Timeform bring you their comprehensive runner-by-runner guide to Tuesday's Champion Hurdle on day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival, and pick out their 1-2-3...
"...she looks the one to beat with her generous 7 lb mares' allowance..."
Timeform on Apple's Jade
1. Brain Power (Nicky Henderson/Nico de Boinville)
Proved a revelation on first start since a breathing operation when winning International Hurdle on the New Course (by one and three quarter lengths from Silver Streak, leading on bridle approaching last and in command soon after, despite idling final furlong) last time. Only eighth when last tried in this race in 2017, but looked a changed horse last time and has place claims at least. Kept fresh.
2. Buveur d'Air (Nicky Henderson/Barry Geraghty)
Top-class hurdler who was unbeaten in 2016/17 and 2017/18, including back-to-back renewals of this race. Made winning return in Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle (most impressively, by eight lengths from Samcro) in December. Had excuses when turned over by stablemate Verdana Blue in Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (bad mistake three out), and had nice warm-up when winning usual listed event (third consecutive win) at Sandown (by two lengths from Vision des Flos) last time. That form been boosted since and commands utmost respect in hat-trick bid.
3. Espoir d'Allen (Gavin Cromwell/Mark Walsh)
Very smart second-season hurdler who won Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas (fortunate) in November and Irish Independent Hurdle at Limerick (by eight lengths from Stormy Ireland) in December. Completed hat-trick in five-runner Limestone Lad Hurdle at former course last time, by two and a half lengths from Wicklow Brave, and doesn't look out of place in this field. Folly to ignore his claims.
4. Global Citizen (Ben Pauling/David Bass)
Wins this season include listed handicap at Newbury (by half a length from Lisp) in December, and five-runner Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock (by three lengths from Silver Streak, able to dictate and always holding on after runner-up's blunder three out) last time. Will be harder to make all in this field (plenty of pace in the race on paper), and place claims perhaps the best he can hope for.
5. Melon (Willie Mullins/Paul Townend)
Top-class hurdler who produced best effort since 2017 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (runner-up to Labaik) when neck second to Buveur d'Air in this race last season. Below form both starts this term, jumping mistakes not helping when well-beaten in six-runner Irish Champion Hurdle won by Apple's Jade at Leopardstown last time. Arrived last year after a similar preparation, though, so not totally discounted now returned to this venue, for all he now has plenty to prove.
6. Sharjah (Willie Mullins/Mr Patrick Mullins)
Much improved this season, winning Galway Hurdle in August, Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown (by seven and a half lengths from Faugheen) in November and Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown (six ran, by three and three quarter lengths from Supasundae) in December. All ground seems to come alike, and will be suited by a strongly-run race, so not to be underestimated even if amateur-ridden.
7. Silver Streak (Evan Williams/Adam Wedge)
Smart sort who won Swinton Handicap at Haydock in May and Welsh Champion Hurdle (Limited Handicap) at Ffos Las (by three lengths from Le Prezien) in October. Creditable three lengths second to Global Citizen in Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock last time, closing in when getting three out all wrong, but hard to see him troubling the principals here. Likely to be ridden for a place.
8. Apple's Jade (Gordon Elliott/Jack Kennedy)
High-class and adaptable mare whose wins this season include 2½m Lismullen Hurdle at Navan in November, and 2½m Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse and 3m Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown (by 26 lengths from Early Doors), both in December. Completed four-timer in six-runner Irish Champion Hurdle last time, by 16 lengths from Supasundae, drawing clear early in straight. That prompted connections to divert her here from the Mares' Hurdle and on what she has achieved so far this season she looks the one to beat with her generous 7 lb mares' allowance.
9. Laurina (Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh)
Unbeaten for current connections, winning four times in 2017/18, including Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle at this meeting (impressively by 18 lengths from Cap Soleil). Made successful return in listed mares' event at Sandown in January, and completed six-timer in another listed mares' event at Punchestown (by six lengths from Stormy Ireland, drawing clear on the bridle) last time. This by far her toughest assignment to date, but it's hard to gauge what she has left in the tank given she's hardly come off the bridle. Another serious threat to Buveur d'Air in receipt of 7 lb.
10. Verdana Blue (Nicky Henderson/Davy Russell)
Won listed event at Kempton in October and Elite Hurdle at Wincanton (by two and a quarter lengths from If The Cap Fits) in November. Better than ever when winning five-runner Christmas Hurdle at Kempton (by short head from below-par Buveur d'Air) last time, but seen to good advantage on a more speed-orientated track and will find this test altogether different. Beaten at odds-on on the Flat at Kempton recently, though race wasn't run to suit. Would benefit from a strong pace to aim at.
Minimum Bet Guarantee
Betfair's 'minimum bet guarantee' on all races in the UK and Ireland - which means all customers are able to bet to win a minimum of £500 – now covers all races from the Cheltenham Festival 2019, including antepost markets. T&Cs apply.
Timeform's Champion Hurdle Analyst Verdict
After easy wins on all 4 outings this term, including most impressively back at 2m in the Irish Champion latest, APPLE'S JADE is taken to thwart Buveur d'Air as that one bids to become the first since Istabraq to complete a hat-trick in the race. Laurina, who burst on to the scene with her Dawn Run success last year, has yet to taste defeat for Willie Mullins and is another fascinating contender.
Timeform's Champion Hurdle 1-2-3
1. Apple's Jade
2. Buveur d'Air