Will we get the mouth-watering clash that is Buveur D’Air versus Faugheen on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival? At the current time of writing there is some doubt hovering over Faugheen’s wellbeing after such a lacklustre effort in the Ryanir Hurdle at Leopardstown and Rich Ricci’s ‘machine’ has it all to prove in the Irish Champion Hurdle, presuming he gets there. A fully fit and in-form Faugheen come March would create such a thrilling spectacle and on Quickened Clear’s ratings, is three pounds ahead of Buveur D’Air, though the latter has yet to be pushed to his limit over hurdles.
Buveur D’Air has barely broken a steady canter in both his bloodless grade one victories this season and still has untapped potential in this sphere, looking every bit a ‘Cheltenham Banker’! If you are a backer at short prices then the 4/6 may look value, especially if Faugheen does not perform on Saturday. Buveur D’Air has already firmly booked his place in my festival accumulators and is clearly the one to beat.
As we look for value in this race one’s gaze must settle on Melon, a much hyped horse before a fair second to Labaik in the Supreme a year ago, the form of which was not as strong as usual, before producing another second at Puchestown when doing too much in front. His first real test against proven hurdlers came at Cheltenham in December when locking horns with My Tent Or Yours and The New One, admittedly with a penalty, but after travelling like the best horse in the race found little for pressure finishing one-paced. Can he defeat Buveur D’Air? Unlikley, though he can continue his progression and has definite place claims, the worry being he has been found wanting in top hurdle races at every attempt so still has something to prove as far as winning the opening day’s showpiece goes.
Habitual bridesmaid My Tent Or Yours, will again look to fill his beloved second place in the Champion Hurdle and will be cherry ripe for a big effort again come spring. On the form of the International, Melon should reverse the result at level weights but that was My Tent Or Yours’ first run of the season and there is no doubt he will be even sharper come March. Backing either My Tent Or Yours or Melon in a market without Buveur D’Air seems a fair call but of no value to me.
A couple of horses I have had my eye on for some time in regards to place bets are Ch’Tibello and John Constable. Ch’Tibello produced a couple of good efforts behind Yanworth last season but was not seen at the Cheltenham Festival and returned to the track with a taking effort in the International Hurdle, before being out-battled by The New One at Haydock on conditions that did not suit. His main aim is the Kingwell at Wincanton, where he should go close but has definite place claims on decent ground in the Champion Hurdle. John Constable improved in the late spring and summer, winning good hurdles at Haydock and Market Rasen before finding the soft ground at Cheltenham too testing last time but did not look out of place at this level. Having proven Cheltenham holds no fears and given good ground, he can go well.