Sharjah To Miss Cheltenham After Festival Scratchings

The only real surprise coming out of the announcement of this Tuesday’s scratching’s for the early closing races at next month’s Cheltenham Festival was the non-appearance of Sharjah from the Unibet Champion Hurdle entries.

At the time of writing there has been no confirmation from Closutton that his defection is due to injury and, if that is the case, the multiple Grade 1 winning hurdler is a surprise absentee given he has finished runner up in the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle; and this is hardly a golden age of two-mile hurdlers.

Willie Mullins is thus just doubly represented in the race courtesy of Saint Roi who has little or no chance of reversing last weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle form with Honeysuckle and Appreciate It the winner of last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

Appreciate It has been off the track since winning last year’s Festival curtain-raiser by no less than 28 lengths although his winning time was over two seconds slower than that achieved by Honeysuckle later in the day. 

That said it would have been less than 10L had his stablemate, and new Arkle favourite, Blue Lord not come down at the last. The plan was to go novice chasing this season, but that plan was shelved midseason when he was not ready in time and the yard did have, at the time, Ferny Hollow, Blue Lord, Saint Sam et al in that division. 

Speaking on the Racing Post’s excellent “In The Know” show earlier in the week jockey Paul Townend could hardly contain his excitement about the imminent return to the track of last year’s champion novice:

“He – Appreciate It- is the horse with all the potential. We don’t know how good Honeysuckle is but I’m looking forward to having a go at her with something on a level that Appreciate It shows.

“He seems fine. I was as disappointed as anyone I wasn’t on him this weekend; I’m itching to get on his back.”   

My understanding is that Appreciate It will make his belated reappearance at Gowran Park on Red Mills Day on Saturday week 19th February. That is leaving it late enough for a prep race for the Champion Hurdle, but this is Willie Mullins will are dealing with and Townend’s comments, if not bullish, suggest he is looking forward to locking horns with the unbeaten mare.

Appreciate It is a best price of 5/1 with bet365 NRNB for the Champion Hurdle & BOG and I would be disappointed if he could not give the mare a race especially when you consider the current form of the Henry De Bromhead stable. That hardly stopped the champion when she sluiced up at Leopardstown at the weekend of course. 

Of more interest is the market without Honeysuckle which sees Appreciate It 2/1 with Paddy Power. We will know more about his current wellbeing at Gowran later in the month, but the absence of Sharjah from Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle entries confirms to me that Appreciate It will be Honeysuckle’s biggest danger as she bids to retain her Champion hurdling crown next month. 

Recommendation: Appreciate It 2/1 Paddy Power betting without Honeysuckle Champion Hurdle