Entries are unveiled today for the G1 Unibet Champion Hurdle, the championship contest for two-mile hurdlers and the highlight of day one at The Festival™ presented by Magners, Tuesday, 16 March.
Reigning champion trainer Nicky Henderson is the most successful handler of all time in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with eight victories - See You Then (1985, 1986, 1987), Punjabi (2009), Binocular (2010), Buveur d'Air (2017, 2018) and Epatante (2020). The two most recent of Henderson’s winners are entered once again – last season’s hero Epatante and Buveur d’Air, who was successful in 2017 and 2018. Lambourn-based Henderson is responsible for six of the 27 entries in total, more than any other handler in 2021, with his sextet also including Buzz, Call Me Lord, Marie’s Rock and Verdana Blue.
Epatante, the 9/4 favourite with Unibet, became the fifth mare to win the Unibet Champion Hurdle in 2020 and began her season well with victory in the G1 Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle on 28 November, defeating Sceau Royal (Alan King) and Ribble Valley (Nicky Richards). The seven-year-old suffered a reversal last time out however when runner-up to Silver Streak (Evan Williams) in the G1 Ladbrokes Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day. Buveur d’Air, now a 10-year-old, has been off the track since sustaining an injury in the 2019 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, with Henderson mentioning the Listed Virgin Bet Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park on 6 February as a possible comeback race. Both horses are owned by J P McManus, the most successful owner ever in the Unibet Champion Hurdle with an amazing nine wins.
Tom Symonds was once assistant trainer to Henderson but is now flying high as a trainer in his own right. His entry is Song For Someone, who has impressively won his last three starts, all of which have come in G2 company. After finishing the 2019/20 campaign with victory in the rearranged Betway Kingwell Hurdle at Kempton in February, the six-year-old began this season with success in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November before recording his first Cheltenham victory in the Unibet International Hurdle on 12 December, when he prevailed by a nose from Silver Streak.
Herefordshire-based Symonds reported: “Song For Someone is in great form and the plan would be to either run in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham or the Aintree Hurdle. We have entered him in the Champion Hurdle and we will make a decision nearer the time.
“I am absolutely thrilled with him at home. He is very well and seems to have come out of the International in great form.
“There are three races we are currently weighing up with one of them acting as his prep before one of the big spring festivals.
“He could go to Haydock for The New One Unibet Hurdle a week on Saturday, the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown Park or the Kingwell at Wincanton.
“I think the weather will play a big part as to what race he actually runs in and I am not really leaning to any of them at the moment. We will enter him in the three races as they come along and then decide where to go.
“I was absolutely delighted with his win at Cheltenham and despite the circumstances, it was great to see him prove his liking of the track.
“It was obviously nobody’s fault that they didn’t jump the hurdles in the home straight, but that would not have suited him as he is such a good jumper.
“The fact he still managed to win was great and it clearly showed that Cheltenham suits him.
“The Champion Hurdle is firmly in the picture and it would be great to have a runner in a championship race like that.
“It is great to have a horse like him.”
The Unibet Champion Hurdle has been won by Irish-trained horses on 23 occasions and there are 12 Irish-trained contenders for 2021. The pick of them at this stage looks to be Sharjah (Willie Mullins), who was the three-length runner-up behind Epatante in 2020 and recently confirmed his wellbeing with a comfortable victory over Aspire Tower (Henry de Bromhead) and Petit Mouchoir (Gordon Elliott) in the G1 Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on 29 December. Mullins’ five entries also include Saint Roi, comfortable winner of the G3 Randox Health County Hurdle at The Festival™ in 2020 but a disappointing fourth behind Sharjah last time out at Leopardstown.
Other leading Irish-trained contenders include Abacadabras (Gordon Elliott), winner of the G1 Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, and the mare Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead), a five-time G1 winner including in the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle at The Festival™ last season.
An interesting entry is Winston C (Keri Brion USA). Formerly a smart performer both on the Flat for Michael Bell and over hurdles for Harry Fry in the UK, the seven-year-old won two G1 contests at Saratoga, USA, in the summer of 2019 for US Hall of Fame trainer Jonathan Sheppard, earning an Eclipse Award. Following Sheppard’s retirement at the start of this year, Winston C is now in the care of Sheppard’s former assistant Keri Brion and part of her six-strong team based at Baltimore Stable in Enniscorthy, County Wexford. His intended European debut will be at Navan in a Grade B handicap hurdle on 23 January.
Ed Nicholson, Head of Unibet Racing Communications and Sponsorship, said:
“We’re delighted with the quality of entries for the 2021 Unibet Champion Hurdle.
“Two previous Unibet Champion Hurdle winners are entered in Epatante and Buveur d’Air, as well as the winners of three of our ‘20/21 Road to Cheltenham sponsored contests in Sceau Royal (Unibet Elite Hurdle), Song For Someone (Unibet International Hurdle) and Abacadabras (Unibet Morgiana Hurdle).”
Unibet Champion Hurdle, Unibet prices: 9/4 Epatante; 7/1 Sharjah; 9/1 Saint Roi; 10/1 Silver Streak; 12/1 Aspire Tower; 14/1 Honeysuckle; 16/1 Abacadabras, Concertista, Song For Someone; 20/1 Buveur d’Air, Goshen, Saldier; 33/1 Jason The Militant, Verdana Blue, Sceau Royal; 40/1 Not So Sleepy, Buzz; 50/1 Coeur Sublime, Ballyandy; 66/1 Maries Rock, Petit Mouchoir, Beacon Edge, For Pleasure; James du Berlais; 100/1 Call Me Lord, Ribble Valley, Winston C
Each Way 1/5 Odds 1.2.3
There is a scratchings deadline for the Unibet Champion Hurdle on 9 February, with the six-day confirmation stage and supplementary entry stage following on 10 March.
Entries for the other two G1 championship hurdle races at The Festival™ - the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle – will be revealed tomorrow, Thursday, 14 January.
UNIBET CHAMPION HURDLE (Grade 1)
- Abacadabras (FR) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Gordon Elliott IRE
- Aspire Tower (IRE) 5 11 10 Robcour Henry de Bromhead IRE
- Ballyandy (GB) 10 11 10 Options O Syndicate Nigel Twiston-Davies
- Beacon Edge (IRE) 7 11 10 Gigginstown House Stud Noel Meade IRE
- Buveur d'Air (FR) 10 11 10 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson
- Buzz (FR) 7 11 10 Thurloe for Royal Marsden Cancer Charity Nicky Henderson
- Call Me Lord (FR) 8 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Nicky Henderson
- Coeur Sublime (IRE) 6 11 10 C. Jones Gearoid O'Loughlin IRE
- For Pleasure (IRE) 6 11 10 Premier Plastering (UK) Limited Alex Hales
- Goshen (FR) 5 11 10 Mr Steven Packham Gary Moore
- James du Berlais (FR) 5 11 10 Mr Simon Munir/Mr Isaac Souede W. P. Mullins IRE
- Jason The Militant (IRE) 7 11 10 Mr Peter Michael Henry de Bromhead IRE
- Not So Sleepy (GB) 9 11 10 Lady Blyth Hughie Morrison
- Petit Mouchoir (FR) 10 11 10 Noel Moran/Mrs Valerie Moran Gordon Elliott IRE
- Ribble Valley (IRE) 8 11 10 Mr David Wesley Yates Nicky Richards
- Saint Roi (FR) 6 11 10 Mr John P. McManus W. P. Mullins IRE
- Saldier (FR) 7 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE
- Sceau Royal (FR) 9 11 10 Mr Simon Munir & Mr Isaac Souede Alan King
- Sharjah (FR) 8 11 10 Mrs S. Ricci W. P. Mullins IRE
- Silver Streak (IRE) 8 11 10 Mr L. Fell Evan Williams
- Song For Someone (GER) 6 11 10 Sir Peter & Lady Gibbings Tom Symonds
- Winston C (IRE) 7 11 10 Hudson River Farms LLC Keri Brion USA
- Concertista (FR) 7 11 3 Mr Simon Munir/Mr Isaac Souede W. P. Mullins IR
- Epatante (FR) 7 11 3 Mr John P. McManus Nicky Henderson
- Honeysuckle (GB) 7 11 3 Mr K. Alexander Henry de Bromhead IRE
- Marie's Rock (IRE) 6 11 3 Middleham Park Racing XLII Nicky Henderson
- Verdana Blue (IRE) 9 11 3 Mrs Doreen Tabor Nicky Henderson