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Stayers’ Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips

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

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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)

Social Discourse – 28th January 2019

Another crazy seven days has given us two new Festival favourites, the world’s richest turf race as well as the second richest dirt race, and the extraordinary achievements of five brilliant women... and that is where we start this week.

As always, seek me out on @KeejayOV2 or write something in the box below for all your comments, good and bad.

 

  1. Who Ride The World? Girls.

As one of the few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms, some would argue it has taken too long for top female talent to break onto the big stage of racing. That is no longer the case.

  • There are now top jockeys plying their trade in top races on both sides of the Irish sea: in Britain Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly have been responsible for a host of Saturday winners in front of the TV cameras.
  • In Ireland, Rachael Blackmore has ten Graded wins, 73 total wins, and €1,135,265 in prize money for the season, at the time of writing.
  • In France, Mickaelle Michel was atop the French Jockey’s Championship for 83 days until a certain Christophe Soumillon overtook her. 
  • Don’t forget Emma Lavelle, who has brought tremendous improvement out of Paisley Park this season, and Kayley Woollacott, who has the Arkle contender Lalor under her wing. And they’re just two of the numerous women flying high in training.

 Kelly and Frost showed themselves at their very best with wins on Siruh Du Lac and Frodon on Saturday's Cheltenham Trials Day. The former produced a powerful drive to get the better of Daryl Jacob and favourite, Janika; whilst Frost reprised her beautiful bond with Frodon to take yet another Saturday Cheltenham feature as the son of Nickname, only just turned seven, valiantly held the late charge of Elegant Escape in the Cotswold Chase.

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1089170294164672512?s=20

TV and Social Media quite rightly absolutely loves these new stars, with fans responding with joy to their winners.

https://twitter.com/Jordan7Hatton/status/1089161087482822656

 

Meanwhile in Ireland, Blackmore has struck up a very promising link with the exciting novice Honeysuckle, who won impressively at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Don’t forget the flat too, with Josephine Gordon a leading light who is getting a better class of horse to sit on with each passing season, whilst in France the weight allowance gives a small platform, even if that allowance was cut after a 165 per cent increase in the number of winners ridden by women there. Seems they didn't really need it!

 

  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present Percy

It had been a long time between drinks for fans of Presenting Percy. The wide margin 2018 RSA Chase winner had been off the track for 316 days until his return in the Galmoy Hurdle last Thursday, in which time he’d found his Gold Cup price shortening and his reputation growing in the interim.

So it was no surprise to see a huge crowd turn up to Gowran Park to watch him retain his Galmoy title, travelling well before finding plenty when Davy Russell asked him to get the better of the Willie Mullins-trained trio of Bapaume, Killultagh Vic and Limini with his ears pricked.

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Market reaction was instantaneous and positive: he was cut into a top-priced 100-30 (from 9-2) to record a third consecutive Festival victory, in the biggest race of them all, the Gold Cup.

However, there was a twist in the tale, as connections suggested that they might head to the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Friday showpiece. Here’s owner Philip Reynolds speaking to the Racing Post: “Stayers'? He jumps a hurdle every bit as slick as he jumps a fence. We've been talking all year about 'what ifs' because of the ground. Is it my preference? Of course it's not. I'd like to get him back here in three weeks' time for the Red Mills Chase.”

Jockey Davy Russell was also floating the alternative in a post-race interview: "He has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option now as well. If the Gold Cup turned out to be very competitive or if he didn't get a run over fences beforehand, he has that option anyway.”

 

  1. Trials and Tribulations

Cheltenham’s Trials Day is always an important event on the racing calendar, and this year’s edition was no different, with a number of Festival clues as well as some compelling stories.

We saw huge performances change the landscape for two of the Festival’s feature races:

  • Fakir D'oudaries tore the Triumph Trial apart with a superb performance under JJ Slevin, beating his stablemate Fine Brunello by 13 lengths, the 5/4 favourite Adjali well beaten in third, to give Joseph O’Brien his first Cheltenham winner and the now Triumph favourite, as he was cut to as short as 4/1.
  • Paisley Park confirmed himself as the leading British stayer with a wide margin win in the Cleeve Hurdle, doing all his best work up the straight before he pummelled West Approach by a staggering 12 lengths up the hill. He’s now 7/2 generally for the Stayers,from a quote of 12/1 before the day's events.

Those weren’t the only things of note on the card either...

  • Birchdale was handed the Ballymore trial as Brewin'Upastorm crashed out at the last flight when narrowly in front, with both horses surely having more to give. The exchanges had Brewin'Upastorm winning at the time, as he was 1-4 in running, but the real winner from the race is probably the form of Champ, who beat Brewin'Upastorm by four lengths in the Challow Hurdle.
  • Siruh Du Lac just edged out Janika in a pulsating finish to the Trophy Handicap, with Lizzie Kelly earning deserved plaudits for a brilliant drive to hold off Daryl Jacob on the runner up.
  • Jacob didn’t go home empty handed however, as he gave Kildisart a fine ride to take the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, travelling quietly into the race and getting the better of the strong travelling Highway One O One. He’s now a best price of 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase.
  • Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan also took something from the day, as Benny’s bridge was a remarkable winner of the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle, in a victory that truly has to be seen to be believed.

 

  1. Away From Prestbury Park…
  • Dynamite Dollars made it three Graded wins with a with an all-the-way success in Doncaster's Lightning Novices' Chase, giving 8lbs and a workmanlike beating to Ballywood, who had previously won two handicap chases over Christmas.
  • Lady Buttons overcame a late scare as she beat Indefatigable by a neck in the olbg.com Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle, also at Doncaster.
  • Nadaitak sprang a 12-1 surprise with a convincing 22 length win in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle, atoning for a blip at the course last time. However, at this stage he is not certain to go to the Festival.
  • Real Steel, who danced every dance in last season’s novice hurdles, broke his duck over fences in really impressive style at Fairyhouse, winning by 10 lengths and atoning for his late fall on debut at Leopardstown.
  • Honeysuckle was a deeply impressive winner of the Solerina Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, setting herself up for a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival equivalent.
  • At Naas yesterday, Ballyward was left in front in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase after a fall from Discorama at the last, setting himself up for a potential charge at the NH Chase. A winner at the 2017 Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals but not seen since, Champagne Classic travelled like the best horse in the race after that monster lay-off, and looks to retain at least most of his old level of ability.
  • On the same card, Espoir D'Allen took the Limestone Lad Hurdle, where he gave 7lb and a two and a half-length beating to Wicklow Brave despite some sloppy jumping. He’s now as short as 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle.

 

  1. Go Green

Last week I wrote a small bit about Debbie Matthews, the Altior superfan who overcame severe anxiety to see her star win the Clarence House Chase. Here she gets a lot more space, as she deserves.

Matthews has been at it again, this time handing out green ribbons  – think the pink ribbons for cancer, but different – in the crowd at Cheltenham’s Trials Day to raise awareness of mental health and to share a message that shows the best of this great sport.

Here she is, in her own words, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Green is the colour of the mental health ribbon and if anyone is there on their own it's a sign that I'm one of those people who they can come and say hello to. Even others going in a group who wanted to wear one, saying people could join in with them, could."

As you can see, the results are inspiring. A special shoutout to friend of geegeez.co.uk (and many others), Rory Delargy, who wrote a brilliantly candid article on the subject in the Irish Field:

 

All credit due to Fergal O’Brien, who reached out as early as last April to Matthews when her blog had just started, and Nicky Henderson, who let her see Altior in the flesh after the Clarence House Chase. 

 

  1. Pegasus The Wonderhorse(s)

Big Money was on offer in America, where the third running of The Pegasus World Championships took place on a filthy evening and a sloppy track at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

The weather, and its effect on the track, definitely hindered some of the contenders, but so impressive was City Of Light in the Pegasus World Cup that it may well not have mattered. The five-year-old son of Quality Road, trained by Michael W.McCarthy and ridden by Javier Castellano, was always moving well and put away Accelerate in a matter of strides at the top of the stretch before he powered away to a five-length win. Seeking The Soul gave his connections a huge payday by pipping the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner for second, benefiting from a strong pace and doing best of those held up.

Accelerate ran with credit to be third, and Bravazo was a fine fourth ahead of Audible, though there was no joy for Frankie Dettori on Mexican Triple Crown winner, Kukulkan.

https://twitter.com/BreedersCup/status/1089295702293807104?s=20

 

Michael W.McCarthy, trainer of City Of Light, spoke afterwards to the Daily Racing Form: “To have a horse like this come into your life, honestly, I can’t describe the emotion that goes along with something like this,” he said, hesitating to recover his poise, while his 8-year-old daughter, Stella, touched him on the shoulder in support.

“Winning the Breeders’ Cup was incredibly special. To follow it up with something like this, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be okay with it.”

Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, told NBC: "I will always remember his honesty, he would always run a good race. We enjoyed him for a good three years and he is just a really good, solid racehorse. He ran well in tough conditions and we are going to walk out of here with our heads high." 

What’s Next: Both City of Light and Accelerate will be heading to Lane’s End Stud to take up stallion duties, initially standing at $35,000 and $20,000 respectively.

 

Earlier on the card, Chad Brown’s skill and patience was rewarded once again with Bricks and Mortar romping in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magic Wand finishing well to claim a very good second from the Frankie Dettori-ridden Delta Prince in third. Catapult, who made a big move down the backstretch, hung on for fourth.

 

It was a fine display of training from Brown, who had brought the winner back from over a year off; and Aidan O’Brien will be very happy with Magic Wand’s second given the rain that hit the track. We can expect plenty of good things from her if she builds on that and maintains her form.

Side Note: O’Brien’s night was a satisfactory one that could have been better had the rain stayed away, with Hunting Horn finishing fast for third but not having the tactical speed of the former Dermot Weld-trained Zulu Alpha who won the Grade 3 W L McKnight Stakes. Still, he’ll be sending plenty more horses across the Atlantic in 2019.

A disappointing night was had by William Mott, whose Pegasus World Cup favourite, Yoshida, failed to get into the race from a rear position early, whilst Channel Maker could only finish fifth. Japanese runner Aerolithe bombed.

Chad Brown, trainer of Bricks and Mortar, related to NBC: "I'm so proud of this horse. We managed to get him back after a couple of issues which required a lot of time and patience". Expect to see his campaign geared towards the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita in early November, though whether he's aimed at the Mile or the Turf is still in question, this victory being achieved at a range of nine and a half furlongs.

- William Kedjanyi