At the start of the season the Champion Hurdle cupboard looked bare: there was dual winner Buveur d’Air and not much else. The picture is very different now and we have a belter of a renewal to look forward to at 3.30pm. It is a contest that has everything and I think it is the race of the meeting. Strangely, despite winning the race twice, Buveur d’Air still needs to silence some doubters and today he can put a stamp on his legacy by joining the likes of Istabraq and See You Then in becoming the sixth horse to win three Champion Hurdles.
I spoke to Nicky Henderson over a very good, liquid lunch a couple of weeks ago and he is adamant that Buveur d’Air wasn’t at his best last year. We agreed that the horse will need to bring his A-game this time around, because conceding seven pounds to a top-class mare is always going to be difficult. You look at how deadly Enable has been with the sex allowance on the flat and in today’s race Buveur d’Air has not one, but two top-notch mares to deal with.
Apple’s Jade is a strong fancy for many, but I’m siding with Laurina. Strictly on the form book she should probably be a double-figure price and she has never even raced against the boys, but I think she has an X-Factor and if the rumours are right she could be even better than Annie Power, who won the Champion Hurdle for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh three years ago.
Walsh would be a world-class poker player but I just sense chatting to him that Laurina could be very special and become the fifth mare to win a Champion Hurdle. Ruby himself has had so much bad luck of late I’d love to see him win the big one. We tease him that he’s the oldest-looking 39-year-old on the planet but everyone would love to see the Walsh smile light up Cheltenham again with his wife and daughters in tow. When Laurina passed the post in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle last year, I tweeted: “I think we’ve just seen the 2019 Champion Hurdle winner” and received a torrent of abuse in return. Forgive me if there’s a smug tweet or two when we come off air at 4.30pm this afternoon.
These are four of my favourite days to broadcast on ITV. Jump racing remains so popular, which I put down to the familiar names that come back every year and resonate with the public. Great stories abound, and my heart says Glen Forsa can win the Racing Post Arkle.