By HRI Foreign Press Staff — The first Champion Hurdle took place in 1927 and has been run every year since then, other than 1943/1944 when the Cheltenham Festival was cancelled due to the ongoing conflict of World War 2. The race has remained the most prestigious hurdling event in the National Hunt calendar throughout that time, which has made it an extremely lucrative race for the owner of the winning horse and its jockey.
The first-place purse in the 1927 race was £365, which was an enormous amount of money at that time. Adjusted for inflation, this meant that the inaugural winner Blaris received a prize of £23,449.22 in today’s money. The popularity of horse racing, and particularly placing bets on horse racing, has grown considerably over the decades since then. Today, the prize fund for the 2021 Unibet Champion Hurdle stands at £450,000, with the winner alone set to receive a whopping £253,215.
Photo: Jeff Griffith
About the Race
British horse races are divided into classes with the aim of ensuring a fair competition for runners, riders, and punters alike. The different classes ensure that all of the horses running in a given race are of roughly the same ability, which should guarantee that the result will be close and difficult to predict. As the premier UK hurdling race, the Unibet Champion Hurdle features only the very best rated runners – those who have been placed into the highest grade of Class 1.
The race takes place on Cheltenham’s Old Course over a distance of two miles and half a furlong – that’s 3,298 metres in common parlance – with eight hurdles to be jumped along the way. Both of these numbers are essentially the minimum allowed for a hurdling event, which shows that the race has always been designed to showcase the horses sprinting ability rather than their endurance.
The Unibet Champion Hurdle is the third and final leg of the Triple Crown of Hurdling, and is held after the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle Racecourse and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park. Only two horses have ever managed to collect the Triple Crown for winning all three events in a single season – those were Kribensis in 1989/90, and Buveur d’Air in 2017/18.
With the exception of the marquee Gold Cup race, the Unibet Champion Hurdle has both the largest first place prize and the biggest overall purse of any race due to be held at this year’s festival. This has led to a huge amount of interest from gamblers, with google reporting millions of searches for Cheltenham betting tips in recent weeks. The majority of UK bookmakers currently list Epatante as the race favourite, with odds of 9/4 being offered by Unibet at this moment in time. His closest competitors are Honeysuckle and last year’s winner Sharjah, who are currently priced at 7/1 and 8/1 respectively.
Those odds are certain to narrow as more bets are placed over the coming weeks, so this could be an excellent opportunity to place an ante-post wager at an attractive price. On the other hand, there is always some risk involved with placing an early bet – you may back a horse in the Champion Hurdle only for it to become injured in the meantime, causing it to miss Cheltenham entirely. There is also the possibility that your horse will be pulled from the Champion Hurdle and booked onto another race instead. In both instances, your stake would be lost.
Early Betting – Conclusions
Whilst there certainly are risks involved with participating in ante-post betting, the bookmakers pricing carefully balances those risks with significantly increased rewards. Nevertheless, it’s understandable that many punters will choose to wait until non-runner money back bets are available before placing their wagers. For those who are comfortable with the risk, however, placing a bet in advance presents an exciting opportunity to take advantage of odds that far exceed those offered to backers on the day of the race.