Let’s start with some basic figures to help us find a winner:
- The last winner to be aged 10+ was Sea Pigeon in 1981
- Mares have won 3 of the last 6 renewals
- Only two 5-year-olds have won the race since 2000
- Each of the last 5 winners has been rated 162+ by the handicapper
- JP McManus has won the race a record 9 times
- Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have won 6 of the last 10 running’s
Finding the Winner
This has become a race for punters in recent years with 6 of the last 10 favourites obliging and only Espoir D’Allen returning a double figure pay-out on the Tote in the last 5 years. The 7lb mares’ allowance has been a controversial factor in Graded races in recent years and its impact is highlighted most of all in the Champion Hurdle, with mares winning 3 of the last 6. It’s very hard to get away from HONEYSUCKLE, she holds most of the main protagonists on form, has already proven that she can handle the occasion and the course and on these terms is impossible to oppose. She returned £1.80 on the Tote last season and is likely to return an even smaller return this year, so it is perhaps to the alternative market that we need to look to find more value.
This is not an entirely unusual approach, 7 of the last 10 winners returned less than £10 and in a division which is getting consistently weaker in terms of depth, it is not surprising.
There is a temptation to look at the Place market when we have such a solid short-priced favourite and the obvious place to start would be SHARJAH. He is a multiple Grade 1 winning hurdler and if it wasn’t for the mares’ allowance, we might be talking about him as a Champion Hurdle winner. The question really is what value he will represent in this market, he returned £5.30 in 2020, but only £2.70 last year and given the obvious pecking order in this field, he isn’t likely to return that much better this time around. When looking at the place market, it is best to look beyond the obvious.
In 2019, the first 3 in the market all struggled. Buveur D’Air fell, Apples Jade ran no sort of race and Laurina didn’t get up the hill. That left the race open to Espoir D’Allen, but also for Melon (£2.80) and Silver Streak (£7.80) to fill the places. Similarly, in 2017 Mick Jazz ran into 3rd and returned £4.20 for the place after Faugheen and Yorkhill failed to deliver. It is possible to get a decent return in the place market, but the issue with the 2022 race is surely that with two solid horses at the front of the market, that bet could be purely for a 3rd placed finish.
If there is an angle into this race, then it is surely the exotics. Last year’s Exacta returned £13.50 even though the 2 highest rated horses finished 1,2. A sum significantly higher than the win bet on Honeysuckle and the place on Sharjah. That could be a solid place to start this year and although the improvement in Sharjah’s form may mean the return is not quite so high, it is still likely to offer a better return than the WIN and PLACE bets we have already discussed.
In 2021, Honeysuckle got the better of Sharjah and Epatante and it is not entirely impossible to imagine that it will be the same outcome 12-months later. A trifecta return of £51.80, almost 33% higher than the industry tricast of £38.67, wasn’t a bad result for the 3 horses in the field with proven Grade 1 form. In a year where the Honeysuckle/Sharjah exacta looks a solid play, the value may come in that 3rd place. Epatante is just about in that position right now, but she clearly isn’t the horse she once looked and so that may bring in the likes of Not So Sleepy or Appreciate It to squeeze some extra value out of the race.
In a race that has been dominated by short-priced favourites in recent times, the Trifecta has held up relatively well. In 2015, Faugheen returned a mere £1.80, but the Trifecta paid £51.80 even though it was a Willie Mullins 1,2,3. In 2018 Buveur D’Air returned even shorter at £1.50, but the Trifecta yielded £75.36 even with the well backed Melon in 2nd place.
For the exotic’s punter, the 2019 renewal is going to live long in the memory. An Exacta of £277.60 was topped by a Trifecta of £17,569.50. An almost unbelievable result that contributed to a Placepot pay-out more than £90,000 with only 10.50 winning tickets making it through. There is a lesson here for players of the Placepot. In 2019, the so called “big 3” all failed to land a blow and that left the race and indeed the prize fund wide open. With some tricky handicaps on the opening day, the temptation may be to put Honeysuckle in as a banker to reduce the number of perms, but to rely on her entirely could be a risky strategy.