The staying hurdle championship is reverting back to the Stayers Hurdle this year after being renamed to the World Hurdle when Ladbrokes took over sponsorship of the race in 2005.
2016 winner Thistlecrack won’t be back to defend his crown after injury has side-lined him for the remainder of the season, but he was chasing anyway so wouldn’t have lined up in the race even if he did make it to Cheltenham.
Looking ahead to the contest next week we appear to have a solid favourite in the shape of Unowhatimeanharry, winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival twelve months ago. Harry Fry has conjured 8 wins from 8 starts from his talented staying hurdler and the gelded son of Sir Harry Lewis is bidding to become the first horse to win the Stayers Hurdle after lifting the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle previously, albeit from a very limited sample size.
Stayers Hurdle 2017
Sir Harry Lewis x Red Nose Lady (Teenoso)
Notes: Needs no introduction really reeling off 8 wins on the bounce since joining Harry Fry. He is a dual Grade 1 winner already and has shown himself to be every inch as good if not better out of novice company this season with convincing wins in both the Long Distance Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle and a workmanlike but again convincing win at Cheltenham in the Cleeve Hurdle on his most recent start. His ability to keep winning must be admired and will once again team up with Noel Fehily for this assignment, and his position at the head of the market is fully justified.
Westerner x Nosie Betty (Alphabatim)
Notes: Winner of this race two years ago when forcing the pace in a strong time. He was no match for Thistlecrack & co when a below-par fourth in this contest last year. He hasn’t quite reached the same peak as his 2014/15 campaign but there were promising signs when second in the Cleeve Hurdle on ground softer than ideal on his most recent start, suggesting the fires are still burning in the Warren Greatrex trained individual. He needs to improve once again but the combination of the tongue-tie and cheek-pieces seem to have squeezed out some improvement in him, and the prospect of better ground next week certainly give connections cause for optimism. I will say though that the fancy prices are long gone about this guy and I wouldn’t be jumping to get involved at the current odds.
Milan x La Noire (Phardante)
Notes: His return from an injury enforced lay-off has yielded a win and a place from two outings this year, but those performances have come almost a stone below his Champion Hurdle winning form on the figures. The longer distance could bring out the improvement necessary in him at the age of 9, where it is possible his speed has been blunted by his recent ailments. A high-class operator on his day and one you can’t dismiss with any confidence but very much the second string for the owner.
Overbury x Thespian (Tiraaz)
Notes: From the Willie Mullins stable this is a horse that is reliant on pace during his races, given his tendency to throw his head around in the early stages if the tempo isn’t to his satisfaction. This is why his best form to date has been in larger field handicaps and races where he’s been granted a good strong pace to take aim at. Third behind Shaneshill in the Galmoy last time but couldn’t be discounted here at prices.
Old Vic x Lambourne Lace (Un Desperado)
Notes: Winner of the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree last April, followed up with a win at Chepstow in the Silver Trophy in October, off a mark of 148. Has been beaten three times by Unowhatimeanharry since and there is no reason in my mind to suggest a reversal of that form is on the cards here next week. A likeable sort who will give his running as always but just isn’t quite good enough at this level – could run a place.
King’s Theatre x Darabaka (Doyoun)
Notes: Turns up and performs at the Cheltenham Festival every year and I expect nothing different this time round either. Has mixed chasing and hurdling throughout his career over a variety of different times, but three miles on decent ground looks his calling based on what I’ve seen. His Festival form reads 222 in three grade ones and another big run can be expected here from a horse that thrives on the big occasion. A recent win at Gowran Park in the Galmoy wouldn’t have hurt his claims at all.
Presenting x Flocon De Neige (Kahyasi)
Notes: Brought along patiently by Noel Meade he was travelling every inch as well as Unowhatimeanharry before falling 3 out at Newbury, and although he hasn’t really hit that level in his two races to date since, he showed some zest in a recent second to Shaneshill (giving him 5lb) to suggest he is very much a threat in this contest.
Zarkandar has been a top staying hurdler in his prime and although getting on these days and not the force of old will be primed to peak in this race by master trainer Paul Nicholls. Whilst you couldn’t totally discount him getting involved he threatens more often than he delivers in his races.
Lil Rockerfeller hasn’t looked up to it before and although his second to Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Walk Hurdle adds a bit of weight to his claims, he has had an interrupted prep causing him to miss the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell en-route to this.
Camping Ground sparkled on his first start for Gary Moore and would be a live threat based on that scintillating performance were he to take part next week but it looks likely he’ll skip Cheltenham in favour of something else.
Nichols Canyon could find himself running in this race instead of the Champion Hurdle but with connections already saddling Shaneshill in the race, there is a possibility he could skip Cheltenham altogether and wait for Aintree instead.
A race which for me revolves around UNOWHATIMEANHARRY. You won’t get rich backing him at the top of the market, he is currently best price 11/8 with Betfair Sportsbook but he seems the most logical option at this stage of affairs.
Harry Fry’s gelding has run up an impressive 8-win sequence since joining his yard and there is every reason to suggest win number 9 isn’t too long in waiting.
Of the remainder, most resistance to the favourite can be expected from Shaneshill and Snow Falcon based on what we’ve seen so far, with the prospect of Cole Harden chipping in if he backs up his recent second in the Cleeve.