This week, there has been news of some of the best Novice Chasers possibly switching back to hurdles to contest the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. The Thursday showpiece, which seems to be extremely open at present, has a total prize money fund of £325,000.
Connections of last year’s Tolworth Hurdle winner Finian’s Oscar have announced that the son of Oscar will return to hurdles for the remainder of the season. The gelding has run four times over chase fences and won twice – a novices’ chase around Cheltenham and a listed race on his chase debut at Chepstow, beating Tintern Theatre who won a Class 2 Handicap Chase at Cheltenham a couple of weeks ago. Finian’s Oscar’s trainer, Colin Tizzard, said of the switch, ‘He jumps fences adequately but I don’t think he’s that brave.’ If everything goes to plan, he will go to the Cleeve Hurdle but if he gets beaten in that, he could revert back to chase fences for his run at the festival.
Similarly, Yanworth has won twice over fences but he has picked up some bigger prizes. Alan King’s charge was second to Willoughby Court when Ben Pauling’s gelding won the Grade Two Berkshire Novices’ Chase. The pair reversed form in the Grade Two Dipper Novices’ Chase when Yanworth won and Willoughby Court could only make third behind Sizing Tennessee who was in second. It may come as a relief for racing viewers that Yanworth is reverting to hurdles for the remainder of the season as his jumping is quite hair raising to say the least with lots of will-he-wont-he fall moments that could give a punter a mini heart attack. At the end of last season, the gelding won the Ryanair Stayers Liverpool Hurdle with Supasundae back in second. The beaten horse ran in behind super mare Apple’s Jade over in Ireland. Trainer Alan King says that this gives him a good chance in hurdling company this season.
L’Ami Serge, a French Champion Hurdle winner, is going to warm up for the Stayers by going the opposite way to the others by going to the SkyBet Chase to see if he’s improved as a chaser. Interestingly, Isaac Suede and Simon Munir’s gelding, who is trained by Nicky Henderson, was entered into the Ryanair Chase on Tuesday but is currently 12/1 for the Stayers Hurdle.
At the minute, the favourite for the Stayers is progressive Sam Spinner. He won the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle beating L’Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry for Joe Colliver and Jedd O’Keeffe as well as the Haydock version of the Stayers Hurde by a whopping seventeen lengths. Supersundae is also being backed after his galliant effort in defeat behind Mares Hurdle challenger Apple’s Jade.
For the JLT Novices’ Chases at the Festival, Willoughby Court is a short-priced favourite and progressive Irish horse Footpad is about a 7/1 shot but his main focus for the festival seems to be the Arkle. Despite the news that he’s most likely moving back over hurdles, Yanworth is highest priced 10/1.