury which has ended the son of Germany’s season is not thought to be career threatening. Connections will take heart from the fact that the suspensory ligament ailment which has resulted in the gelding’s withdrawal, has been likened to that which afflicted Hurricane Fly prior to the 2010 Festival. It certainly seemed to have no lasting effects on that brilliant hurdler as “The Fly” went on to record 19 further Grade 1 successes when returned to the track.

Having posted such an impressive performance last time out at Leopardstown, the horse dubbed “The Machine” was well fancied to follow up his 2015 Champion Hurdle success and assert his superiority once again in 2016. Indeed at the time of his withdrawal, Willie Mullins’ magnificent eight-year-old was the shortest priced favourite of the whole meeting, with Ladbrokes going just 1/4. His absence has had a profound effect on the market not just for the Champion Hurdle, but other Festival contests besides.

Mullins appeared to have the Champion Hurdle in an almost vicelike grip prior to the scratching of Faugheen. Second and third favourites Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon also hail from his all-powerful Closutton operation. One would have expected one or the other of this duo to naturally gravitate to the head of the market. Whilst both have shortened considerably, Arctic Fire from 8/1 to 3/1 at Ladbrokes, and Nichols Canyon 12/1 into 9/2 with Sky Bet, it is another Mullins runner who has assumed the position of market leader.

The guessing game, which has gone on for much of the winter, regarding exactly where star mare Annie Power will line up at this year’s Festival, appears to have been rendered a wasted exercise following last week’s events. Mares’ Hurdle or World Hurdle? The answer looks set be neither as following a successful comeback run at Punchestown, the rumour mill began to move into overdrive that she wold be re-routed to the Champion Hurdle. Whilst still needing to be supplemented at a cost of £20,000, connections have done little to dispel this rumour. The odds compilers seem convinced anyway, installing Annie Power as the new favourite for the Champion Hurdle, BetVictor offering betting odds of just 7/4.

That move has in turn led to something of a reshuffle in the Mares’ Hurdle market. Having previously been rated a 4/7 shot with BetVictor for that contest, Annie Power has now been usurped as market leader by… yet another Willie Mullins-trained runner. Vroum Vroum Mag is now in to 11/10 from 9/4 with Sky Bet.

Whilst Faugheen will certainly be a miss from this year’s Festival, the fact that Mullins’ substitute for the race should immediately be installed as favourite, goes some way towards illustrating the strength in depth of the Irish Champion trainer’s yard. With a team including, Min, Douvan, Black Hercules, Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Don Poli and Djakadam, and five favourites on the first day alone, the loss of Faugheen is a bitter pill to swallow, but it is unlikely to prevent Mullins enjoying an extremely successful Festival. It certainly isn’t as disastrous as a smaller yard having three of their stable stars ruled out of Cheltenham through injury.

That, unfortunately, is the fate which has befallen the luckless Gary Moore. Having already seen his Champion Chase hopeful Traffic Fluide suffer a season ending setback, the past seven days have brought yet more woe for Moore. Violet Dancer looked every inch an Arkle candidate when slamming L’ami Serge in the Kingmaker at Warwick, only to be found to have suffered a condylar fracture in the aftermath of the race. Violet Dancer was viewed as something of an outsider for the Arkle, Ar Mad on the other hand, was beginning to emerge as a credible threat to the Willie Mullins superstar Douvan in the same race.

Having already accounted for the smart Vaniteux and Bristol De Mai this season, the five-year-old appeared to enjoy a nice prep when romping to a 25 length win in a handicap chase at Plumpton. However the alarm bells where ringing when the horse was reported as appearing to have finished lame, sadly the cause of this lameness was found to be yet another condylar fracture. The one positive amongst this catalogue of misfortune is that the long term prognosis for the three horses is good, with the trio all expected to make a full recovery. The main effect this had on the betting markets is that the previously rock solid Douvan, is beginning to look like the biggest certainty of the festival, Coral offering betting odds of just 1/3.

It is at this time of year we generally begin to see the markets for the Cheltenham contests begin to take on a solid shape. Whilst that is true for many contests, with clear favourites emerging and likely challengers solidifying their positions in the betting, it certainly isn’t true for the impossible looking Triumph Hurdle. With each passing trial the waters in this juvenile trial appear to become increasingly murky.

The latest to fluff their lines is the horse thought to represent the best chance of trainer Nicky Henderson adding to his already formidable record in the race. Fixe Le Kap, unbeaten since joining the Henderson yard, headed into a Class 2 Juvenile Hurdle at Haydock widely expected to see off his three rivals with the minimum of fuss. He was beaten at odds of 1/4 and is now out to 12/1 from 7/1 with Bet365 for the Triumph. A mixture of long term fancies underperforming and supposed second strings doing better than expected has led to one of the most wide open ante post races of the Festival. All of this has resulted in a case of “as you were” in the betting market.

Having initially pushed out long term favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov to as big as 8/1, following his own contribution to the flopping favourites montage at Leopardstown earlier in the month, he is now back in to 7/2 with Sky Bet due to the lack of anything else stamping their authority on the juvenile division.

With so many market movers, be sure to keep an eye on the latest prices with our odds comparison tables for all the Cheltenham races!