Always a hotly contested race, the Champion Hurdle is where the best of the best gather to battle it out for the Grade 1 win at the Cheltenham Festival. And 2020 won’t be any different. 36 runners have officially been entered and unsurprisingly it didn’t take the bookies long to start offering odds.
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott leads the trainers with seven entries. His biggest chance appears to be Envoi Allen, who at 14/1 with Paddy Power is his shortest-priced entry. That said Envoi Allen is also entered into the Supreme Novices which is the more likely option. Trainer Elliott said: “If I was a betting man I’d say we’ll keep him in the grade he’s in”.
Considering Envoi Allen is still a novice hurdler, it makes sense that he would be targeting a suitably similar race.
Hot on Elliott’s heels is the trainer who holds the record for most Champion Hurdle wins – Nicky Henderson. He has entered five potential runners, including Epatante the current race favourite with bookmakers. The 6-year-old, owned by JP McManus, has an impressive career with four wins from five hurdle starts, only slipping up in last season’s Tattersalls Mares Novices Hurdle at the Festival. Other than that she hasn’t put a foot wrong.
Epatante has come back this season on impressive form. She followed up her Newbury win in November with the Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton in December, impressing even her trainer. Henderson said: “Epatante was impressive, wasn’t she? I’ve even got to admit it myself, it was very good.
“We came straight from the Gerry Feilden, I wanted to go to Ascot but it’s a good job we didn’t. JP always wanted to come here and he got it right. He must’ve had more faith than me.”
Undoubtedly, Epatante will be heading back to the Cheltenham Festival 2020 but can she win the Champion Hurdle? Ante-post odds of 4/1 suggest she is the one to beat but she has tough competition.
Champion Hurdle 2020 Runners
So which of the other entries could potentially have what it takes to beat Epatante on the opening day of the Festival? Honeysuckle from Henry De Bromhead is right up there. With six wins from six starts, this mare has a 100% win rate and has been lighting up Fairyhouse, where she usually runs. In fact, five of her six wins have been at that racecourse.
So how will she fare at Cheltenham having never traveled outside of Ireland? As long as she comes out of the trip well, Honeysuckle has a great chance. Her last three races have been over 2m4f, which is 3.5f more than the Champion Hurdle so she will certainly have the legs for the trip.
She is, however, also entered into the Mare’s Hurdle for which she is around 2/1 to win. Connections haven’t confirmed plans yet so right now she could go in either race.
Champion Hurdle 2020 Stats
So what exactly is the Champion Hurdle and why is such a great race? It used to be called the World Hurdle but when Unibet took over the race sponsorship from Ladbrokes they had naming rights and quickly changed it.
A maximum field of 26 runners will be allowed to race with the first prize winner collecting £253K. In reality, only about 10 runners will contend the race as was the case in 2019 when Espoir D’Allen took the honours.
He also made history when his 15-length victory in the Champion Hurdle was the widest winning margin in the history of the race. He also became only the second five-year-old in 33 years to take the hurdling showpiece at the festival. Unfortunately for all connections, when Espoir D’Allen returned to his yard at Gavin Cromwell’s stable last August, he suffered a shoulder injury after getting spooked and rearing over following a routine canter which meant he had to be put down.
For the 2020 Champion Hurdle, it’s quite possible that a mare could win the race for only the fifth time in history. Previous mares who have won include African Sister (1939), Dawn Run (1984), Flakey Dove (1994) and Annie Power (2016). Can Epatante or Honeysuckle add their names to the roster of winners? We will find out on Tuesday March 10th 2020.