Rock On Ruby Cheltenham Champion Hurdle 2013 PreviewWith 50 days to go until the start of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, it’s about time we got stuck into some big race previews. We did well at the Festival last year and this very race – the Champion Hurdle – was one of our tipping successes, having recommended eventual winner Rock On Ruby (pictured) at 14/1 (15.00) antepost. We’ve cast our eye over the 2013 renewal, employing our usual trends-based approach, and we’ve picked one out that could represent value at current odds of 7/1 (8.00) with Ladbrokes. Read on for all the details…

We’ve sifted through the stats to identify the key Cheltenham Champion Hurdle trends that will help us to pick a winner for the second year in succession. Here’s what we’ve found:

Key Trends

Age

  • Just 1 of the last 26 Champion Hurdle winners was aged 5
  • 19 of the last 26 winners were aged 6 or 7
  • No winners aged 10 or older in that same period of time

Age is a key trend to consider when analysing the Champion Hurdle field and the 2013 renewal is no different. With just one five year old winning in the last 26 renewals, it’s clear that we can discount the youngest horses. Similarly, no horses aged ten or older have won since Sea Pigeon in 1981. Eight and nine year olds have had minor success in the race, but by far the most prolific age group is six and seven year olds, with 19 wins from the last 26 renewals; this is where we will focus our attentions.

Recent Form

  • 24 of the last 29 Champion Hurdle winners won last time out
  • 17 of the last 18 winners had run in the same calendar year

The perfect Cheltenham Festival selection is a horse in peak form and fitness on the day of the race, so we need to look at its last time out performance for clues. Of the last 18 winners, only last year’s victor Rock On Ruby had not run in the same calendar year (and even he ran on December 26th in the Christmas Hurdle) which suggests that we should be avoiding horses that are too rusty.

It’s unlikely that a horse well beaten on its last race before the Festival is going to improve out of its skin in time for Cheltenham, so current form is also important, as illustrated by the ‘winning last time out’ trend. It’s too early to factor that into our thinking of course, but for those of you that prefer to bet on race day, it’s still good to know.

Cheltenham Form

  • 17 of the last 21 Champion Hurdle winners had placed before in a Cheltenham Festival race
  • 17 of the last 24 winners had won at Cheltenham racecourse before their Champion Hurdle success

As with the majority of races at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s important to choose a horse that is proven at the famously testing track on the big occasions. These trends speak for themselves.

Betting

  • 18 of the last 22 Champion Hurdle winners had come from the front five of the market

Another trend that’s arguably too early to worry about, but still good to know. There’s no need to look too far away from the favourites when it comes to the Champion Hurdle.

Summary

This year’s Cheltenham Champion Hurdle field is a stellar one, with the past four winners of the race lining up alongside a mixture of talented younger horses. It’s with the latter camp we’re siding with though, and the trends suggest that the six year olds Darlan, Cinders And Ashes, Zarkandar and Grandouet will all be there or thereabouts.

I can’t have Cinders And Ashes, personally. He has done nothing but disappoint this season and he finished a long way behind Darlan in the 2012 Christmas Hurdle. That horse must surely have a chance in the 2013 Champion Hurdle, but doesn’t look much value at a current best price of 4/1 (5.00) with Totesport (plus I’ve never really forgiven him for his fall in the Betfair Hurdle last season – falling in hurdles races is inexcusable).

Zarkandar and Grandouet are priced more healthily, both at 7/1 (8.00) with Ladbrokes and BetVictor respectively. It’s a tough call between the two, especially when you consider the International Hurdle form. Zarkandar won on heavy ground that day, but he probably benefited from having already raced that season, whereas Grandouet tied up at the end due to a lack of race sharpness.

As close as it is between the pair, I’m going to plump for Zarkandar. He ran fifth in this race last year (aged five, so he was always unlikely to win), finishing almost level with Binocular, a former winner of the Champion Hurdle. That experience that will stand him in good stead this time around and hopefully we’ll see him in the winners enclosure at the Festival again, as we did in 2011 for the Triumph Hurdle.

Trainer Paul Nicholls has said that he’s planning to run him again at Wincanton in February, so that will ensure his race fitness ahead of the big day and all being well, the 7/1 (8.00) currently on offer with Ladbrokes will look like a steal come the end of the race.

Advice

The Stan James Champion Hurdle

Tuesday 12th March 2013, 15:20
Zarkandar @ 7/1 (8.00) with Ladbrokes

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