Hargam can spring surprise in Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham

On official figures, only 10lbs separate the 12 runners in this afternoon’s Stan James Champion Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival, and if you omit 100-1 outsider Sign Of A Victory, that can be reduced to just 6lbs.
Hargam can spring surprise in Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham

If that is an accurate reflection of their current abilities, we’re in for a tremendously exciting race, from which no result would be entirely surprising.

That in mind, it may be worth taking a chance on another outsider, the Nicky Henderson-trained Hargam.

The apparent third or even fourth-string of his stable, the five-year-old was a very useful juvenile last term, highlighted by his third-place finish behind stable companions Peace And Co and Top Notch in the Triumph Hurdle.

Although both Peace And Co and Top Notch re-oppose, the ground was softer than ideal for Hargam, and he was a little keen from the outset.

Still in the mix over the last hurdle, it was only in the final hundred yards that he was left behind.

He appeals as the type to improve for experience and better ground, and he ran the best race of his career to date when third behind Faugheen and The New One in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last time out.

Although he finished just three parts of a length behind The New One, he is four times that rival’s price and that is hard to overlook.

While the last-named is exposed after four seasons over hurdles, Hargam can improve.

His progress this season has been steady rather than spectacular, but the likely fast pace can see him in a better light.

In a race which has a wide-open look to it, he looks a decent each-way bet at around 25-1.

Favourite Annie Power is a classy performer, but has little form over two miles or against geldings.

Also, her preparation for this race has not been ideal, as she was called in late to replace stable companion Faugheen.

Willie Mullins’ eight-year-old ran a super race in defeat in the 2014 World Hurdle had the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy until falling at the last.

But this represents a significantly more demanding task and if Mullins could get her to emulate Flakey Dove — the last mare to win this race, in 1994 — it would be a stunning performance by man and beast.

Her stable companion, Nichols Canyon, must bounce back from two very tough races but he is a hardy sort, and has place claims.

He holds Identity Thief on their Leopardstown meeting, but there shouldn’t be much between them once more.

The last-named, trained by Henry De Bromhead, has improved rapidly since making his racecourse debut less than 18 months ago.

Even if this task proves beyond him, he looks a smashing prospect to go chasing with next term.

If a victory for Annie Power would be a fine achievement for her trainer, success for former runner-up My Tent Or Yours would be spectacular by Henderson. Undoubtedly a real talent, he hasn’t been seen since April of 2014, and steps right back into the big league.

Surely that is too much too soon.

The New One may have been somewhat unlucky behind Jezki and My Tent Or Yours in 2014, but that may have been his chance.

There’s nothing to suggest he has improved since, and a place may be as much as he can claim.

With a case to be made for almost all, taking a relatively short price doesn’t look the right strategy in this renewal.

Big-price winners are not uncommon in this race — think Hardy Eustace (33-1) in 2004, Sublimity (16-1) in 2007 and Punjabi (22-1) in 2009 — and Hargam looks a good value option to join that list of successful outsiders.

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