Long-distance raider Winston C and high-class mares Concertista and Honeysuckle add extra spice to a fascinating selection of 27 entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham on the opening day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival, Tuesday March 16.
While Concertista and Honeysuckle both appear more likely to take in alternative engagements at the Festival, it is interesting to see options remaining open for the pair, and along with reigning champion Epatante they provide a particularly strong-looking line-up of mares.
Epatante is not the only former winner in the potential line-up, with her trainer Nicky Henderson having also entered 2017 and 2018 winner Buveur D'Air, now 10 years old, but back in training and ready for a first run since sustaining a freak foot injury when a piece of wood became embedded in his hoof in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November 2019.
Henderson has entered six entries in the contest, his others being Buzz, Call Me Lord, Marie's Rock and Verdana Blue.
Relive last year's Champion Hurdle won by Epatante
Reigning champion trainer 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).
Dual American Grade One hurdle winner Winston C is a fascinating entry for Keri Brion, the horse having moved to Ireland when trained by veteran US trainer Jonathan Sheppard.
Sheppard, a longstanding fan of the Cheltenham Festival, sent out Flatterer to finish second to See You Then in the 1987 renewal of the Champion Hurdle.
Brion was his assistant and already with the six horses sent to Ireland in November, but when Sheppard recently announced his retirement, she had to quickly take out her licence in the US and then have it reciprocated by the Irish racing authorities.
She has pencilled Winston C - three times a winner for Harry Fry in 2019 before leaving for the US - in for a handicap at Navan later this month for his first start under her name.
Tom Symonds is still mulling over whether to head to the race with Song For Someone, an impressive winner on his last three starts, all of which have come in Grade Two company. 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 on Wednesday: “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."
The Champion Hurdle has been won by Irish-trained horses on 23 occasions and there are 12 Irish-trained contenders for 2021, headed by last year's runner-up Sharjah, who recently confirmed his wellbeing with a comfortable victory over fellow contenders Aspire Tower and Petit Mouchoir in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29.
Mullins’ five entries also include Saint Roi, comfortable winner of the County Hurdle at The Festival last year, but a disappointing fourth behind Sharjah last time out at Leopardstown.
Arguably the most eyecatching name among the Mullins team is James du Berlais, a multiple winner in France for Robert Collet, who has now joined the Willie Mullins team after being transferred across by owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
Unibet Champion Hurdle, sponsore 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.Fancy getting your hands on newly-designed Racing TV Gilet for FREE? Click here for more details!
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