Stayers' Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips
Thursday's flagship race at the Cheltenham Festival is the Stayers' Hurdle, a Grade 1 run over three miles. It is a strong test of class and stamina, as well as speed quite often, and has an impressive roll of honour which includes the likes of Big Buck's, Inglis Drever and Baracouda - all multiple winners this century. With Penhill unable to defend his crown we'll have a new name on the list of winners; working out which one is the challenge faced in the words that follow.
Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Trends
There's plenty of dead wood in your average Stayers' Hurdle line up. A brace of barometers to that end are recent form figures and starting price. In the last ten years, Stayers' Hurdle winners collectively recorded 21 victories in their previous three starts and added another five second places; put another way, they were placed 1-2 in 26 of 30 preceding runs. Whilst that sequence includes Big Buck's' memorable four-timer, there have been six further individual winners in the past decade.
When Anzum won the Stayers' at 40/1 in 1999, he was rounding out a trio of consecutive big priced winners; thereafter, the next 14 victors were returned at 8/1 or shorter. However, most recently, three of the last four winners were between 10/1 and 14/1. But even that recent trio arrived at the race as follows:
- Penhill was unraced that season but had run 112 on his previous three starts (including winning the Albert Bartlett at the Festival the year before)
- Nichols Canyon ran 12F, all at two miles
- Cole Harden might be considered the sole shock, having arrived with form of 234 in the established British trials. He was some way down the official rating pecking order and benefited from a wind op and being able to control steady fractions from the front. He can be seen as a rare outlier to the profile.
Those at sensible prices whose recent form puts them into this pattern profile include favourite, Paisley Park, Supasundae, and Faugheen.
A further interesting, and perhaps emerging, trend is the record of the Irish. After Dorans Pride's popular success in 1995 there was a wait of 18 years before Charles Byrnes saddled Solwhit for his triumph in 2013. Since then, however, Willie Mullins has won the last two Stayers' Hurdles.
Since 1997, Ireland has run 71 horses in the race, out of a total of 278 - so just about bang on a quarter - and has claimed only three of 21 (14%) Stayers' titles in that time.
Since the race was reinstated in 1972, only Crimson Embers (1986) has won at an age outside of the range of six- to nine-year-olds. This is a significant knock against the classy Faugheen, with the likes of Big Buck's, Baracouda (twice) and Limestone Lad failing in recent times when aged ten or more.
Although not a trend as such, it is worth saying that horses which have demonstrated high class form at lesser distances have a fair record in this race. Nichols Canyon, More Of That, and Solwhit are all examples of such horses in the post-Big Buck's era.
Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Form Preview
One horse towers above the field - the expected runners for the field at any rate - in this year's renewal of the Stayers' Hurdle. Paisley Park has looked a different horse since his nondescript effort in last year's Albert Bartlett. That race, famously attritional, saw him eased off in deep ground; since then he's never looked back, recording a four-timer and showing himself to be much the best of the British staying hurdle contingent.
Wins in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day at Cheltenham have seen him stride forwards in performance terms from 147 in his seasonal debut to 168 last time, according to the British handicapper. Given that only Thistlecrack (168) had a rating that could match Paisley Park's since Big Buck's' final victory, and that none of the other five winners in that time came in with a rating greater than 161, this may simply be an open and shut case.
However, the pick of the Irish handicap figures puts Faugheen on 169 - gasp! I don't know when that master figure was recorded but it remains four pounds higher than Apple's Jade and that looks tenuous at best. In his pomp in Britain, when winning the 2015 Champion Hurdle, Faugheen recorded a performance figure of 171, just three pounds higher than Paisley Park notched last time. That was over two miles and four years ago.
But wait, there's more. The Irish 'capper also has Supasundae on 163, a mark which would have won five of the last six Stayers' Hurdles. Not seen over three miles since running up to Penhill in last year's renewal, he's had a quiet prep finishing second three times over shorter distances in Grade 1 company.
Getting back to Paisley Park, my feeling is that talk of his 'flat spot' is somewhat overplayed. Sure, he got niggled at one point during the Cleeve, but it was for no more than ten or twelve strides; later on, Coleman got busy again but that might be put down to the rider being apprehensive about what he had under him. He gave him one smack and Paisley was back on the bridle before travelling to, and running by, the leaders with ease.
There is no reason to believe Paisley Park has finished improving, with his most recent run his best - over three miles at Cheltenham - and I think he'll take a world of beating.
The fly in the ointment, which would likely play to the superior speed of the above named Irish pair, is if there is little or no pace in the race. Paisley's impressive wins this season have come when front-runners have blazed a trail: in the Cleeve, Sam Spinner and Lil Rockefeller locked horns from the outset; the early speed was less marked in the Long Walk Hurdle, and so was the winning distance and the performance rating. Andrew Gemmell, the blind owner of Paisley Park, whose story has been recounted by Tony Stafford on these virtual pages, will be hoping Sam and Lil Rock re-oppose next week.
If they don't, Faugheen and Supasundae become more interesting. The former has been a very classy animal, good enough to win a Neptune and a Champion Hurdle amidst a haul of nine Grade 1 scores in Britain and Ireland; but at age eleven, and with just two defeats on his card since an impressive victory at Punchestown last April, I have to let him beat me at a top price of 9/2.
Jessica Harrington's Supasundae has more appeal. He's more consistent, albeit that he's never been the star that Faugheen ("the machine") has been, and he looks like he's been trained all season for this. His Festival record is solid, too: 6th of 23 in the Champion Bumper, 7th of 14 in the Supreme, 1st of 25 in the Coral Cup, and 2nd of 15 in last year's Stayers' Hurdle. He's been predictably outpaced over two miles this season, as he was in those early Festival skirmishes, but upped in trip he looks sure to be competitive again and is a far more reliable each way proposition than 'the machine'.
This preview presumes Apple's Jade goes to the Champion (or the Mares') Hurdle rather than here, though she'd obviously be a massive player with her seven pound allowance if she did re-route in this direction (9/2 NRNB is a very snide wager if you're that way inclined - most likely money back but you'll have at least two points on the market if she did run).
Of those likely to line up, Black Op was a good second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in the mud last year; but he was no match for Paisley Park last time and his jumping continues to be a cause for concern. Top Notch is a brilliant little horse but far more likely to go Ryanair, and another already put in his place by the Park.
If it came up wet and turned into a war, Kilbricken Storm is the sort which could pick up pieces. That is what happened in his Albert Bartlett last year and, though the abortive chase campaign is not ideal, 'potato race' winners have a good record in the Stayers' - see for example Penhill last year.
After that, we're in wise guy territory for a race which has not historically played to wise guys. Bacardys has more F's to his name than a Scrabble bag but he wasn't out of last year's race when coming down at the last and a more truly run affair than that one could see a prominent showing, though he may be bigger than the current 16/1 on the day.
It really would be a shock if anything else was good enough.
Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Tips
It may be unoriginal, but in a race full of if's and but's, the case for PAISLEY PARK is overwhelming. He's unbeaten this season, he's won the major trials, he's proven at the track and over the trip, he's beaten many of his likely rivals by wide margins, and he may very well still be progressive. I'd certainly be happy that, barring mishap, there is nothing in Britain that will beat him. He's a short price at 7/4 and that lacks sex appeal, but he's a very likely winner.
Of the Irish, despite his former class it is hard to overlook Faugheen's age, a barrier which proved beyond horses of similar 'back class' at a similar vintage. A strong gallop would also count against him.
Supasundae by contrast relished the stronger pace in the Coral Cup and, while this is clearly a different level of opposition, he was able to operate off the steady fractions in last year's race. With ground versatility and an uninterrupted preparation further positives, he looks the each way bet in the race.
For those who like more exotic - which is to say longer priced and less likely - wagers, Bacardys offers more appeal than many. He has class and Festival form: 3rd in the 2016 Champion Bumper, hampered in the 2017 Neptune, staying on from an impossible position when falling at the last in the 2018 Stayers'. He also has obvious jumping issues which must be factored into your wager. Maybe a bookie will be offering a money back concession on those that tumble; that would be well worth taking a couple of points shorter about in my view. And, in any case, I think he's a day of race play as he's likely to be a little longer than 16/1 unless the wise guys hitch their smartypants cart to his chance.
2019 Stayers' Hurdle Selection: Paisley Park at 7/4 NRNB Betfair Sports
Best each way: Supasundae 8/1 Hills (all in, run or not) or 7/1 Betfair Sports, PP, blacktype, Boyles NRNB
Bigger priced alternative: Bacardys e/w at 16/1 NRNB BOG 1/4 1-2-3 bet365 (though he may be available at bigger on the morning of the race)