‘He’s in great order’: could State Man take the Champion Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival?

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  • With confirmation this week from trainer Nicky Henderson that his Unibet Champion Hurdle favourite Constitution Hill will miss this year’s Cheltenham Festival, all eyes have turned to the Willie Mullins-trained State Man, who is the new favourite for Tuesday’s feature race.

    Joe and Marie Donnelly’s French-bred seven-year-old son of Doctor Dino won the County Hurdle at the Festival in 2021 and he and jockey Paul Townend came home nine lengths behind the all-conquering Constitution Hill in last year’s Champion Hurdle.

    But State Man returns for this year’s race at the Cheltenham Festival with a further four Grade Ones under his belt and a wealth of experience, and his old rival’s defection hands the Closutton training maestro a golden opportunity to make amends in this year’s Champion Hurdle.

    “He’s in great order,” says Willie Mullins of State Man. “I thought his performance at Christmas [in Leopardstown’s Matheson Hurdle] was huge, beating Impaire Et Passe.

    “I don’t know if State Man wasn’t at his best behind Constitution Hill last year. But he’s a lot more experienced now and he’ll be very race fit. We’re just happy to have the horse in as good order as he is.”

    State Man: “He jumps well and he’s so consistent at home”

    Willie Mullins is a four-time winner of the Champion Hurdle, lifting the silverware with Hurricane Fly in 2011 and 2013, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power in 2016.

    State Man has won 10 of his past 11 races, all with Paul Townend in the saddle.

    “State Man certainly isn’t in the league of the pizazz of Faugheen or the speed of Hurricane Fly, but he has other things, like he jumps well and he’s so consistent at home,” says the trainer. “I don’t know if he’s better, but he’s stronger. State Man hasn’t won a Champion Hurdle yet, but he’ll have a crack this year and maybe next year.”

    Could stable-mate Lossiemouth line up too?

    State Man heads the Unibet Champion Hurdle betting ahead of stable-mate Lossiemouth, who is more likely to be routed to the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

    “I know a lot of people would like Lossiemouth to go down the Champion Hurdle route but I’m not even sure if there wasn’t a mares hurdle there that we’d go down that route with a five-year-old,” says Willie of the grey mare.

    “Five-year-olds only win once every 35 years, and usually in a bad year. Other people say, ‘Well, very few five year-olds go for it, but I’ve seen them all over the years and the ones that matter go for it and they just can’t line up – they’re physically not strong enough. Lossiemouth will have her chance in future years to have a go at the Champion Hurdle.”

    Among the other entries for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, one of racing’s Blue Riband races, are Irish Point for Gordon Elliott, Luccia for Seven Barrows and Not So Sleepy for Hughie Morrison.

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