Stayers Hurdle Preview
This years Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle looks an absolute cracker! Paisley Park and Thyme will renew their rivalry having met twice this season, resulting in a win a piece. Last year’s Pertemps form comes to the fore as two-time Champion Sire De Berlais looks to make it three festival wins in a row whilst The Storyteller comes into this in the form of his life! Defending Champion Lisnagar Oscar bounced back to form last time out and looks sure to relish the nature of the race once again. The rapidly improving Flooring Porter sets out to prove his Grade 1 win at Christmas was no fluke and Kim Bailey could have the most interesting runner with his high-class chaser, Vinndication, set to potentially make the switch back to hurdles.
Trainer: Emma Lavelle
Current Odds: 10/3
2019 Stayers Hurdle Champion, Paisley Park, came into last years renewal a 4/6 favourite, on the back of 7 straight wins. Considered by many as the English banker of the meeting, Paisley bombed out, but post-race was found to have a problem with his heart. He also lost two shoes in running so it is safe to say things didn’t go to plan! As we know, Covid soon hit, and racing was put on hold, but connections had mentioned Punchestown as a possible target which was a great sign with regards to the severity of his heart problem. Paisley Park reappeared in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle where he ignited a rivalry with Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill. Thyme Hill got the better of Paisley that day, but Paisley had to concede three pounds and physically looked sure to improve for the run. This was also his first start since the heart problem, so it was hugely encouraging to see him run so well and hopefully gain some confidence. He did just that when taking down Thyme Hill on his next start in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. Paisley found himself hitting a typical flat spot on the turn for home and was bustled back through the field. Those famous after burners kicked in though and he flew up the Ascot straight to chin Thyme Hill and let the young gun know who is still the top dog. He’ll come into this year’s Stayers a fresh horse, as The Cleeve Hurdle was cancelled, which may prove a plus as this years Stayers looks his hottest race to date. The return to Cheltenham will suit and you can be sure he’ll come charging up the hill. On official ratings and all known form, he’s the one to beat.
Trainer: Philip Hobbs
Current Odds: 7/2
Philip Hobbs’ Thyme Hill is the new kid on the block and really entered The Stayers Hurdle picture when beating both Paisley Park and Mcfabulous in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. Paisley Park duly got his revenge a month later in the Long Walk but on both starts this season Thyme Hill has travelled like a very good horse. Richard Johnson seemed particularly angry last time out which suggested to me he believed he had plenty left in the tank, and on watching the race back, I’d be inclined to think Thyme Hill idled a far bit. This isn’t the first time, Richard Johnson has seemed frustrated after a ride on Thyme Hill, having finished fourth in last season’s Albert Bartlett. Both Monkfish and Latest Exhibition have franked that form line numerous times since, but Richard Johnson endured what many punters felt was a luckless passage up the straight. I don’t agree. For me, if Thyme Hill had enough left he’d have gone through the gap and subsequently, I believe he may be quite a tricky ride. On official ratings he comes out just 3lbs short of Paisley Park and given his age he is entitled to improve. My main worry is whether he can out battle potentially both Paisley Park and Sire Du Berlais who have proven form flying up that Cheltenham hill. Thyme Hill may well need to be produced late and pounce in a matter of strides.
SIRE DU BERLAIS
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Current Odds: 8/1
Two-time Pertemps winner, Sire Du Berlais, seems to come alive at Cheltenham having ran at the last three festivals, recording form figures of 411. His first trip to Cheltenham saw him finish fourth in the Martin Pipe but since then he has excelled over three miles, winning the Pertemps twice and in doing so, off top weight last year. As a result, he carried the same weight as those running in the Stayers Hurdle an hour later on the card. He was three seconds quicker than Lisnagar Oscar over the same distance which duly prompted plenty of talk about him stepping up to graded class. Previously campaigned for The Pertemps, it was hardly surprising to see Sire Du Berlais record no wins prior to either of his Cheltenham wins, but I don’t think anyone expected him to win the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle over two and a half miles on his reappearance. Conceding weight to some useful rivals, Sire Du Berlais powered home to secure a narrow success and cement himself as a Stayers Hurdle candidate. He slightly disappointed over Christmas, finishing third to Flooring Porter, but I’d be inclined to put a line through that effort as the race wasn’t run to suit. This fella has proven festival form in the book, and you can be sure he’ll put his best foot forward at Cheltenham. I think he’ll love the nature of a Stayers Hurdle, which could bring about the improvement required to tackle the likes of Paisley Park and Thyme Hill.
Trainer: Gavin Cromwell
Current Odds: 11/1
Flooring Porter has been quite the horse for connections this season, seeing his mark rise 29lbs in just three runs since October. Having had a couple of good runs in the summer behind the likes of Great White Shark, Flooring Porter placed behind Streets Of Doyen in October and subsequently went off a 22/1 shot on his next start. He absolutely bolted up, beating the now 151 rated The Bosses Oscar by 12 lengths off just a pound less than him. Where this improvement came from, I am not so sure, but it was an awesome performance which he proved was no fluke when winning the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on his last start. Sent off a fairly well supported 11/1 shot, Flooring Porter made all and kept on strongly for a game success over both The Storyteller and Sire Du Berlais. I thought he was given a fantastic ride that day and as result he may not find himself with such an easy lead this time around. No Cheltenham form would also represent a concern and I would expect the nature of the race to suit others more than him. Nevertheless, he is entitled to take to his place and could run a bold race from the front.
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Current Odds: 12/1
Since finishing second to Sire Du Berlais in last year’s Pertemps, The Storyteller has recorded form figures of PU1121122 over both hurdles and fences. His form speaks for itself but he really is a horse on top form at the moment, and I believe a number of things will suit him here. He travelled into the race like an absolute dream in last season’s Pertemps and the end-to-end galloping nature of a Stayers Hurdle looks sure to suit. Early signs are the ground will be on the quick side too which will really be to his liking and the fact he’s been displaying such a high level of form on soft ground is a huge positive. Officially rated 7lbs higher over fences, I believe he is still unexposed over hurdles having been given a quiet ride when second to Flooring Porter at Christmas. He came from miles back that day and stayed on strongly, without really having any chance to reel back in the winner. With the quicker pace and bigger field set to suit, I would fancy him to reverse the form with Flooring Porter and he surely represents a big each way player.
Trainer: Kim Bailey
Current Odds: 12/1
Kim Bailey’s Vinndication would be an extremely interesting runner should he revert from fences and rock up here. Unbeaten over hurdles, Vinndication has impressed over fences boasting an official rating of 160. A two-length defeat to Cyrname on seasonal reappearance may not appear the strongest form line given Cyrname’s recent exploit’s, but we do have to remember Cyrname is capable of freakish performances, hence his peak 177 rating. Carrying top weight and running off 161 in the Ladbroke Trophy, Vinndication was going okay when falling at the seventeenth. Now post-race jockey comments are to be taken with a pinch of salt, but David Bass believed he was going extremely well and would’ve gone close. He is not the first, and he won’t be the last jockey to make such claims, but if you do believe him, it would have been a monumental weight baring performance, Denman esque! The Gold Cup is his other potential target but he hasn’t managed to get a prep run over fences, so Bailey has hinted this may be the target. Unexposed over hurdles, we know he handles the track after a fine performance off top weight in The Ultima last season. Should he translate his chase form back to smaller obstacles, he is bang there on ratings and could look a big price at 12/1.
Trainer: Rebecca Curtis
Current Odds: 14/1
Last year’s Stayers Hurdle Champion, Lisnagar Oscar, caused a huge shock when powering up the Cheltenham hill last March to win at 50/1! Reappearing with two below par efforts at Wetherby and Newbury, Lisnagar Oscar was travelling through his races like a very good horse but on both occasions failed to finish with any sort of umph. Unsurprisingly, he underwent wind surgery in early December and the operation seemed to work its magic when he reappeared with a much-improved effort last time out at Haydock. Connections adopted more prominent tactics and Lisnigar Oscar, alongside Donna’s Diamond, bolted off from the start. To Lisnagar Oscar’s credit he maintained the gallop and went down just under a length, to the much improved Third Wind. This was a positive step back in the right direction and the return to Cheltenham and hold up tactics could see further improvement. As mentioned earlier, his time didn’t read so well compared to The Pertemps last year, and there’s no doubt he has a stronger field to beat this time around. That being said, he is the defending champ and could look over-priced at 16/1.
Dan Skelton’s Roksana would almost certainly be a contender if she were to rock up here but connections have earmarked the Mares Hurdle as the target, unless we get abnormally quick ground on the opening day. Bachasson is a horse I really like and appears to be in the form of his life having won all four starts this season. Like Roksana, I’m not sure whether he’ll line up here with handicaps an option and also big targets staying in Ireland. 2019 Aintree Ryanair Stayers Hurdle winner, If The Cap Fits, looks an interesting runner reverting from a novice chase campaign. Things haven’t gone to plan over fences but the engine is clear there and he may attract some support at 20/1 or bigger. Diol Ker is another horse who clearly has a huge engine but his jumping is clumsy to say the least. If he jumps well he has the talent to get involved but his jumping would be a big worry.
Crunching the Numbers
- 22 of the last 25 winners were aged 6, 7 or 8
- 20 of the previous 25 winners were priced 10/1 or lower
- 24 of the last 25 winners had run at Cheltenham before, including 15 course winners
- 23 of the last 25 winners had finished no worse that fourth on all completed starts that season
- 10 of the last 12 winners have had at least 4 wins over hurdles
- 21 of the previous 25 winners had finished in the first 2 on their last completed start
Defending Champion Lisnagar Oscar comes off poorly at the stats scoring just 3/6, although he did buck plenty of trends to take the crown last year. Thyme Hill is the only horse to complete the full house with 6/6 whilst 2019 champ, Paisley Park, scores 5 missing out on the age trend. Sire Du Berlais, Flooring Porter, The Storyteller and If The Cap Fits all scored 4/6.
This year’s Stayers Hurdle looks a highly competitive one and a strong case can be made for a handful of runners. I would expect Flooring Porter to go forward but I’m unsure as to what may go with him. As a result, Lisnagar Oscar could adopt front running tactics once again after an improved effort last time out. Plenty of the fancied runners will want a strong pace though, so I can see this hotting up heading into the second circuit. I expect the strong travelling Thyme Hill to sit prominent alongside Vinndication, with the likes of Paisley Park, The Storyteller and Sire Du Berlais sitting in behind. Turning for home, I’d expect plenty of runners to still be in with a chance and can see them getting racing from an early stage. This is likely to suit the dour stayers but maybe also a hold up horse who can sneak into contention. I’m hoping Vinndication will take the turn for home leading and battle hard up the straight. I anticipate Paisley Park to start motoring down to the last whilst Thyme Hill and The Storyteller may look like the most likely winners. After the last we could have a scrap on our hands and for me there is only one winner. Paisley Park can fend off Thyme Hill and regain his Stayers Hurdle crown.
My Idea of the Winner
- Paisley Park 10/3
Each Way Play
- Vinndication 16/1 and/or The Storyteller 12/1
- Paisley Park
- Thyme Hill
- The Storyteller
By Sam Rideout
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