Tony Calvin looks ahead at a Champion Hurdle market dominated by Buveur D'Air but our man thinks he may have found some value in a former Cheltenham Festival winner...
"There are only 19 left in the race and Wicklow Brave is the third highest-rated horse in the line-up behind the two market leaders on a mark of 164. The odds simply don’t reflect that."
Buveur D'Air may not be invincible
I can't quite put my finger on it, which isn't ideal when you are being paid to write articles, but I have been less than convinced by Buveur D'Air this season.
I know you can hardly be expected to bring the house down when you are winning races at odds of 1/6, 2/11 and 1/16. And he has done all that was basically required of him when taking those three races, on ground probably softer than ideal, without a great deal of fuss.
But there is something about the way he has travelled through his races on occasion, notably behind The New One at Kempton, that has put a slight doubt in the back of my mind about him retaining his two-mile title.
And the layers on the Exchange clearly agree, as he is currently available at 1.684/6 in that sphere compared to the 4/9 and 2/5 in the fixed-odds marketplace.
It could well be the ground, or the fact that he is never going to look like a superstar beating up second-raters in small fields - apologies to The New One - but I am not totally sold on the idea that he simply has to rock up to roll the opposition over on the opening day.
I am probably nit-picking over nothing and, if he turns up in the same form as when beating My Tent Or Yours in last year's race, it is very hard indeed to see him getting beaten, especially as his main market rival Faugheen didn't look like the 2016 Irish Champion model when beaten by the stayer Supasundae in this year's renewal at Leopardstown.
That said, I certainly wouldn't rule out Willie Mullins getting Faugheen pitch-perfect on the day and he is clearly the main form rival to the favourite, even if the trusty My Tent Of Yours has the more solid profile.
Wicklow has Festival form on his side
However, the one that interests me at this stage is Wicklow Brave, who I suggest backing at 20/1 non-runner no-bet (NRNB), each way, with the Betfair Sportsbook and at 12/1 NRNB, each way, without Buveur D'Air. He currently trades at 44.043/1, all in, on the Exchange for the braver types.
He did this column a massive favour when winning the County Hurdle at 25/1 in 2015, and hopefully he can repeat the trick here.
Now, I don't know for sure if Wicklow Brave definitely goes the race, but a few enquiries on Twitter last night seemed to suggest that is the current plan - and the owner said as much in an interview last month, anyway - but of course the NRNB angle is the safety insurance if he stays at home.
There are only 19 left in the race and Wicklow Brave is the third highest-rated horse in the line-up behind the two market leaders on a mark of 164. The odds simply don't reflect that.
The last time we saw him he was finishing in midfield in the Melbourne Cup in November but he has had a nice break since, and he treads the same path as when seventh in the Champion Hurdle last season. The absence doesn't concern me.
He was beaten 14 ½ lengths there but that only tells half the story as he lost a lot of the ground at the start - he can be a very reluctant starter, but that's the risk you take with him - and he actually traded at 4.1 in running when coming there strongly on the outside rounding the final bend.
He didn't see his race out that day but he certainly did when given a great ride to beat My Tent Of Yours in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle on his next start, when tried in first-time blinkers.
The headgear has been missing since a trip to Belmont last June, but perhaps Willie Mullins will consider them once again. However, he doesn't need them, though it is worth noting that he ran a good race when a neck second to Dartmouth in a first-time hood in the Ormonde Stakes, a run that came after a six-month break. Maybe he will consider cheekpieces to perk up him up next month, who knows?
Regardless, this strong traveller and classy Flat horse (officially rated 112) is surely well overpriced in this year's line-up. And his good Cheltenham record - he also finished sixth in Vautour's Supreme - further cements the case.
Back him each-way on both of Betfair's NRNB markets.