The absence of Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle has not only ruled out the almost guaranteed winner, but also left a slight question mark over which horse will take on front-running duties.
Faugheen has made it a habit of mixing up the gallop from the front, making it a long sprint for home against those with suspect stamina, setting uneven fractions when others want an end-to-end gallop or sprinting off a crawl against those that want a staying test.
The one race that Faugheen didn’t dictate was the Morgiana Hurdle earlier this season and this remains his only defeat. Nichols Canyon broke away at the head of affairs and was never passed.
His own four-race win sequence was truly stopped by Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time, but Nichols Canyon can be forgiven one bad run and he looks the best bet in an open-looking Champion Hurdle at 6/1.
Willie Mullins’ other entrant Annie Power is the 2/1 favourite, but although she is getting a 7lb mare allowance which works to make her the best horse in the field on ratings, it remains unclear whether she retains the speed of old to be a force over 2m. There is a strong likelihood that 2m4f is her best trip nowadays.
With this in mind, expect the Mullins pair to attempt to set the early pace, keeping the gallop relatively modest before winding it up a long distance from home, given both are more about stamina than speed.
This won’t suit the likes of My Tent Or Yours in a first run for two years or Sempre Medici.
Nichols Canyon has already beaten Identity Thief over Christmas on heavy ground and should do so again on a less boggy surface, while The New One isn’t as good as he was in the past.
Many of last season’s Triumph Hurdle highest-placed finishers also line up, although none of this trio have really kicked on.
Hargam may try to get in amongst it up front to set the race up for stablemate My Tent Or Yours and Peace And Co needs to improve for a wind op and has been boycotted by regular jockey Daryl Jacob for Top Notch, who regularly finds at least one too good. Camping Ground’s best form is all over longer distances too.
The result is expected to hinge on the manner the race is run and Nichols Canyon paid the price for not getting to the front early in the Neptune last year when only fourth. Connections are unlikely to make the same mistake twice.
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All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.