Tony Calvin: Harrington charge a Supa antepost bet in the Champion Hurdle

Supasundae (L) in the Irish Champion Hurdle
Will Supasundae defend his Irish Champion Hurdle crown before having a crack at the Champion Hurdle in March
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There are question marks surrounding the market leaders in the antepost Champion Hurdle market and that has convinced our resident tipster Tony Calvin to go for a big-price selection in the Festival's opening-day feature...

"As well as that second to Penhill last season, he has also won a Coral Cup at the Festival, so he has very convincing Cheltenham credentials."

I had a good look through all the Cheltenham markets on Sunday, and I was pretty shocked to see how few horses that appealed as attractively-priced.

Shocked is pushing it a bit, but I was genuinely surprised at how little interested me.

I keep on going back in on Rockpoint for the Albert Bartlett at 16-1 and he is my sole Festival bet and tip at the moment - he is one of those that I will keep shovelling the money on, if allowed, so please at least get him there fit and healthy, Colin, and just one more run from hereon in will be fine - but I can't get excited about many others.

With the exception of one, maybe.

Hoping that Supasundae goes down the Champion Hurdle route

I think Native River is a very solid 5/1 chance for the Gold Cup - a whiff of each-way thievery, maybe - but the horse I am referring to is Supasundae in the Champion Hurdle.

Given that he obviously has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option, you may prefer to back him at 12-1 non-runner, no-bet (NRNB) elsewhere - and I can fully see that case - but I think the gelding is worth a more ballsy interest at [21.0] or bigger on the exchange.

In fact, I would probably make him a bet at 20/1 and upwards without the NRNB safety-net, and he is available at 16/1 with the Betfair Sportsbook, and you obviously have the each-way option there, if you so wish.

And, before anyone points it out, I am fully aware he is the second favourite at [11.0] on the exchange for the Stayers' Hurdle, but I am led to believe the 2m option is the current plan.

I may have misheard but I am sure that I heard the trainer's daughter, Kate Harrington, say that to Gary O'Brien on Racing TV on New Year's Day, too.

Looking at the market and the opposition, the Champion Hurdle is definitely the route I would go down, for all the Stayers' looks eminently winnable, too.

When you have Laurina as second in the market at around 4/1, you know it is a race that you really should be getting involved in.

Jolly has an air of vulnerability about him

We may as well start with the favourite, Buveur D'Air, though and he currently trades at around 6/4 on the exchange (he is that price with the Sportsbook, who are top industry-best about him), having been matched as low as evens immediately after what appeared to be a brilliant return in the Fighting Fifth.

The dual Champion Hurdler retained his Cheltenham title despite being below his best throughout last season - certainly a neck defeat of Melon, with Mick Jazz 3 lengths away in third, can't be rated that highly - but Barry Geraghty was making all the right noises after Newcastle, saying he got the best feel he has ever has done from the 8yo there.

But that 8-length defeat of Samcro doesn't look all that clever now, and of course his short-head defeat at the hands of stablemate Verdana Blue in the Christmas Hurdle was a fair setback, for all that the winner is some tool, and an under-rated one as well, given her ideal conditions of good ground and a speed track.

For all he clearly remains the one to beat, Buveur D'Air does have an air of vulnerability about him now, though.

Soft ground key for Laurina

What do we make of Laurina?

The bare facts are that she is rated 152, officially some 20lb inferior to the favourite (though of course she will get the 7lb mares allowance), and is unbeaten since joining Willie Mullins. And she showed she still had four legs and a tail when beating one rival on her comeback at Sandown on Saturday.

She is a Festival winner and just 6yo, and is as unexposed as you get at this time of year with a major Championship race just nine weeks away, so I am not going to scribble away here that she is a ludicrous price.

But if you back her at 4/1 then you are taking the twinkle in Mullins' eyes as gospel - and admittedly ole WPM has seen some of the sport's greatest stars through those baby blues (or whatever colour they are, as I am certainly not googling to find Willie headshots, ta) - and not looking too deeply into the quality of the mares she has been beating up. Pretty easily, it must be said, mind you.

And while Cheltenham will ensure the ground on the opening day is at least good to soft - so I feel sorry for connections of Verdana Blue, who would like Mother Nature to call the tune rather than the Claisse clammy call - connections have left no-one in any doubt that her ideal surface is soft, and then some.

Soft ground would be a bonus for Supasundae too

Before we get on to the rest of the Irish challenge, let's deal with the remainder of the British brigade first.

Brain Power is probably chief among them after his International Hurdle win, where he looked pretty good to be fair. Then again, he was beating the 150-rated Silver Streak by 1 ¾ lengths in receipt of 4lb, so you certainly can't go overboard about the form.

Actually, he is about it really.

So over to Ireland, where everyone seems to want Apple's Jade to contest the Champion Hurdle other than the person it matters it seems. Namely, her owner. And I doubt yer man is for turning.

She would be a huge player in a race that seems to lack any real depth, so the recent "trial" to focus on here in her absence is the Ryanair Hurdle, where Sharjah beat Supasundae convincingly, with a disappointing Melon back in fourth (Samcro was in fifth, but he doesn't appear to be a contender now any more this season unless they find the key to him, physically or otherwise, pretty damn quick).

You cannot rate the Leopardstown form too highly with the 142-rated Tombstone close by in third - and I may be in big danger of under-estimating the convincing winner here - but Supasundae is the one that I took from the race.

For a horse that stays 3m so well, and finished second to Penhill in last year's Stayers' Hurdle, the Leopardstown race didn't pan out ideally at all. It didn't play to his undoubted stamina.

So I was happy enough with the performance, and you have to think that a truly-run 2m around Cheltenham with an assured bit of dig in the ground (and they may well water more in the build-up than in previous years given the increased safety focus of late) will see him in a far better light.

In fact, the more I think of it, I think that safety element could well see the ground riding on the soft side on the Tuesday. It could be a big factor, though it admittedly will suit the market leaders, too.

But soft going would be a bonus, as it was testing when he won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle over 2m in April, and don't forget that he beat Faugheen in an Irish Champion Hurdle last year, too.

As well as that second to Penhill last season, he has also won a Coral Cup at the Festival, so he has very convincing Cheltenham credentials.

Hopefully, he will go close to retaining his Irish Champion Hurdle crown next month - I'll take a win, obviously - and set us up nicely with a good trading position at the very least.

Nothing lurking further down the betting

I really can't see much coming out of the woodwork further down the betting - even the admirable Bedrock has disappeared to the States, by all accounts, after his recent, unfortunate no-show in the Ryanair Hurdle - with John Durkan winner Min presumably staying over fences.

Paloma Blue would be a quarter-interesting if sent back hurdling and maybe Espoir D'Allen will keep on improving - and there have been a few nibbles of late for Saldier, who fell at the last in the race won by Espoir D'Allen in November (I've no idea who was going best at the time as we currently have no video access, obviously, and we all know that visual clues are vital), at a big price on the exchange - but they have heaps to find on the book.

Supasundae it is then.

Two miles in March, please Jessie. Not three.

You know it makes supa-sense, even if your Festival host Nicky Henderson may not be so welcoming on Tuesday night...


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