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State Man
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Cheltenham Festival: State Man

In an ordinary year State Man could probably expect to be all the rage for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but this is no ordinary year and he faces a gargantuan challenge to lift this title.

As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.

State Man has plenty in his favour. He is trained by the maestro that is Willie Mullins and has been bagging Grade 1s to beat the band in Ireland this season, but he's now facing down the monster that is Constitution Hill and that's a challenge even he may baulk at.

WhatChampion Hurdle
WhereCheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire
When3.30, Tuesday 14th March, 2023
How to watchbet365 Sports Live Streaming, ITV Racing & Racing TV
OddsConstitution Hill 1/3, State Man 11/4, Vauban 10/1, I Like To Move It 25/1, Echoes In Rain 28/1, Sharjah 66/1, Pied Piper 80/1

Rising through the ranks

It's fair to suggest State Man didn't exactly come up through the ranks in the way Willie Mullins' smart hurdlers tend to.

The French import took a tumble at Leopardstown at Christmas in 2021 when an odds-on favourite for a maiden hurdle on his stable bow.

He made amends at Limerick come February but, hard to fathom now, was sent off 11/4 favourite last March for the County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival off a mark of 141.

All the whispers from Closutton suggested that connections believed he was a good chunk better than that mark and so it proved as he won well. Given he's now rated 167, it was indeed something of a handicap blot.

Grade 1 novice glory followed at Punchestown last spring as he moved up to just shy of two-and-a-half-miles in trip without a concern.

Having that stamina in his back-catalogue is no bad thing as he prepares for his return to the Cotswolds in pursuit of hurdling's greatest prize.

Bossing things on home turf

This season State Man has dominated in Ireland. He won the Morgiana Hurdle from stablemates Sharjah and Saldier in December as his price suggested he would. It was a decent performance without being standout.

At Christmas, a second open Grade 1 followed via the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown as he held off another stablemate, Vauban, in second, with C&D specialist Sharjah further back this time in third.

The word that probably comes to mind with State Man this season is 'uncomplicated' and that was certainly true as he won the Irish Champion Hurdle back at Leopardstown last time.

Paul Townend allowed him to make the running and he had Honeysuckle in trouble before they turned for home. 

It was at times a sedate pace and the race very much played out like a dream for Townend and State Man. They may not be afforded similar luxuries in Cheltenham.

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One major Hill to overcome

The Cheltenham Hill is usually put forward as the Cotswolds test that will separate the pretenders from the true champions but, in State Man's case, it is Constitution Hill that he will surely have to get over to win a Champion Hurdle on 14th March.

It's a testament to State Man's body of work this season that he is as short as 11/4 to shatter the unbeaten record over 1/3 Constitution Hill.

The feeling goes, however, that it will take something very special indeed to lower the colours of last year's Supreme Novices' winner.

He smashed the course record that day and no horse so far has really even managed to give him a race.

As progressive as State Man has been to this point, he's about to clash with a once-in-a-generation talent in Constitution Hill.

It would be unfair to suggest that such a meeting will expose any frailties in State Man, much more so that it might serve to show how remarkably good Constitution Hill is.

On the evidence we've seen this season, Paul Townend's partner does look the horse most likely to at least draw Nico de Boinville into some kind of a scrap. Even that would be unchartered territory.

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