2016 Festival each-way bets: Don’t discount Old Guard in Champion Hurdle
Jamie Clark, Sports Editor | March 2, 2016
Paul Nicholls’ Old Guard is one of the few horses to be a multiple course winner around Prestbury Park this season, ahead of figuring in a feature race of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Cheltenham a course for the Old Guard
Those three consecutive venue victories give five-year-old Old Guard a real chance of finishing in the frame in the Champion Hurdle, having successfully negotiated the 2m distance in increasingly high-profile races at Cheltenham this term.
As with all headline contests at the Festival, there is nothing but quality horses in this year’s field, yet Old Guard gave three who re-oppose him on Tuesday, March 15th a hiding when capturing the Grade 2 International Hurdle before Christmas.
On his day, then, Old Guard knows he can beat Willie Mullins entrant Sempre Medici and Nicky Henderson duo Hargam and Peace And Co. The latter won last season’s Triumph Hurdle, however, so his supporters will excuse a bad winter run.
Henderson hopes have doubts hanging over them
Long-time Nicholls training rival Henderson holds another couple of Champion Hurdle entrants in Top Notch and My Tent Or Yours, but age and rust both count against the latter horse. Just two nine-year-olds have taken the Champion Hurdle since 1992.
My Tent Or Yours was last seen in action when a four-length third of 11 behind Cockney Sparrow in the 2014 Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr. He must overcome a lay-off of 23 months to make the frame, having twice been a Cheltenham runner-up, including at the Festival two years ago.
Top Notch found a step up in trip to 2m 4f, in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle at the course on New Year’s Day, too much to handle when a 21-plus length fifth of eight behind Camping Ground – another in the Champion Hurdle field, but one who subsequently flopped in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Old Guard’s predecessor as International Hurdle winner and Nigel Twiston-Davies saddled, The New One, is the highest placed horse still standing from the 2015 running of the Champion Hurdle.
Mullins menaces the main dangers
Fifth 12 months ago behind Mullins trio Faugheen, Arctic Fire (both injured this term) and Hurricane Fly (retired), plus Jessica Harrington’s Jezki (also currently sidelined), The New One will find competition no less fierce in the 2016 renewal.
With such question marks hanging over so many rivals, all that is required of Old Guard is to get among Henry de Bromhead’s Identity Thief, who has never raced around Prestbury Park before, and remaining Mullins market leaders Annie Power and Nichols Canyon to place.
Although favourite to win the Champion Hurdle this year, Annie Power’s fall when having the 2015 OLGB Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy sticks out as a huge black mark against her name. She is also winless at Cheltenham in two outings since January 1st 2014.
Mullins brought Nichols Canyon over to the Festival last year, and he was a five-length third of 10 to Windsor Park in Grade 1 company over 2m 5f in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. It is his only run around the course, however, with Old Guard more accustomed to Prestbury Park.
Discount Christmas Hurdle
Detractors of Old Guard will point to his poor showing in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton over the Champion Hurdle trip on Boxing Day, when beaten by more than 12 lengths as fourth of five to Faugheen, with The New One and Hargam finishing ahead of him, but Nicholls has admitted this festive outing was a mistake.
“If I hadn’t run him at Kempton on Boxing Day he would be a lot shorter price,” said Old Guard’s trainer Nicholls at his recent media day ahead of the Festival. “I probably should not have run him in the Christmas Hurdle, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.
“He has had a month off to freshen him up. He can go to Cheltenham fresh and he will love better ground. If you can forgive him his last run, he has a chance of being in the frame. He does like Cheltenham and is still improving.”
In Nicholls’ own words “he is a lively outsider” so, at an ante post price of 20/1 with Coral for the Champion Hurdle, Old Guard is thus surely worth an each-way wager, with a fifth of the odds paying out on the first three past the post.
Coral’s Cheltenham section contains all the latest news, previews and tips, so it’s well worth a visit with the Festival soon upon us.