The news that Annie Power is to be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle was not necessarily a surprise, but she wasn’t the only horse to be added to the betting for the day one feature.
Neil King’s Lil Rockerfeller has continued his unbelievably consistent form this season and has caused his owners to reinvest £20,000 of his prize money to add him to the Grade 1 contest.
A second-place finish in a Class 4 handicap at Salisbury off a mark of 76 isn’t the form you’d expect from a contender in one of the best races in the National Hunt calendar, but one look at the gelding’s hurdles form will tell you all you need to know about what to expect from him at Cheltenham.
From his 12 races over obstacles, he has finished in the first three in 11 of them, that one blot on his copybook coming when fourth in a juvenile hurdle at Newbury last year.
His consistency is represented in his running style with his regular cheekpieces doing just the trick in ensuring that gutsy campaigner gives his absolute all in his races.
Victory in National Spirit Hurdle last time out was the best performance of his career giving four pounds and a nine length beating to Gary Moore’s Ubak in a bloodless success in Sussex.
Winning a Grade 2 at Fontwell and a Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival are though, vastly different beasts.
With the current entry number up to 13, King’s gelding has just two potential foes rated lower than him on official ratings.
However, what Lil Rockerfeller has in his favour is that he doesn’t look like he is done improving.
Rated 125 just 12 months ago, no one can begrudge connections for pitching him in Grade 1 company after the season he has had and there are cases to be made for him to potentially make the frame.
Odds of 33/1 allow you plenty of breathing space for that not to happen, but there are a lot of things going for the brave chestnut.
First of all, he has run well at Cheltenham before, finishing third behind Devilment on seasonal debut in the Masterson Holdings Hurdle, before chasing home Camping Ground in the International Hurdle.
The latter may have been a stretch too far on bottomless ground, but with form at further he does have the credentials to go well in the race.
Four of the last five winners of the Champion had all won at a trip of at least two-miles-two-furlongs and with his latest victory coming at two-miles-three, his stamina reserves look sure to kick in in the latter stages.
On a line through Melodic Rendezvous there looks little between Lil Rockerfeller and Hargam this term, yet the latter is less than half the price at 16/1.
This year’s renewal doesn’t look the strongest in recent years, but it could be one of the most competitive with plenty heading to Gloucestershire with a chance.
Khyber Kim in 2010 and Marble Arch in 2002 are two examples of horses progressing through the handicap ranks that season before placing in this race, the latter finishing second after being pulled up in what is now the Betfair Hurdle.
Lil Rockerfeller’s foray in the Champion Hurdle may be little more than the owners simply making the most of a horse on the up, but with the admirably genuine type likely to be giving his all up the hill, he won’t just be there to make up the numbers.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing.