A race that has been billed a one-horse event by many could ring true. Still, six different mares have won the Champion Hurdle in the 91 years of its running, three of which came in the last six years, and none more than once.
The recent flourish of mares winning the race has thrown up debate on whether the seven-pound sex allowance mares like 2022 Champion Hurdle favourite Honeysuckle receive should be abolished? It's too late now, though, so let's get stuck in.
In the last ten years...
The Champion Hurdle is usually a punters race, with seven of the last 11 favourites landing the odds and eight of the previous 12 winners in the top three of the betting.
Ratings are also important. In the last ten years, no horse rated lower than 157 (Buveur D'Air) has won this race and ten of the last 12 were rated 161 plus.
The first trend alone brings the field to, Honeysuckle, Appreciate It, Sharjah, Epatante, Zanahiyr, Aspire Tower, Buveur D'Air and Not So Sleepy.
Using the second stat reduces the field even further to just Honeysuckle and Sharjah.
Can anyone tame the honey monster?
This year's race will see red-hot 1.75/7 favourite Honeysuckle attempt to make history by becoming the only mare to win two Champion Hurdle's. She is set to defend her crown against many of the rivals she pulverized in last year's contest and subsequently confirmed form with at the Punchestown Festival at the back end of last term.
Henry De Bromhead's 2020 Champion Hurdler made a faultless start to the season by scoring on return at Fairyhouse over 2m4f in the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace by eight lengths with arguably a career-best effort.
It's not unwise to suggest that the 14 raced unbeaten mare is still on the upgrade and could have any amount of improvement still to come.
There are very few holes, if any, to pick in her, but to play devil's advocate - as I recoil, ready for abuse - it may be that her six lengths winning margin in the Champion Hurdle race last year did slightly flatter her.
Third favourite and the reopposing Sharjah landed three-out on terms with her and gave away in the region of four lengths as he ran into the back of the weakening Aspire Tower and had to wait for a run while Honeysuckle cleared away.
Rock solid Sharjah, but still no
Sharjah a 9.08/1 chance is relatively consistent, having finished out of the first three over hurdles on two occasions since 2018 when completing on a racecourse. He is a rock-solid standard setter and will be sure to have his each-way fans as he looks to book his place in the first three for the third year running. But will he be good enough to win this contest? It's doubtful.
Appreciate It not far off Champion Hurdle class, but is he fit and well?
The second favourite Appreciate It 7.06/1, has yet to be seen at the time of writing after an emphatic win in the Supreme Novice Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. Still, he looks one of the likelier rivals to trouble Honeysuckle should he prove all is well at the Dublin Racing Festival.
The interesting angle with the unbeaten hurdler is that his Supreme Novice Hurdle and Honeysuckle's Champion Hurdle were run on the same card. The time performances suggest that he doesn't have a lot to find.
The comparison of the two races reads interestingly, Appreciate It clocked a 10.36 length faster time to the fifth hurdle (top of the hill) than Honeysuckle and a first flight to finish time 7.76 lengths slower, suggesting there is not a whole lot between the two.
Appreciate It does come with risks attached, given he was due to go chasing, so that does put a slight dampener on his chances and from an ante-post perspective, and you would probably want to see him run well at Leopardstown in February in what is a catch 22 situation.
What of the rest?
The 2020 Champion Hurdler Epatante 10.09/1 will look to avenge defeat after finishing third in last years contest behind Honeysuckle, and she too, along with Sharjah, was slightly hampered on the turn into the home straight.
However, similar to Sharjah, she was put firmly in her place by Honeysuckle at Punchestown and, in all honesty, looks like an inferior rival. Her once dominance over this division was short-lived but came when the race lacked a star, and she will need a lifetime best to reverse the form.
Zanahiyr 15.014/1, Quilixious 17.016/1 and Teahupoo 21.020/1 represent last year's Juvenile form, which had fallen short at the hands of Zanahiyr when he was probably slightly flattered to finish second to Sharjah in the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown, given that rival thought twice about going past.
Outside of the box thinking?
The Betfair Sportsbook has a W/O Honeysuckle market, and, interestingly, Novice Hurdler My Mate Mozzie 51.050/1 in the win market and 21.020/1 in the W/O market could represent 2019 Champion Hurdle winning trainer Gavin Cromwell.
He could bypass the Supreme Novice Hurdle in favour of this contest. The Novice Hurdle looks much deeper than the Champion this year, and he could pick up more prize money for finishing in the places here once negotiating the supplementary fee for the Supreme.
The Grade 1 Royal Bond runner-up is on the upgrade, and while it would require a career-best performance by some margin to beat Honeysuckle, it is wide open outside of her.
It's a wishing and hoping kind of bet to place, but he does add intrigue to a rather one-dimensional race.
Champion Hurdle verdict
In all honesty, the Champion Hurdle again lacks a good bit of depth, and it looks as though Honeysuckle has the race at her mercy. Appreciate It, looks like the only possible way to go from an ante-post perspective, but he is 11/4 for Irish Champion Hurdle and it might just be wise to back him for that first and then roll the money up onto this markets shorter price.
This market could change quickly should Appreciate It run a big race at the Dublin Racing Festival, but this market is too risky to get involved with at the time of writing.