Champion Hurdle Betting

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With a history dating back to 1927, one of the most prestigious hurdling events in the National Hunt calendar is the annual Champion Hurdle held on opening day of the Cheltenham Festival in March. It is an eight-barrier Grade 1 hurdle race, covering two miles and half a furlong over the left-handed turf of Cheltenham’s Old Course. Open to horses aged four years carrying a weight of 11 stone 3 pounds and older ones with 11 stone 10, an allowance of seven pounds is accorded to fillies and mares.

Some of the finest jumpers in hurdling history have won this race, including repeat winner National Spirit (1947~48), three-time champions Hatton’s Grace (1949~51) and Persian War (1968-70), and Fred Winter’s Lanzarote (1974), all of which now have races named after them. Other famed hurdlers that have left their marks here are double winners Bula (1971~72), Night Nurse (1976~77), Monksfield (1978~79), and Sea Pigeon (1980~81), and the threepeaters Sir Ken (1952~54), See You Then (1985~87) and Istabraq (1998~2000).

In 1984, Paddy Mullins’ six-year-old Dawn Run was the first mare to triumph here. She went on to claim the Irish and French versions of the event, and then won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1986—the only horse ever to complete the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double.

When the inaugural Champion Hurdle was run in 1927, the prize money awarded to the winner, Blaris, came to only £365. Over the years the purse has grown by leaps and bounds so that the first place finisher now receives just over £210,000 out of a total prize pool of £370,000.

Commercial sponsorship of the Champion Hurdle started in 1978, with Waterford Crystal as the race’s first backer. From 1991 until recently, sponsorship was held by Europe’s leading corrugated packaging company, Smurfit Kappa. However, from 2011 onward, the title role has been taken up by bookmaker Stan James, making the full official name of the race the “Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy.” The company also sponsors the Cheltenham Festival’s curtain-raiser, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which often supplies hurdlers for this race the following year.

Trend spotting is a common handicapping technique for the Champion Hurdle, where multiple winners have not been uncommon. Fully 16 of the most recent 22 winners had won at Cheltenham before. Among the last 27 winners, 23 of them won their last time out, and 18 of the last 20 winners were ranked in the top six in pre-race betting. Age makes a difference here, too, with only one five-year-old winning since 1985 and just three winners older than eight in the past sixty years.

Trainers who have done well here include Peter Easterby and Nicky Henderson, with five wins apiece. In fact, Berkshire-based Henderson has had the last two winners, Punjabi in 2009 and Binocular in 2010, although Irish-trained horses have dominated have the Champion Hurdle win recent years, coming first in seven of last dozen runnings.

Races to look to as indicators of the form of the favourites going into the Cheltenham Festival are the three Stan James sponsored winter hurdles—the stanjames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle in Newbury in November, the stanjames.com International Hurdle in Cheltenham in December, and the Stanjames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock Park in January. This series of high-class hurdles races has been called “The Road to Cheltenham.”

Horses with previous course form—and previous Festival form in particular—have fared very well in the event. Four greys have won the Champion Hurdle, the most recent being Rooster Booster in 2003. Only one roan horse has come in first here, Anzio in 1962, and no mare has won since Flakey Dove in 1994.

As for long shots, the most recent big winner was Dessie Hughes’ Hardy Eustace, coming home at 33/1 in 2004. The following year, the horse repeated his victory, but this time as the 7/1 favourite. Punjabi paid off at 22/1 in 2009, but no 50/1 starter has triumphed since 1989, when Beech Road did it.

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