Cheltenham Festival – Champion Hurdle coming to the boil

Horse racing is all about opinions, and it’s been a long time since opinion on the merits of the leading contenders for the forthcoming Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival has appeared so divided, writes Elliot Slater.

This weekend’s major trials for the two-mile championship saw Medermit lowering the colours of reigning champ Punjabi at Haydock, while in Ireland Solwhit impressed many observers when running away with the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Now, depending on which horse race betting list you choose to consider, opinion appears evenly divided between Zaynar and Solwhit as to who is the current ante-post favourite. At the time of writing, Zaynar is as short as 7/2 with some but is on offer at 5/1 with the majority of major layers. On the other hand, Solwhit’s performance caused Irish bookies to run for cover and cut him to 3/1 favourite, whereas Ladbrokes offer a generous looking 6/1.

The Irish firms also offer just 5/1 about Go Native when 6/1 is freely available elsewhere.
In short, it appears the Irish firms believe Solwhit is going to (or already has) come in for serious local support, whereas many of the British firms are struggling to choose between the pair. As for me, despite his odds-on defeat in the Haydock mud, I still think they’ll all have their work cut out to beat Punjabi, who looks to have been trained to reach a peak at The Cheltenham Festival – and not before.

Saturday’s Haydock race in a field of four didn’t suit Nicky Henderson’s charge. Punjabi is a different horse in a big field, coming off a fast pace, and on better ground. He goes next in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton – the route he took last year on his way to landing the title.

Ante-post backers who thought of tearing up their tickets after his defeat should bide their time and remember that you get paid out at around 3.20pm on March 16th, and not a moment earlier.

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