The 2017 Champion Hurdle market looks wide open, and with the Betfair Sportsbook now going Non-Runner No-Bet Alan Dudman gives his verdict on the leading candidates...
"He'll love the ground, and on ratings he is entitled to be in the mix. At 15/2 it's probably the cut off point, and I wouldn't actually mind if he heads straight to the race without another run."
Back Brain Power @ 15/2 NRNB Sportsbook
The absence of the star-studded Willie Mullins' duo Faugheen and Annie Power has blown this race wide open from an ante-post point of view. Yet with just over four weeks remaining until the Champion Hurdle (at the time of writing) - I am not sure we are any the wiser.
Plenty of the candidates here could be live runners for the Stayers' Hurdle, whilst some wise-crackers joked that the recently unveiled Hurricane Fly statue could also be a contender. That made me chuckle. My response was that they'll be sending for General Tufto next - nobody laughed.
On to the serious stuff, and I am not in a rush to take the 10/3 Sportsbook price on Buveur D'Air. Maybe because it's the most recent piece of evidence when landing the Sandown Contenders Hurdle - but as a piece of form - it's a mile away from winning the Champion Hurdle. He was getting 4lb from Rayvin Black and Irving (the latter ran a long way below form), and his jockey Barry Geraghty had time to light a cigar - he won in a canter without breaking sweat.
Buveur D'Air is a powerhouse six-year-old with a big engine, he jumps quickly too over hurdles. With the Arkle idea scrapped, he is probably towards the top by default. However, his official rating is 151 - which leaves him a fair way behind other rivals, notably his stablemate Brain Power (162).
Quotes from Buveur D'Air and Brain Power's trainer Nicky Henderson were revealing from Contenders weekend. He said the latter could have done the same thing. And he knows - there are five Champion Hurdle crowns displayed in the trophy cabinet at Seven Barrows.
Brain Power has an abundance of raw talent and showed signs of new-found maturity when picking up the Wessex Youth Trust Hurdle (formerly the Ladbroke Hurdle) in December - and the handicapper hammered him 13lb for that. He was a massively overpriced at 25/1 a while back, yet his odds continue to tumble despite him not running.
He suddenly has become a better horse it seems (looking at the price) for sitting in his box, but I do think there is substance there. He'll love the ground, and on ratings he is entitled to be in the mix. At 15/2 it's probably the cut off point, and I wouldn't actually mind if he heads straight to the race without another run.
Owner J.P McManus could be mob-handed in this. Yanworth is another switcheroo horse, who has found himself amongst the speedier horses having looked all-over a Stayers' Hurdle contender last term and the beginning of this.
His Cheltenham record is a fine one; fourth in the Champion Bumper and second to Yorkhill in the 2016 Neptune. Therefore his victory in beating The New One at Kempton over 2m should be applauded for his versatility considering his skillset to cope. He looked sharper in fitness than he did previously over 2m3f at Ascot, and with a rating of 164 - he is a much better horse than Buveur D'Air. However, I can't help thinking he should be in the three miler.
If Yanworth is the bet for takers of 9/2, than you would have to be worried about the possibility of his Neptune conqueror of 2016 (Yorkhill) being re-routed to this. There is the outside chance it could happen due to the Closutton team's blow of Annie Power and Faugheen, and his looming presence at 3/1 non runner no bet could worry the others. His novice chasing campaign has ticked along in serene fashion, and there's no point discussing his jumping to the left. However, he has always possessed the necessary speed for this sort of trip, and he remains a fascinating NRNB floater.
The same comments could apply to Jezki, but he gets a 10 out of 10 for adaptability. He is a Grade 1 winner from two to three miles and won this back in 2014. His comeback recently at Navan showed the spark is still in the old legs, and we know he loves good ground. At his best he is a most enthusiastic runner - but three years on from his hour of glory - will he still be as quick? Again - the Stayers' should be the race, but he is 13/2 NRNB for this.
Meanwhile another 'green and gold' representative in the shape of Sutton Place looks intriguing. At 14/1 he would rate a serious interest after hacking up in the Grade 2 Limestone Lad. However, he was an absentee for the Betfair Hurdle but he has lots of class. His trainer Gordon Elliott has held the belief that he will be "a horse for next year."
I can't have The New One. As likeable as he is (and he's been a superb horse), he is held by Yanworth on their Kempton run - and conditions should have been in his favour on that occasion. Whilst Vroum Vroum Mag at 14/1 won't win this judged on her efforts at Doncaster.
The improving Petit Mouchoir at 9/2 comes into the reckoning following his no-nonsense Grade 1 successes at Leopardstown this term. Showing no ill-effects from the heavy fall in Newcastle's Fighting Fifth earlier in the campaign - his victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle puts him thoroughly in the mix here, as I am convinced a strongly-run two miles will be perfect. However, does he hold the necessary class? He certainly is tough.
Back Yorkhill @ 3/1 NRNB Sportsbook
Back Brain Power @ 15/2 NRNB Sportsbook
Check out more Cheltenham Festival 2017 ante-post previews and tips in our dedicated Cheltenham Festival section on betting.betfair.com