One of the most hotly-anticipated races of the week, the Grade One Stan James Champion Hurdle is the feature race on day one of the Festival.
Run over two miles on the Old Course, a host of classy performers have won the race over the years, including three-time winner Istabraq and dual-winners Hardy Eustace and Hurricane Fly.
The loss of 2016 and 2015 winners Annie Power and Faugheen, take some of the gloss off this race but this still looks a very competitive contest.
My fancy for this year's race is the Nicky Henderson-trained Brain Power at 8/1 with BetVictor. One of three runners for the Seven Barrows maestro, Michael Buckley' gelding has progressed with every run this year, finishing eighth in the Greatwood Hurdle at the Open meeting in November before bagging a couple of handicaps at Sandown and Ascot in December. A facile winner at the latter track by five-lengths outlined the six-year-old's credentials for this event and he looks well worth the step up to graded open company.
Henderson has long been an admirer of the son of Kalanisi and whilst he also boasts Buveur D'Air and dual-second My Tent Or Yours in his battalion for the two-mile championship event, Brain Power looks to be a real improver who should relish the stiff two-mile trip at Cheltenham. A sound jumper on the whole, he looks to have a high cruising speed who should give Danny Mullins a good spin at around 8/1, making him a sound each-way proposition.
I also can't resist having a little saver on Yanworth at 3/1 with BetVictor. General market leader for the Grade One event after sustained support in the last couple of weeks, the seven-year-old son of Norse Dancer is undoubtedly a classy performer who has to show on the big stage just how good he is.
Winner of three starts this year, including victories in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park in December and lat time out in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton by an unimpressive length, Alan King's charge should be more suited to an open galloping track like Cheltenham. Second to Yorkhill in the Neptune last year, the main issue I have win Yanworth is his jumping. If he learns to jump better he should have a big chance but he is overly big at his fences, which has cost him valuable ground in his last few races and he will be unable to do that in the Champion Hurdle. However, he does have a touch of class about him and in a weak Champion Hurdle, he has to run a big race.
Other horses to focus on include Petit Mouchoir and Buveur D'Air. Both were fairly impressive in their most recent starts over hurdles but my main bet at a decent 8/1 has to be Brain Power.
Selections (Scale of 1-5 Points)
Brain Power 2pts E/W - 8/1 with BetVictor
Yanworth 1pt Win - 3/1 with BetVictor
Words By: Danny Archer