Assessing the ever changing Champion Hurdle picture

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As the Cheltenham Festival draws ever nearer, the market for the Champion Hurdle has seen not one, but two shake-ups in the past week, and now the race looks as open as ever.

With Faugheen’s injury seeing speculation that Annie Power could be supplemented to run in the race, the mare shot to the top of the betting after sauntering to a success at Punchestown last Wednesday.

Her position looked to grow even stronger on Tuesday when second-favourite and last year’s runner-up Arctic Fire was also ruled out with a chipped bone in his leg, leaving the two-time Grade 1 winner as a 13/8 shot.

Considering she needs to be supplemented and hasn’t won over a trip this short for over two years, Annie Power looks plenty short enough in the betting, regardless of the weight she would be receiving from the geldings.

The duo of Nichols Canyon and Identity Thief look solid enough options at 4/1 apiece in behind her with the former coming out on top when they met at Leopardstown over Christmas.

However Henry De Bromhead’s charge has met with some positive reports building up to the Festival and seems to be attracting the most support between the two.

Behind that trio is a whole host of English chances with My Tent or Yours (5/1), The New One (7/1) and Peace and Co (16/1) all looking likely to stand their ground.

It could though be worth siding with another horse trained this side of the Irish Sea to outrun his odds in what has become a really competitive contest.

Camping Ground hasn’t won over the trip since arriving at Robert Walford’s yard in January of last year, but at 16/1 the value is there for him to amend that.

He did finish fourth in the Imperial Cup at Sandown 11 months ago, in which finished just over a length behind Rayvin Black in fourth, despite giving him nearly two stone in weight.

Considering that horse has gone on to get within two-and-a-half lengths of The New One and finish in front of Peace and Co (albeit getting four pounds) it’s clear to see that form stacks up well.

Also in that race last season was World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack, who also received weight from the selection and finished over a length further back.

It’s probably a given that the six-year-old’s best trip is potentially a touch further than the Champion Hurdle distance, given the way in which he blitzed the field in the Relkeel Hurdle.

However, considering four of the last five winners of the Festival race had won over at least two-and-a-half miles (Rock on Ruby was second in the Neptune) having that extra stamina in reserve looks a requisite.

Camping Ground could be a dark horse if he lines up

Camping Ground could be a dark horse if he lines up

Much of the talk about the French import was regarding how he needed soft or heavy ground to be effective.

One look at his record certainly suggests it helps, but having won on good-to-soft on debut he can undoubtedly handle a better surface, and with this year proving a wet one, he might just yet get that cut in the ground.

With Faugheen out, Camping Ground could take to the front early and attempt to test the stamina of some of the more speedier types and the race-readiness of the likes of My Tent or Yours.

He has to improve to be a win contender, but in a race that is looking trickier and trickier to assess, it might just be that this relatively unheralded trainer is value to shock the behemoths of Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson.

All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.

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Ben Stones

Ladbrokes News’ equine expert, Ben likes nothing more than studying the form to pick out a winner or two for our readers. A Journalism and Media Studies graduate from the University of Winchester, Ben has previously written for a number of football and racing blogs and websites, as well as contributing to the sports pages of his home-town newspaper.