Henderson’s Punjabi is Champion pick at 8/1

THERE may only be 12 runners in this afternoon’s Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle, but the feature race on the opening day of the Festival looks one of the most open of the week. Irish raiders Go Native and Solwhit are justifiably market leaders, but the value call at this stage looks to be last year’s winner PUNJABI at a tasty looking 8/1.

Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old looks to have been brought to the boil at just the right time and showed his well-being at Kempton recently when easily seeing off some inferior rivals. His trainer had warned punters before his reappearance in the Boylesports International that he would need the race, so he ran pretty well in the circumstances. He then went on to get beaten in a tactical affair at Haydock where I’m not sure the ground really suited.

Regular followers of this column will already be holding some 13/2 about £1million bonus seeking GO NATIVE and he is now as short as 10/3 with Boylesports. With no pace guaranteed (Paul Nicholls has already said that Celestial Halo will not act as the hare), there is a danger this could turn into a sprint and not many of these will be able to match Noel Meade’s charge for pace. However, he still looks like an in-running trading proposition as covered below.

You cannot possibly back Solwhit if what connections are saying about his health issues are true. Anyway, I’m not sure whether he or Zaynar have the required speed to win over the minimum distance on ground this quick at this level. Binocular is another who has had a host of problems and looks nowhere near as good as he did twelve months ago. Therefore, I like the 6/4 on offer with Skybet about Binocular winning the ‘Henderson Hurdle’ and finishing in front of Zaynar and Binocular.

The biggest dangers look to be Medermit and Khyber Kim who both arrive in great form. The former was not originally considered to be Champion Hurdle class, but has improved all year. Don’t forget, he would have won last season’s Supreme Novices’ had he not met with interference. As for Khyber Kim, it’s strange to think that a horse who finished 22nd of 27 runners (beaten nearly 50 length!) in last year’s County Hurdle could come back and be crowned Champion Hurdler. He has plenty of ability, but isn’t the safest betting propositions as he could play a major role or be the first to drop away

PUNJABI 3.20pm Cheltenham, today

GO NATIVE already advised at 13/2

Punjabi to be best of Henderson runners 6/4