A wide-open looking renewal of the 3m Stayers’ Hurdle is one of the feature races on day three of this year’s Cheltenham Festival, taking place on Thursday, 15 March.
The ill-fated 2017 winner Nichols Canyon suffered a fatal fall over the Christmas period in Ireland, so we are guaranteed a new staying hurdle champion at Cheltenham this time around.
Those horses who chased him home at last year’s Festival, Lil Rockerfeller and Unowhatimeanharry haven’t been any sort of form over the trip since. It makes for a lively betting market, so we take a look at four of the main contenders.
The first of two winners at last year’s Festival at a prominent price is Coral Cup victor Supasundae. Trained in Ireland by Jessica Harrington, has won just one of his four starts since. That came last time out 2m in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown’s inaugural Dublin Racing Festival in February.
It was a superb bit of race placing by connections of Supasundae, who is yet to win a 3m contest in two previous attempts but is made favourite for the Stayers with Williamhill. Will it be third time lucky or could a re-opposing rival confirm the form of last season’s Liverpool Hurdle from the 2017 Aintree Grand National meeting?
Sam Spinner (9/2)
Northern trained winners at the Cheltenham Festival are a rare enough thing these days, but their best chance of one this year comes here through rapid Jedd O’Keefe improver Sam Spinner. The six-year-old absolutely bolted up in a hot Grade 3 handicap at Haydock on Betfair Chase day back in November.
Sam Spinner then continued his rapid progress with success at the highest level in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas. That is a key trial for the Stayers, but it’s the fact that conditions at Cheltenham could be soft ground that are the biggest plus for this young horse.
Connections sent last season’s Champion Hurdle favourite Yanworth, who flopped at the Festival, over fences at first for this campaign, but he is now back to tackling the smaller obstacles. Owner JP McManus faced a similar decision with Buveur D’Air last season and the return to hurdling was a masterstroke.
It could also prove the same with the Alan King-trained Yanworth, who defeated Supasundae over the Stayers’ trip at Aintree as mentioned above. That form gives the eight-year-old claims of a successful winning return to this sphere and like Sam Spinner he is unbeaten over 3m. McManus’ retained rider Barry Geraghty, meanwhile, has chosen Yanworth over Unowhatimeanharry.
Top Irish trainer Willie Mullins may have lost Nichols Canyon, but has 2017 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle hero Penhill in his ranks. This seven-year-old is completely unexposed in open company over 3m because he hasn’t raced since last year’s Festival.
Just how race fit Mullins can have got Penhill for this stern test remains to be seen. Punters may recall the superb feat of training the master of Closutton pulled off with Arctic Fire 12 months ago, however, who returned after more than 400 days off the track to win the County Hurdle. Penhill, meanwhile, has received support in the Stayers’ betting after his odds were cut from 10/1.