Stayer’s Hurdle Preview
This is a race that I have always loved over the years. The fact that I was a huge Big Bucks fan obviously helped with him winning the race four times between 2009 and 2012.
The race has also been won by Inglis Drever three times and Baracouda twice. Thistlecrack won it back in 2016 while Penhill was the winner of the race last season.
Penhill will miss the race this season which is very unfortunate, as he would have had a lively chance.
The market is headed by Paisley Park who has been so impressive all season. That is the horse we will start with.
Note: odds correct at the time of publishing, 15:18 on 5th March 2019.
PAISLEY PARK 13/8
A very short price at 13/8 but has done nothing wrong all season. He is four from four this season and you would not believe he was rated 140 on his first start of the season at Aintree. He won that race by 2 1/2 lengths, and then followed up by finishing fast to win the Fixed Brush Hurdle at Haydock. Even after that race if I told you PAISLEY PARK would be 13/8 favourite a week before the festival, I would have been laughed at. He then went to Ascot for the Long Walk Hurdle and won impressively by a couple of lengths. His final start was in the Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Festival trials day and it was his best performance of the season, winning by 12 lengths. He reminds me of Big Bucks with his style of running. He often hits a flat spot but keeps finding as the race goes on, and is at his strongest at the end of the race. He has improved by 28lb from his first start of the season to what the handicapper rates him now. The horse has done everything asked of him this season and you cannot say a bad word about him. The only question I would ask is how strong is that form from the Cleeve Hurdle. He beat West Approach who for me is not a proper Grade 1 horse and Black Op has been disappointing all season and is rated 152. He will face much stronger opposition here, and although he deserves to be favourite and will be a tough horse to beat, the 13/8 is short with no value left in him.
FAUGHEEN has had loads of support over the last few days. Since Willie Mullins mentioned having him back to near his best, floods of money has come in for him. He has had two starts this season, finishing 2nd on his first start of the season but that was over two miles and then was a faller over three miles in a race won by Apple’s Jade. I was surprised they started at two miles on his first start of the season, given how well he won over three miles at the Punchestown Festival last April. Last year he showed he no longer has the speed for two miles so not sure why they went back to that trip. The moment he was stepped up to three miles he blew the field away by 13 lengths, with the World Hurdle winner Penhill back in 2nd. His fall on his last run looked quite nasty, and he was on the ground for a few minutes after. Thankfully Faugheen was back up but you could see he had the stuffing knocked out of him. Before the fall he was still in contention and Ruby Walsh had not asked him any questions. I am not saying he would have beat Apple’s Jade, but he was still bang there so we will never know what would have happened. The reports all of the last week have been great to hear, and if this horse wins this race the roof will be taken off. I have had him down as a three-miler after he won the Neptune Novice Hurdle, and I still think he could have his say against what looks a mediocre field with the favourite to one side. As I always say every year, once a Cheltenham horse always a Cheltenham horse. The place just does things for horses and they often keep running huge races, year in year out.
SUPASUNDAE was 2nd in this race last season and I am glad to see him come back for this race. He finished 2nd last time out to Apple’s Jade over two miles at Leopardstown. After the race, I was surprised that trainer Jessica Harrington was adamant that the horse would go for the Champion Hurdle. Given the odds on Betfair Exchange, they suggest he now goes for the World Hurdle, which is the right choice in my opinion. He ran a massive race last year when he had his head in front coming up the hill at one stage. He is a very consistent horse who has not been out of the frame since February 2017. He was a winner at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival and along with his 2nd last year, tells you he loves the course. I can see him running another big race but possibly finding one too good. Considering he has not been out of the first three in over two years he will likely make the frame again.
BLACK OP 14/1
He was my horse to follow over fences this season but I clearly got that one wrong as he was awful and simply could not jump. It happens, and I don’t think he has become a bad horse overnight. It seems to be that his jumping is the issue. He finished 3rd to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle and that was his first start over three miles. He is entitled to improve and is far from the finished article. He finished 2nd to Samcro in last year’s Neptune Novice Hurdle and has not run a bad race at Cheltenham over hurdles. His form at Cheltenham reads 2233 so, although he has not won, he always runs a race. If he improves as expected he could be overpriced but has it all to do to turn around the form with Paisley Park.
TOP NOTCH 16/1
It has been mentioned in recent days that Top Notch will go for this race and is another horse who is a big price at 16/1. He had his first run of the season in the Long Walk Hurdle in December, and came home 3rd to Paisley Park, beaten 5 1/2 lengths. It was a decent run considering that was his first start over three miles and he was likely to improve for the race. Top Notch then went to Kempton over fences and won easily in a Listed race, beating Black Corton. He is a tough horse with a very good attitude who is as game as they come. Whether he is good enough for this race, we will have to wait and see, but he is as honest as they come and more rain the better.
Was running a big race and jumped the last in 3rd place last year but unseated the rider in this race. We won’t know if he would’ve been placed but he was still in contention when he came down, and could easily have got up the hill in good fashion. He has run in two chases this season but does not look the easiest over the bigger obstacles. They come back to hurdles here and is another who could easily place. Probably just short of what is needed to win something like this but is still a horse who on his day has the right attitude.
Of the rest?
I don’t think anything in the field has anything to trouble what we have named above but a few who could run nice races a big prices, if lining up, are:
WEST APPROACH is available at 25/1, and although I have said he is not quite Grade 1, he does put in a good performance from time to time. I guess with this horse it seems to which one turns up. Although I don’t think he will win the race he could sneak a place if others underperform and he is on his a game.
KILBRICKEN STORM was the winner of last year’s Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle but I would be very surprised if he was good enough here. He has had two starts over fences, and although he won his first start, he was beaten 98 lengths on his 2nd start over fences. He is back over hurdles for this but I don’t really give him much hope if I am being honest. The only positive is he has previous Cheltenham form and some horses just come alive at the festival. As low as 14/1 but that is not for me.
MIDNIGHT SHADOW was fancied in the Cleeve Hurdle back in January but was disappointing that day. I do think he could be a tad better than what he showed that day though, as he was impressive when winning the Relkeel back on New Years Day, also at Cheltenham. If he can find that form again he could run into a place at decent odds of 25/1.
My Final Thoughts
I am obviously writing this one week before the race so these are my thoughts as we speak. A few things could change over the next week, depending on how much rain we get but nothing drastic.
The obvious horse in this race is Paisley Park and I do respect him given how well he has performed this season. He looks a proper Stayers Hurdle horse and, frighteningly, could improve further. The only problem I have is the price of the horse at 13/8, and given he is so short I think he has left the value in other horses. Only two years ago Unowhatimeanharry went off 5/6 after winning the Long Walk and Cleeve Hurdle (same route as Paisley Park) and he could only manage 3rd.
The one thing I worry about Paisley Park is if he hits a flat spot at the wrong time. He generally hits a flat spot in all his races but then stays on at the end and on paper, this does not look like a normal Stayers Hurdle, as it has a lot of speed horses in the field. With horses like FAUGHEEN, Top Notch and Supersundae, who all have that bit more speed, if the race turns into a tactical one and the pace quickens all of a sudden, he potentially could get caught out.
Ruby Walsh is a master with his fractions and I expect him to try and get a prominent position with Faugheen to try and judge the pace just right. If they allow him to get away with it he has the chance to quicken off the bend and could have the others in behind caught out with the burst of speed he has. We know FAUGHEEN stays three miles as he showed us at Punchestown last season, and if Willie Mullins has him in the place he says he does, the race could be put to bed before they get to the hill. I expect Paisley Park to be running on up the hill but could have too much to do.
Although these selections are not confirmed at this early stage I am quite keen on FAUGHEEN. I just think all these years despite winning a Champion Hurdle he has always been a three-miler and is Cheltenham Festival specialist. This is his time of year when he comes right.
My three selections who I think will be fighting out the finish if they all line up are:
PAISLEY PARK 3rd
FAUGHEEN 9/2 – 1 POINT WIN (NRNB)
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