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Stayers’ Hurdle 2017 Preview: Trends, Pace, Form, Tips

One of Thursday's Cheltenham Festival highlights, the Stayers' Hurdle, has a lop-sided look to it, at first glance at least. Reverting to its traditional nomenclature after a spell in the World Hurdle wilderness, the Stayers' is the rightful championship test of the three mile hurdling division. Multiple winners abound with the likes of Baracouda, Inglis Drever, and the peerless Big Buck's accruing nine trophies between them since 2002.

Last year was Thistlecrack's but his graduation to the chasing ranks, and unfortunate subsequent injury, means it will be left to 2015 champ, Cole Harden, to bid to uphold the trend for repeat victories.

Stayers' Hurdle 2017 Trends

Aside from the repeat factor, what other reliable trends are there to assist in whittling what could be a fair field numerically?

Age

Although five-year-olds are 0 from 18 since 1997 (20 years, 19 renewals - abandoned in 2001), they have taken out six podium finishes in that time. Should either of Footpad or Apple's Jade land here, it won't be age that gets them beaten.

At the opposite end of the maturity scale, horses aged in double digits are 0 from 28, with just four places to their collective names. That's not the best news if you like Clondaw Warrior or Zarkandar.

And nine-year-olds bear closer scrutiny, too. Although, on the face of it, three winners from 32 runners is respectable, it may be noteworthy that the trio included Inglis Drever and Big Buck's, winning for the third and fourth time respectively. The sole, or should I say sol, other nine-year-old winner was Solwhit in 2013.

Seven- and eight-year-olds win largely in line with numerical representation, but six-year-olds have done well. Of the 55 to rock up here since 1997, six have won and twenty placed. That's 32% of the winners and 35% of the placed horses, from just 22% of the runners. That ought to cheer fans of Lil Rockerfeller, Whiteout and Agrapart should any of them confirm their attendance.

 

Last Time Out

You simply have to have run well last time out, according to the evidence of the past two decades. Of the 67 horses (28%) to have finished outside the top four on their prior start, none won and just two (3.5%) placed.

Winners the last day accounted for 58% of the champions and the exact same percentage of Stayers' Hurdle placed finishes, from just 31.5% of the runners. And those who finished second last time out slightly outperformed the representation (26% winners, 28% places, from 23% runners), yielding a small profit at SP (+7.25).

The key thing here is that those to have run poorly last time have very little chance of turning it around on the big day. Although this is neither's first choice engagement, Nichols Canyon and More Of That both failed to complete last time.

 

Layoff

90% of Stayers' Hurdle runners last raced between 16 and 90 days ago. That includes all 19 winners since 1997, and 56 of the 57 placed horses. Only Wicklow Brave falls outside the range this term.

It may be worth noting that those to have been rested less than a month have won just four from 93 starts, 14 places. That's 21% wins, 23% places, from 34% of the runners. Compare that with those rested between one and three months: 15 wins (79%), 43 places (75%), from just 56% of the runners.

An optimally rested - one to three months - runner looks a positive.

 

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Summary

From a historical perspective, then, one might look for a horse aged six to nine, which ran first or second last time and has been rested between one and three months. That brings in most of the top of the market and, thus, is of little utility. And it's an hour of my life I won't get back!

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2017 Form Preview

Poor Helen Nelmes. She's not had a winner since 24th June 2014, and now this. The Dorset handler, who was responsible for taking Unowhatimeanharry up to a mark of 127 through his first 13 starts has had to watch, with a curious mixture of pride and embarrassment no doubt, as Harry Fry has won eight races on the trot with her former inmate. It's enough to make you give the game up.

Fry acquired 'harry as a seven-year-old so it's difficult even to suggest the horse was too immature to step forward under his previous trainer's tutelage. In any case, let's not be overly harsh and, instead, judge the 5/4 favourite on his merits for the race.

Eight straight wins is a good start. During that time, he's risen through the ranks of racing club handicapper to JP McManus-owned Grade 1 beast. (It is to be hoped that Mrs Nelmes agreed a sell-on clause). That progressive sequence includes four wins at Cheltenham, one of them in the Festival, in last year's Albert Bartlett.

But here's a thing: the five Albert Bartlett winners to contest the Stayers' Hurdle have all been beaten. Of course, it is unfair to visit the iniquity of the potato race fathers onto its sons, to butcher the Good Book, and we should judge 'harry on the totality of his recent form. That suggests he's moved forward considerably since his spuds triumph, wrapping an arm around the Long Distance, Long Walk and Cleeve Hurdles since.

It is very hard to see any horse that Unowhatimeanharry has beaten this season reversing form. Ballyoptic got to within six lengths on soft ground, but has fallen and been beaten ten lengths by him since. Moreover, he looks a clumsy jumper and may prefer soft ground. Certainly not for me, thank you.

Cole Harden ran well in defeat in the Cleeve, where he'd have hated the ground, and he may have had his nth wind op since (more unsporting conjecture in a preview littered with such uncharacteristic bitch swipes). But he was no closer than 31 lengths to the Thistlecracker in last year's renewal, and an abandoned chasing campaign leaves this fellow in no man's land. He may be capable of making the frame if the ground dries out and if he can control the early fractions, but he's not especially appealing at 9/1, nor even in the 'without' market at 5/1.

The likes of Un Temps Pour Tout, Zarkandar and, to a lesser extent, Lil Rockerfeller (if he can overcome a recent setback), have been put firmly in their places, so it may be that the opposition route into the race is via Ireland.

The first thing to say is that the Irish have a moderate record in the Stayers' Hurdle. Solwhit in 2013 was the first Irish winner since the much-loved Dorans Pride in 1995, though they average only around three runners per season. With that in mind, then, we need to be looking for a genuinely smart horse from across the Irish Sea if we're to entertain the notion of the raiding party adding to their sparse pickings in recent times.

Shaneshill is a consistent type, but he's been consistently beaten - just three wins in a twelve race hurdling career - and may never break through the 160 barrier ratings-wise. Vroum Vroum Mag's cloak of invincibility has been somewhat trodden upon this season, first by a short head defeat to Apple's Jade - that one subsequently outpointed by Limini - and most recently with a labour-intensive narrow verdict over a 140 horse.

It might be fair to say that she's not been herself, but if that's the case it becomes a leap of faith that she has returned to herself in time for this. Even if she has, she's pegged around 155, though the mares' seven pound allowance would move her to the low 160's. That would certainly make her competitive but she's no better than 7/1 with those wellbeing reservations still to quash.

I don't expect either of Yanworth or Nichols Canyon to run in this, but if the former did show, he'd be very interesting. In the same ownership as Unowhatimeanharry, however, probably requires that one to bypass the race in order for Yanworth to secure his ticket.

A third horse in the same ownership, and a likely runner, is Jezki. Jessica Harrington's nine-year-old has had injury problems in recent seasons, but he's a class animal on his day. Indeed, he has eight Grade 1 victories to his name. That's no hollow palmarès either: he was the Champion Hurdler in 2014, and went on to beat a near-peak Hurricane Fly again at Punchestown next time; he won the 2m4f Aintree Hurdle in 2015, by 13 lengths from Rock On Ruby; and he won the 2015 Punchestown World Series Hurdle over three miles.

Not seen for almost two years after that, Jezki reappeared in January to comfortably account for 149-rated Renneti, albeit in receipt of six pounds. On his only subsequent outing, he was second to Tombstone in the Red Mills Hurdle, over two miles on heavy ground. Those conditions are very different to three miles on top of the ground at Cheltenham, and there's no doubt Mrs Harrington will have left a bit to work on in the intervening four weeks.

The reality is that it is a bit of a leap of faith with Jezki. Is he as good as he was? He was a legitimate card-carrying member of the 169 club over two miles. With a record on good to soft or quicker of 18111141 and at two and a half miles and beyond of 111, he's surely the wrong price at 10/1 in a place.

Now, true, he could have regressed since his injury, and true, his form in two runs this year is no better than 150ish. But there are reasons to believe he can, and will, step forward from those prep races. The Irish handicapper reacted to Jezki's defeat at the hooves of Tombstone by dropping him seven pounds to 160. That would still give him solid claims.

Two more Irish contenders are Clondaw Warrior and Snow Falcon. Of the pair, I marginally prefer the latter, but he's found it hard enough to win over hurdles. Meanwhile, back 'home', Camping Ground produced an extraordinary performance in running away with the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in a fast time. Gary Moore's inheritance from the (presumed) unfortunate Robert Walford looks absolutely tailor-made for the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f and was getting to the end of his rope at Fonters.

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2017 Pace Map

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2017 Tips

You don't need to be Einstein, or even Pittsburgh Phil, to know that Unowhatimeanharry is a cast-iron favourite. But there remains a niggling doubt that he's lorded it over a shallow domestic division this season. If that is correct, there may be merit in taking a chance on an unrelated formline: that of JEZKI.

Jessica Harrington's nine-year-old has more class than any runner in the field, and on 2015 form would, I think, be favourite. The fact that he's as big as 10/1 tells plenty about the size of the leap we're making but, on a sound surface, I can see him running a blinder. He's proven on the track, has the mix of speed and stamina required for this challenge and, I suspect, will be roughly half his current odds on the day.

But I do fear 'harry. So, rather than back Jezki each way, let's also take him in the 'without the favourite' market. He's a top priced 4/1 there, because the 10/1 'all in' book (Hills) doesn't have a 'without' book; so you could take the risk and wait for more firms to price up 'without'. I'll take what's there now, and see how we go next Thursday.

1pt win Jezki 10/1 Hills (NR Insurance concession)

1pt win Jezki without Unowhatimeanharry 4/1 Betfair Sports NRNB

Old King Cole To Capture Cleeve

In a weekend of top-class action, I eventually opted to preview the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle from Cheltenham.

It’s a race I love, and one that has produced many memorable performances over the years. The roll of honour is a corker, with many of the best staying hurdlers having captured the prestigious prize. The event was originally run at 2m5f, though still played to those with an abundance of stamina. Despite this, a Champion Hurdle winner took the race in 1994.

Flakey Dove was a talented mare, and had an exceptional period of form during the spring of that year. She’d had a busy winter, running several times on the flat, along with numerous outings over hurdles. Her performance level rocketed when she ran-out a stunning winner of the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial. She then headed for Cheltenham to contest the Cleeve, and was again far too good for the opposition, winning easily by six lengths. Though beaten in the Tote Gold Trophy, she bounced back to form in the Grade 2 Berkshire Hurdle at the beginning of March, destroying the field by 20 lengths.

A couple of weeks later she arrived at Prestbury Park to contest the Champion Hurdle. The field included previous winners Granville Again and Morley Street, and though the mare was sent off a 9/1 shot, she proved too good, beating favourite Oh So Risky into second place. Her victory came a decade after the wonderful Irish mare Dawn Run’s success.

One of my favourite racehorses of all-time, Inglis Drever, captured the Cleeve in 2008. He’d already proved himself the dominant force in staying hurdles over numerous years, and was to return to Cheltenham in March and win his third World Hurdle. Owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, the diminutive warrior became something of a cult hero.

One heroic staying hurdler was quickly replaced by another when Big Buck’s burst onto the scene. And it was his victory in the Cleeve Hurdle of 2009, that hinted at the potential of this hugely talented beast. He defeated race favourite Punchestowns on that occasion, and was to return weeks later to capture the first of four World Hurdles. He took the Cleeve for a second time in 2012. He clocked up a staggering 18 wins on the bounce, during a period of complete domination. He was a class apart.

And last year’s winner wasn’t half bad. Thistlecrack romped to a 12-length success, and was no less impressive when taking the World Hurdle in March. The latest National Hunt sensation is likely to have won the Cotswold Chase a few hours before the contenders line up for the Cleeve on Saturday.

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And what of those contenders, hoping to carve their name alongside the likes of Inglis Drever, Big Buck’s and Thistlecrack?

The favourite is sure to be the Harry Fry trained Unowhatimeanharry. Currently on a seven-run winning streak, including two at Grade 2 level, and a pair of Grade 1s, he has looked imperious this winter. He’s unbeaten in three starts at Cheltenham, including the Albert Bartlett at last year’s Festival. He’s not a flashy sort, but he’s a powerful stayer that relishes a battle. Three nine-year-olds have won in the last decade, and he’ll be looking to put his name alongside, Inglis Drever, Tidal Bay and Big Buck’s. He’ll be hard to beat.

Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles one of the main challengers in Ballyoptic. He was running a mighty race in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle, when falling at the last. Unowhatimeanharry went on to win, but the result was in doubt until that blunder. He’d marked himself down as one of the best novice hurdlers, when winning the Sefton at Aintree in April, defeating Bellshill. Still only a seven-year-old, there’s likely to be further improvement to come, and he’s a real danger to the favourite.

Paul Nicholls has won the race three times in the past decade, and on two occasions with a six-year-old. Old Guard fits the profile and has three course victories to his name. Better ground looks sure to suit, and he’s a player if coping with the step-up in trip. His last run was a belter off top weight in the Lanzarote, but he’ll need to improve again to be competitive in this. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he put up a bold show.

Sentiment plays a huge part in National Hunt racing. Horses longevity in the sport, gives the fans time to take them to their hearts. This is certainly the case with George Charlton’s Knockara Beau. His incredible victory in this race a couple of years ago, at odds of 66/1, was the stuff of legend. It was his one and only victory at a course he has visited for the past eight years. I was lucky enough to be there on the day, and the crowd’s reaction brought a tear to the eye. He won’t win tomorrow, but it will be wonderful to see him up close in the parade ring. He’s a gorgeous looking racehorse.

Warren Greatrex is likely to be double-handed, though one runner needs rain, whilst the other needs the dry spell to continue. Shantou Bob is the mud-lover, and should rain hit the Cotswolds before the off, he would have a serious chance. Classy at his best, he’ll get weight from the leading contenders, and has to be respected.

But it’s Cole Harden that interests me. The World Hurdle winner of 2015 needs decent ground to have any chance. He gets more than half a stone from Unowhatimeanharry, and at odds of 14/1 is surely worth a shot. His last outing on unsuitable ground at Cheltenham looked a fair performance. He’s a completely different animal on a sounder surface, and though he hasn’t looked the horse of old, he’s still only an eight-year-old.

I fancy the favourite will take all the beating, but I’m hopeful that an old Champion can rise again with conditions set to be in his favour. It’s Cole Harden each-way for me. Best of luck to all those having a punt, and enjoy the weekend’s exhilarating action.

Cheltenham Festival Pointers – Fry Flying High

It’s been a successful couple of weeks for Harry Fry, and as the spring festivals come into focus, he has his fair share of exciting contenders.

Cheltenham 2016 delivered the biggest win of his training career to date, when Unowhatimeanharry landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in gutsy fashion. His dramatic rise through the handicap culminated in that Grade 1 success, and the improvement has continued throughout this winter, resulting in the nine-year-old heading the market for the Stayers’ Hurdle back at Cheltenham in March.

Fry’s warrior-like stayer has added the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle and the Grade 1 Long Walk to his CV, and on Saturday heads to Prestbury Park hoping to take the Cleeve Hurdle. He’s likely to encounter a strong challenge from the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Ballyoptic. The son of Old Vic tipped up when the pair last met at Ascot. He wasn’t out of it when coming down at the last, and this looks an intriguing clash. Fry’s fella will be looking to make it eight wins on the bounce, and cement his place as a short-priced favourite for the Festival in March.

With one stable star flying high, another put in a storming performance at Haydock on Saturday. The highly-touted Neon Wolf romped to victory in the Supreme Trial, thrashing a decent looking field in the process. He’s a tank of a horse, and is expected to make an exciting chaser in time. He’s stoutly bred, being by Irish St Leger winner Vinnie Roe, out of a Supreme Leader mare.

Fry is keen to look after him with that chasing career in mind. Speaking on At The Races on Monday, the trainer reiterated that the horse would need juice in the ground if he were to take up an entry at Cheltenham in March. He also hinted that the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle was the most likely target. Should the ground be unsuitably quick at Prestbury Park, a trip to Punchestown becomes an option. The owners (Masterson Holdings Limited) were successful there with Fletchers Flyer in April, and would no doubt enjoy a return trip to Ireland.

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Team Fry already have a useful young chaser on their hands, as he proved when winning the feature novice chase at Warwick recently. American is known to be a fragile individual, but he’s been impressive in winning twice over fences this winter. He’s a forward-going sort, with plenty of scope. He has the physical presence to stand off a fence, but was also clever at Warwick when getting in close. Under a bold ride from Noel Fehily, he had the field stretched down the back-straight, and though getting a little tired near home, he ran out a comfortable winner. Champers On Ice was soundly beaten in second.

The horse clearly likes to get on with things, and as such the National Hunt Chase over four miles would probably stretch him. The RSA, or even a step back in trip for the JLT would therefore appear the likely Cheltenham targets. Black Hercules took the Warwick race 12 months ago, and went on to win the JLT at the Festival. After his latest win, both jockey and trainer spoke of the RSA as the ideal target, but again warned of the fragility of the horse. He’s another that would need soft ground, if he were to be risked at Prestbury Park.

Another with spring festival potential is the young novice hurdler Over To Sam. A winner of a Point-to-Point, his hurdling debut last week at Exeter couldn’t have been more impressive. He powered clear of Coole Cody, winning the 2m5f event by six lengths. The runner-up had previously finished second to Neon Wolf. The victory came on soft ground, but he’s out of an Overbury mare, giving hope that he’ll cope with a sounder surface. Cheltenham may come too soon for this fella, but he’s a lovely looking gelding with huge potential, and should be followed.

I spoke earlier of the success for Fletchers Flyer at Punchestown in April. The timing of that success allows him to continue as a novice over fences. He is entered in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, and is then expected to head to Fairyhouse for the Irish National. His win at Punchestown came on decent ground, and though he appears adaptable to conditions, a marathon stamina test now looks essential for the eight-year-old. Not seen since December, a prep-run in early February is likely. He’s a classy sort, and the trainer will be hoping for a big run should he make Cheltenham.

Bags Groove has certainly been busier, with three promising runs during the winter. The novice hurdler looks another decent sort, and was an impressive winner at Taunton a couple of weeks back. That victory came at 2m3f, but he’s bred to get further. He had to be niggled along turning for home, but stayed on powerfully for a comfortable win. He’s entered in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, but that may be plenty sharp enough for him. He’s by Oscar, out of a Roselier mare, and if he were to sneak into the Coral Cup at Cheltenham, he could prove an interesting contender. Activial came third in the race for the yard back in 2015.

Noel Fehily’s expertize in the saddle is crucial to the prospects of the Dorset stable. Having someone of his ability onside is a huge bonus. Fry continues to build on the success of previous campaigns, and a vital part of this, is producing winners at major meetings such as the Cheltenham Festival. He’s currently closing in on last year’s total of 54 winners, though it will be close. He has several hopefuls heading to Prestbury Park in March. Their performances will undoubtedly be seen by many, as a measure of the yard’s progress. The competition remains incredibly fierce, but Fry and his team are heading in the right direction.

Ascot Joy for Henderson and Fry

Unowhatimeanharry continued his incredible run of success on Saturday, with victory in the JLT Long Walk Hurdle.

A magnificent seven-in-a-row for Harry Fry’s no-nonsense staying hurdler, leave him a short-priced favourite for the World Hurdle in March. Approaching the last at Ascot, he looked set for a mighty tussle with the Twiston-Davies trained Ballyoptic. But for the second time in three runs that particular foe failed to keep his landing gear in place, parachuting Richard Johnson into the dirt. It was left to Lil Rockerfeller to chase the favourite home, finishing four lengths adrift at the line.

Geraghty said of the JP McManus owned winner: “He did it well. He had to work harder here than he did the last day. He's very good, but he only does as much as he has to. He probably has a little more class than he lets on.”
A relieved trainer Harry Fry, said of the victory: "We're relying on the jockey's report (because of the fog), but Barry said it was a proper Grade One test and he's had to work hard. We'll have a chat to Barry and the team and see where we go, but the races are sort of there - the Cleeve Hurdle (at Cheltenham) and hopefully the big day (World Hurdle) in March. He's come through it and the dream goes on.”

Trainer Neil King said of runner-up, Lil Rockerfeller: “It was a career-best for the horse and he's run a fabulous race there. We were just a little bit too far back and he was making his ground up to Mr McManus' horse all the way to the line. I am very proud of him. Since his juvenile days, we have said that three miles would be the making of him and it's rewarding. He would have a serious chance in the World Hurdle. I really do think so. I really, really do.”

Just an hour later, Nicky Henderson added to his impressive record in the valuable ‘Ladbroke hurdle’, now the Wessex Youth Trust Handicap Hurdle. Brain Power was flagged-up in our Friday piece, and he certainly didn’t disappoint. As at Sandown last time, he travelled like a dream throughout, but on that occasion, he idled somewhat when hitting the front. This time around the result was never in doubt, and when David Mullins asked him for maximum effort he simply destroyed the field, powering all the way to the line for a five-length success.

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Henderson said: “It's been a great race and is one of those big pre-Christmas handicaps that are very tough to win. You need a progressive horse, I think, and that is exactly what they (Brain Power and Consul De Thaix) both are. Brain Power was very good at Sandown and has won two good prizes. They were first and second there and they've been first and second again.”

The runner-up stayed on well to snatch second spot, but lacks the speed of the winner. As Brain Power cruised into contention, Consul De Thaix was under a ‘full-on’ drive to keep tabs. Only four, he remains hugely progressive, and is likely to be stepped-up in trip when next seen on a racecourse.

Winning owner Michael Buckley added: “He did win very well. He's had his little moments of being a schoolboy about life and he's obviously growing up.”

The Betfair Hurdle at Newbury could be the next target, though the handicapper is sure to make life much tougher. Henderson added: “With that weight, that is a very good performance - it is a serious performance. We were going to go chasing with him this season but his mind isn't ready for all this yet. But he has grown up a lot from Sandown. He is getting the idea of it. We are learning a lot about him and he is going the right way. He just wants minding a bit more.”

Chasing looks sure to be his game. He’s a gorgeous looking gelding, with a huge amount of scope. His leap at the second-last on Saturday was spectacular. Out of an Old Vic mare, you’d hope that he would stay further in time. Still only a five-year-old, he’s certainly an exciting prospect.

Harry’s Pertemps Hopeful Is No Softy

Unowhatimeanharry continued his sparkling run for trainer Harry Fry when winning the Pertemps Series Qualifier at Exeter on Sunday.

Twice a winner at Cheltenham over the winter, he looks set to be a major player at the Festival if contesting the Pertemps Final as anticipated. His last three victories have all come in testing conditions, and that may be one reservation when assessing his form, with ground likely to be livelier in March. His trainer has expressed confidence that better ground would be fine for the horse. His sire Sir Harry Lewis has tended to produce strong staying types though several proved to be mud-lovers.

The popular stallion was an American-bred racehorse and won the Irish Derby back in 1987 when trained by Barry Hills. Prior to the victory in Ireland he had won the Dee Stakes and finished a creditable fourth in the Epsom Derby.
As a four-year-old a change of ownership brought about a permanent move to America, though he failed to make much of an impact. He started his stallion career in Kentucky before moving to New York. He later returned to Europe and stood at Wood Farm Stud in Shropshire, until his death in 2009 at the age of 25.

He created a huge impression as a sire of National Hunt racehorses. One of his most successful offspring was the Hennessy Gold Cup winner Diamond Harry. A huge beast, he was trained by Nick Williams and arrived at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009 undefeated under rules. He’d won the Challow Hurdle at Newbury and was fancied to go close in the Ballymore Novices’ (now the Neptune). Unfortunately he bumped into Mikael D’Haguenet, and found himself tapped for toe in the latter stages.

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He probably didn’t achieve as much over fences as many thought likely. Nevertheless, he did gain a famous victory in the Hennessy of 2010, when getting the better of Burton Port in a thrilling finish. He carried the minimum 10 stone thanks to the inclusion of the mighty Denman, who hauled 11st 12lbs to a third place finish.

Harry Topper is another of the mud-loving offspring. Out injured at present, he’s had a number of terrific days on the track. He took the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby in November 2013 and then won the Denman Chase in February 2014 when scything through the Newbury mud to win by 25 lengths. He’s a relentless galloper in deep ground but lacks the gears necessary to compete against the very best on a sounder surface.

One fella that did appreciate better ground was the gutsy staying hurdler Mighty Man. He lacked the stature of a typical Sir Harry Lewis offspring, and therefore spent most of his career over timber. He twice came close to winning the World Hurdle, and though unfortunate to be around at the time of Inglis Drever and Big Buck’s, he still managed to win a Relkeel Hurdle, two Liverpool Hurdles and the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot.

Carole’s Legacy was another successful stayer that coped admirably in all ground conditions. The mare finished first or second in all but two of her career starts, proving just as adept over fences as hurdles. Runner-up to Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle at The Festival of 2010, she returned 12 months later and again finished runner-up, this time in the Grade 3 Stewart Family Spinal Research Handicap Chase. She’s now a broodmare at Wychnor Park Stud in Staffordshire.

Harry Fry continues to build a strong team at Manor Farm in Dorset. He’s now hit 40 wins for the season, outdoing last year’s total of 37. With almost half a million in prize money he continues to churn out the winners at an impressive 25% strike rate. Back in April the yard’s classy mare Bitofapuzzle gave the team a thrilling Grade 1 victory. In just four weeks, Fry will be hoping that he can add a much sought after Cheltenham Festival success. Sir Harry Lewis may yet prove the key to that particular puzzle.

Bailey’s Ace Looks Each-Way Shout

The main event at Kempton on Saturday is the William Hill Lanzarote Hurdle.

The listed handicap is run over 2m 5f and was won last year in sensational fashion by Nick Williams’ talented gelding Tea For Two. In what appeared to be a competitive renewal, the then six-year-old romped to a 10 length victory. A year earlier the race went to Paul Nicholls with one of his most talented inmates Saphir Du Rheu.

Nicholls has taken two of the last seven renewals, though Nick Williams is very much the most successful trainer in recent times with three wins from the last five. However, he won’t be adding to that tally on Saturday as he has no entries in this year's event. Nicholls on the other hand is likely to be represented by the well-fancied Ibis Du Rheu. The five-year-old ran a promising second at the Hennessy meeting in November, just failing to overhaul Royal Guardsman over a slightly shorter trip. Chances are that the step up in distance will suit, though he has to improve plenty to take this far more competitive affair.

Harry Fry and Philip Hobbs shared honours in the last major handicap when Jolly’s Cracked It and Sternrubin hit the line together in The Ladbroke at Ascot. Sadly Fry’s imposing gelding will miss the remainder of the season due to a tendon injury.

Nevertheless, the Dorset trainer will be hopeful that he can add another prestigious handicap with Unowhatimeanharry currently favourite for Saturday’s showpiece. He won an Albert Bartlett trial at Cheltenham in December, though that was over three miles. He had been successful prior to that at two and half, and heavy ground holds no fears. The horse is undefeated since joining Fry in the summer.

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Yala Enki is another that should enjoy ground conditions. Venetia Williams is often the ‘go to’ trainer when the mud is flying, and this French import has already impressed this winter when cruising to victory at Exeter in November. He was then a little too keen at Haydock in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle, though he battled on for fifth having looked likely to fade out of sight turning for home. He has a lovely race weight, and looks a serious player.

This race often goes to unexposed types rather than seasoned handicappers, and Nicky Henderson’s Bivouac certainly fits that description. The five-year-old has only run seven times over hurdles and has a far superior record running right-handed. He won at the track last December and was successful at Huntingdon last time out when having the fast improving Lil Rockerfeller in behind. The ground should be ideal, and it’s no surprise to see him towards the head of the betting.

Dr Richard Newland is always to be respected in these competitive handicaps and he has an interesting contender in the lightly raced Westren Warrior. He’s another who will enjoy the testing conditions; having won an ordinary novice hurdle by miles last time at Lingfield in heavy ground. He’d chased home recent Cheltenham winner Singlefarmpayment prior to that, and clearly that form now looks pretty strong.

Gary Moore can do no wrong this winter, and he has recent course and distance winner Baron Alco entered here. He looks to be improving at a rate of knots and has a tasty pedigree being a son of Dom Alco out of a Network mare. He’ll need to step up again, but looks to have the potential to do exactly that.

Finally a mention for Kim Bailey’s eight-year-old Un Ace. He’s a hugely talented horse who is back over hurdles having had a productive time over fences. Though French bred, he is probably slightly better suited by a sounder surface. However, he has a fair looking race weight and the trip is perfect. He’s run right-handed only twice before and won both times. He looks a decent each-way proposition.

It’s another hugely competitive handicap to get excited about and finding the winner as ever will prove one hell of a task.