Wonder Mares : Function Dream

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Put The Kettle On became the first mare to ever win the Champion Chase with her tenacious performance at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival. However, a mare named Function Dream could’ve done just that twenty years ago if the 2001 Cheltenham Festival hadn’t fallen victim to the foot and mouth crisis.

The fourth edition of the ‘Wonder Mares’ series focuses on the life and legacy of Function Dream.

Function Dream was foaled on 7th April 1992 and her dam is Rare Dream, a daughter of Pollerton who ran twice without winning. One More Dream was her first foal to race and he was three from fifteen in his career; Kilbally Boy won one of his fourteen starts and Quare Dream’s didn’t win. Kilbally Boy and Quare Dream’s were both by Strong Gale and Rare Dream’s third visit to the stallion resulted in Function Dream. Strong Gale won six times from thirty-four starts and placed eleven times. His progeny had a reputation for being extremely tough yet often had wind problems. According to the Racing Post, he sired fourteen horses with an Official Rating of higher than 161 and twenty-three gained more than £100,000 in prize money. He is the damsire of Finian’s Rainbow, The Listener and Menorah.

Function Dream’s career began in Ireland in point-to-points for the John Walsh stable. She was third on her first start and then won over three miles on good ground at Dromahane in May 1997. Twenty days later, she made her rules debut in a Tipperary bumper.

Connections then made the interesting move to go straight to a beginners’ chase at Galway but she fell. She ran four more times between then and her first victory under rules. It came at Thurles on 28th February 1998. It was over three miles on yielding ground and she won by three lengths. Next time, in early March, she followed it up with a good win at Leopardstown over two miles five. At the end of the month, she won by ten lengths over two miles six. On her last start of the season, she was second, only beaten a length.

She ran eight times in the 1998/99 season and won once at Punchestown in a handicap chase, appreciating the drop to two miles on heavy ground. In September 1999, she won well at Gowran in a listed handicap chase over two miles six. However, she was well-beaten through the rest of the season and moved to Mary Reveley’s yard between March 2000 and the following September.

Mary Reveley took out her licence in 1982, aged forty-two, and was an excellent dual-purpose trainer. Cab On Target won six graded races for her in the early nineties and she trained the winner of the Cesarewitch on the flat. Reveley sadly died in 2017 and she was a pioneering female trainer with Sedgefield, Newcastle, Wetherby and Kelso as her happy hunting grounds.

Function Dream and Mary Reveley’s partnership began faultlessly when the mare won by three quarters of a length at Uttoxeter under Anthony Ross, who often rode for the Reveley yard. He had 94 winners before he retired in 2008 aged thirty. Ross didn’t ride her next time and she was well-beaten but she found her winning streak again when they were reunited at Wetherby over two miles in a class two, which she won by twenty-one lengths. The 2004 Grand National winner was in fifth! She won over two miles three at the same track in early December 2000.

This performance warranted connections to step her up into graded company. She won the Castleford Handicap Chase, a grade two, on Boxing Day 2000. Since then, it has been relegated to a class two and, in the 2020/21 season, the race was won by First Flow, who used this as a springboard to grade one glory in the Clarence House.

So did Function Dream. However, at this time, the Clarence House was known as the Victor Chandler Chase and was a grade two until 2007 when it was promoted to grade one status. She went off the 2/1 favourite and raced behind the leaders for the majority of the way. Ross, wearing her maroon and white silks with the blue cap, pushed her along as they turned for home but they eased clear with two final good jumps. The winning margin was two and a half lengths and Ross lost his claim. She was the best horse he rode and he described her owners as a “great bunch of lads in Ireland”. This was a hugely popular winner for northern racing fans.

Function Dream’s next target was the Game Spirit, a grade two chase at Newbury. Flagship Uberalles was the 4/6 favourite with Function Dream next best at 7/4. For the early part of the race, these two main contenders raced alongside each other but a clumsy jump at Newbury’s famous water handed the mare an advantage – and that was the story of the race. Flagship Uberalles made a mistake at the fourth-last but Function Dream was faultless at fourth and third fences from home. Fortunately, an untidy jump at the penultimate fence didn’t hand the advantage to Flagship Uberalles and she was jumped off an awkward stride at the last but eased clear up the run-in to win by seventeen lengths.

That kind of performance would’ve put her right in the frame for the Champion Chase, even though Flagship Uberalles finished lame. However, the 2001 Cheltenham Festival never happened due to the foot and mouth crisis. In an attempt to control the epidemic, the government imposed rules that no land could be used if sheep had been grazed on it in the last 28 days. This ruled out Cheltenham occupying its original date. Irish racing had already stopped completely from the 25th February and they wouldn’t send any horses over for Cheltenham. There were hopes for a rescheduled meeting in April but, as the Cheltenham managing director Edward Gillespie said, the meeting teetered on whether “a sheep sneezed in the wrong direction”. The festival was abandoned on 1st April.

What would’ve happened if the Festival had gone ahead? If Function Dream had lined up in the Champion Chase? Would she have won? She definitely had a great chance. Her versatility in terms of trips would’ve benefitted her going up the Cheltenham Hill and she seemed extremely tough. If she had won, it could’ve catalysed a resurgence for mares in National Hunt racing – one similar to what we are seeing now with Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle following in the hoof-steps of Annie Power and Apple’s Jade. Function Dream ran in just three mares’ races in the early part of her career but, after that, she was campaigned boldly by both John Walsh and Mary Reveley – not afraid of taking on the boys. It paid off as she won eleven of her thirty-three races under rules.

After two last place finishes, Function Dream was retired and she went on to produce three talented horses as a broodmare before she died aged 16.

Captain Chris was her first foal. He was born in 2004 and by King’s Theatre. He won nine of his twenty-three starts, including a Pendil Novices’ Chase; the Arkle; Ryanair Novices Chase at Punchestown; the 1965 Chase and he concluded his career with a nineteen-length romp in the Ascot Chase.

Dream Function was born in 2005 and a full sibling to Captain Chris. In her career, she won a novice hurdle and beginners chase before becoming a broodmare. her first foal Arion Sky won one race; Shirocco’s Dream won a point-to-point and is in training with Colin Tizzard and her 2016 foal Dreaming Of Glory is yet to win from three starts and is trained by Fergal O’Brien. I love that these mares will eventually go on to produce their own foals and continue the legacy of Function Dream.

Foundation Man was trained by Phillip Hobbs and won five of his forty-six starts, placing twelve times. He got on especially well with Jack Savage, who won on him three times as a 10lbs claimer.

I have really enjoyed finding out about Function Dream. I keep asking myself “what if she had won the Champion Chase?”. How would that have impacted the National Hunt racing scene as we know it today? Would it have encouraged more people to let mares race over fences and take on the ‘big boys’ in the championship races? Only one mare took her chance in the Champion Chase before this year, which was in 2006. With the success of Put The Kettle On and Honeysuckle (who may well go chasing next season), I hope we see more mares contesting the top races and, whilst Function Dream never won a grade one, her heroics deserves to be talked about and remembered.

Previous ‘Wonder Mares’ Articles

Petite Etoile – Wonder Mares: Petite Etoile – REIN IT IN (wordpress.com)

Signorinetta – Wonder Mares : Signorinetta – REIN IT IN (wordpress.com)

Sun Chariot – Wonder Mares : Sun Chariot – REIN IT IN (wordpress.com)

Saturday 27th Doncaster Preview

Saturday’s Doncaster meeting spells the long-awaited return of the British flat season, as ever headed by the Lincoln handicap. A very competitive affair, as you can make a case for many of the runners in most of the races! Having looked through the card, I have made note of any potential horses that could run well, out-run their odds or just of general intrigue.

1:25- Brocklesby Stakes

The first real intriguing two-year-old race of the year most notably won in recent years by surprise Middle Park winner The Last Lion. Over a distance of 5f and with conditions expected to be ‘Good’, you would be expecting a time of just over 1 minute. Makalu was sired by Mehmas, who is in his second season as a sire. Having already sired a Group 1 winner in Middle Park conqueror Supremacy, and the third in that race in Minzaal, he looks to be a very exciting sire and there’s no reason to say that Makalu won’t set the ball rolling for him this year. However, Richard Fahey and his team have taken this race 4 times, including the last renewal with Show Me Show Me, and they team up with Paul Hanagan again with Vintage Clarets. His sire is Ardad, who has his first foal running in Vintage Clarets. This is intriguing because he was a very early bloomer, winning the Flying Childers and at Royal Ascot. Moreover, he finished 9th beaten a few lengths in a high class Prix de L’Abbaye. Additionally, there’s more speed on the Dam side of the family. This suggests that a fast 5f will suit Vintage Clarets very well.

2:00- Doncaster Mile

Montatham was disappointing last time out but has some nice pieces of form from last year behind Sir Busker and Dark Vision. Moreover, he has the highest speed figure of all in the race. I have always liked Juan Elcano and he probably didn’t see out the trip in the Voltigeur, personally, I think he is better suited to around a mile. This is reinforced by his 5th in a very fast Guineas to Kameko. He’s been gelded since he last ran and should definitely be in contention. Qaysar has course and distance form and should enjoy the ground. He seems to run well off a break and should also be a consideration. I would be surprised if Top Rank did not feature with a chance of winning the race,  with being one of the highest rated in the race and having numerous positives against his name. He’s won many times over the ground and distance, and has struck in this class of race before. The only downside is that he has been penalised 5lbs.

2:35- Spring Mile Handicap

I was slightly surprised to see that Aweedram was such a large price in this race. Granted, he has been out of form lately and he may prefer the ground to be softer, which cannot be ignored, but he is well in on the weights compared to his challengers. Moreover, he has been stepped back in trip to a mile, which I believe suits him better. I  would not be surprised if he outran his odds. Artistic Rifles is one of the eye-catchers in the race for many reasons. He had a pleasing run at Newcastle, after a break, last time out and Andrea Atzeni notably takes the ride. He’s won every race he has ran over course and distance, seems to enjoy the ground and has been running well with a tongue strap. However, Acquitted has the standout form of the race, with being second behind Palace Pier at Newcastle last year. That race was where I started to take note of Palace Pier, as the time was an incredibly fast time, and on ratings alone, Acquitted should have been more than 3 lengths behind him. Although Acquitted was disappointing in his last two races, he’s since been gelded and if he can rediscover the form from the aforementioned run, he would be in with a massive shout of claiming glory in this race.

3:10- Lincoln Handicap

The Lincoln is a notoriously hard race to decipher, but it can throw up a few horses that don’t deserve to be such large odds. For example, Librisia Breeze won the Champions Sprint Stakes many moons ago, and it has to be said, hasn’t been in the same vigour since. However, he has had wind surgery since his last run and has a few positives with the distance, class and handicap in his favour. The same can be said for Revich, who has positives with the handicap, distance and was in quite good form last year. As well as this, star apprentice Angus Villiers takes 5lbs off him.

Albeit, in recent years, the Lincoln has been won by a smart 4 year old, and there are 3 that automatically take my attention. The first of which is the William Haggas trained Johan, ridden by Cieren Fallon. He has a good record over the distance, on the ground and at this class. Although he was disappointing behind the likeable Kinross last time out, I wouldn’t be too worried. Secondly, Danyah is a horse I am a real fan of, and he has everything in the positives with the ground, distance, course and class all being in his favour. He runs well first time out and I think he’s a major player. Haqeeqy has the same positives as the aforementioned two but a notable difference is that he has first-rate apprentice Benoit De La Sayette reducing the load by 7 lbs, which is literally a load off against his competitors.

3:45- Cammidge Trophy Stakes

On raw form, Brando would walk this field but he is 9 and may just need the run after a lay-off. Summerghand has been running on the All-Weather recently and seems as sharp as ever, whether this is the primary target for him is another matter. Just Frank was an improving sort last year, most notably second to Saint Lawrence, who subsequently repeatedly placed behind most of the high class/talked about two year olds of last season. Just Frank was second over course and distance and is definitely open to improvement.

4:20- Maiden Stakes

There is a blinding entrant into this race, in regards to the full brother to last year’s Horse of The Year- Ghaiyyath. Khaiz cost £700,000 at the sales and is also trained by Charlie Appleby. Ghaiyyath first ran over 1m and this race is 1m 2f, so it seems that connections anticipate that 1m 2f will be his ideal distance. Monte Carlo Bay is interesting on the breeding side, being American bred by Nobel Mission and a family of sprinters on the Dam’s side. However, this is probably a two horse race between those that have had their first day at school. Dhushan was just touched off by Star Catcher on his debut at Goodwood and was very pleasing. Moreover, he has an entry into the Epsom Derby, which suggests that connections think a lot of him. The George Strawbridge owned Sevenal possibly found the very impressive Mutasaabeq a little too hot during his first race, and is probably likely to improve. Additionally, as with the Lincoln, Benoit De La Sayette takes 7 lbs off, which may just tip the scales into Sevenal’s favour.

4:55- Apprentice Handicap (Div 1)

This race is quite the pinsticker’s favourite! However, there is an abundance of talented jockeys on display. Lady Ironside is trained by Kevin Philippart De Foy, whose team are in flying form, and adding Benoit De La Sayette to that, makes for a deadly duo! As well as this, Lady Ironside wears cheek-pieces for the first time, which could be an added bonus. Country’N’Western has positives on the ground, class and handicap and Molly Presland is skilled jockey. I’m fairly certain that he should outrun his odds. The same can be said for Mutamaded, who, although isn’t in rich form, has some advantages. Additionally, he is 14 lbs lower than his reappearance last year and Joanna Mason is a very capable and accomplished jockey, which is even more bolstered with her having an 80/1 winner on the day of writing! However, he does have 9 stone 11 lbs which could slow him down a bit.

5:25- Apprentice Handicap (Div 2)

Again, another Pinsticker’s favourite, with an abundance of talent! Nobel Peace has numerous positives next to his name, and has been in quite good form lately. Furthermore, Christian Howarth hasn’t been riding long, but has been doing a sterling job of late. Id imagine that Nobel Peace will outrun his odds. Party Island seems to enjoy the distance and has been going well the All-Weather. The splendid George Bass keeps the ride, that he’s won with twice and clearly gets a tune out of him!

By Kieran McHugh

Let’s welcome horse racing’s biggest critics in with open arms

The Horse Comes First: Harriet Lees with Hello Youmzain at Haydock Park

With horse racing’s biggest jumps festival approaching, I wanted to reflect on what has been a hectic and, undoubtedly, troubled few weeks for horse racing. 

Personally, the last couple of weeks have been hard. If you’ve read some of my earlier articles for Rein It In you might know that I’ve been going racing since I was very small. When I first went racing, jockeys were my idols and I enjoyed the quick chats I had with them as they walked by. The horse racing industry is unique in that you can feel so involved just by going to the races from time to time. What helps, and what racing does well, is keeping the stars of our sport, horses and jockeys, close to the spectators. 

I decided to write this article because of the surge in media attention over the last week or so. It seems that the scandal surrounding Gordon Elliott has revealed the underlying poor perception that the general public has of horse racing. I don’t want to comment on the shocking photo itself but some of the subsequent comments about the sport went completely against my experience of the treatment of horses. I’ve thought quite a lot about this negative-bias towards racing since the photo was released. It seems as though the battleground is public opinion. This has been a problem for racing ever since I’ve been going and the racing world seems genuinely terrified of accusations of animal cruelty, justifiably so when we all know the damage this can cause when in fact, the opposite is the case. 

I think a large part of it is to do with the urban/rural divide – many of those commenting in the press and on social media appear to be from towns and large cities. Coming from a town myself, I can understand that it’s very easy to criticise the industry as a whole when you know very little about it and the nearest racecourse is often many miles away. Most people will never visit a racecourse in their lives and so you can understand why many people criticised racing after seeing the photo in the press. 

In my opinion, we must now decide, as a sport, whether we belittle those criticising from the outside or whether we welcome them in with open arms. It’s easy to choose the former option – we simply label our critics as ignorant and move on. Our sport becomes increasingly more closed-off to the wider public and we risk the potential closure of racecourses and, in the worst case, our sport being banned. I don’t think anyone who works in or is associated with our industry wants that. Therefore, let’s choose the harder option – let’s welcome horse racing’s biggest critics in. I’m under no illusions of how hard this task would be to complete, and we may risk alienating racing’s most loyal supporters. However, now is the perfect time to move horse racing forward and to listen to and address the concerns of those criticising it the most. Perhaps we need to start asking ourselves these questions: Do we still need to make our sport safer? If not, how do we explain that? How can we make the experience of going racing more accessible and enjoyable? How can we open up our racing yards for everyone (including animal rights activists) to see how the horses are treated? 

These are hard questions to answer and of course, I don’t have the answers to all of them, but here’s a couple of suggestions:

Let’s get behind charities like Racing to School who do a great job organising visits to racecourses and stables for young people. In fact, I’d like a similar initiative to be organised for the wider public as well.  

Let’s really promote, yet again, the fact that Under 18s can go racing for free. This helped to hook me into the sport and I’m sure this scheme will continue to open up racing to the younger generation. 

Let’s carry out and publish more scientific studies into the horses themselves. For example, the University of Exeter’s study of equine vision in 2018 led to the trial of fluorescent yellow on all hurdles and guard-rails.   

It’s been a worrying time for horse racing and one which has demonstrated just how we have a responsibility to address the clear negative public perception surrounding the sport. Let’s not just label our critics as ignorant, instead if we’ve got nothing to hide then let’s listen attentively to their concerns, welcome them in to see our overwhelming love for horses and go about making our industry as transparent as it possibly can be. 

Thank you for reading,

Ezra Woodman

Stayers Hurdle Antepost Preview – Five In Focus

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Day three of the Cheltenham Festival promises to be a thrilling day of racing with highlights of Envoi Allen in the Marsh Novices Chase and the competitve Ryanair, but, for this article, my focus is on the Paddy Power Stayers Hurdle.

Over three miles, this is the pinnacle race for hurdlers who appreciate a staying test. It is a grade one and has been won by Baracouda twice, Inglis Drever three times, Buck Buck’s four times and, in recent years, Thistlecrack, who retired from racing recently.

In the 2021 line-up, there are two previous winners: Paisley Park and Lisnagar Oscar. I have picked out five horses with strong claims for my ‘Five In Focus’ Stayers Hurdle Preview.

Paisley Park (Photo Copyright JTW Equine Images)

Paisley Park

9yo Bay Gelding; Trainer: Emma Lavelle; Owner: Andrew Gemmell; Breeder: M Conaghan; Jockey: Aidan Coleman

Paisley Park’s 2018/19 season was spectacular. He started out in handicaps with impressive wins at Aintree and Haydock, which he finished with a strong and well-timed runs. Next time out, he jumped up in grade to contest the Long Walk Hurdle and won the grade one race by two lengths beating classy rivals. In January 2019, he won the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham by twelve lengths and, in March, returned to the track for the Stayers Hurdle. He was 11/8 favourite and was attempting to win his fifth race in a row. He did so, drawing away from his seventeen rivals. Faugheen was even in behind.

He returned to action in the 2019/20 season with a good win in the grade two Long Distance Hurdle. After bypassing the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot due to poor ground, he won the Cleeve Hurdle for a second year running, beating Lisnagar Oscar who went on to win the Stayers Hurdle. Paisley Park severely underperformed that day and ended up just seventh. However, after the race, he was found to have a heart problem.

The problem, fortunately, wasn’t serious and he returned to the track at Newbury in November, where he was beaten by Thyme Hill. Overall, it was a good return to action, all things considered. They reopposed at Ascot for the Long Distance Hurdle in December and Paisley Park turned the tables. One of Paisley Park’s biggest assets is that he stays the three miles so well but, crucially, he has a brilliant attitude to reel in his rivals. Thyme Hill was headed in the final strides and Paisley Park prevailed by a neck. With the Cleeve Hurdle abandoned, Paisley Park goes to Cheltenham with two runs under his belt and eighty-nine days off the track, but that is not a problem because Thyme Hill is in the exact same boat.

Thyme Hill (plain white cap, right) (Photo Copyright JTW Equine Images)

Thyme Hill

7yo Bay Gelding; Trainer: Philip Hobbs; Owner: The Englands And The Heywoods; Breeder: Overbury Stallions Ltd; Jockey: Richard Johnson

Thyme Hill was the new kid on the block in the open staying division this season. He started out in a national hunt flat race at Worcester, which he won, and then was second at Cheltenham in a listed race. In March 2019, he finished third, beaten two and a half lengths, by Envoi Allen and Blue Sari. He had Abacadabras and The Glancing Queen in behind.

Last season, he made his hurdling debut in the grade two Persian War Novices’ Hurdle and won impressively by two lengths, beating the smart Fiddlerontheroof. He followed that up in a grade two at Cheltenham before being pitched into grade one company in the Challow Hurdle. He won by one and a half lengths but the field wasn’t top-notch. After this, the Cheltenham Festival was in his sights and he lined up in the Albert Bartlett as 4/1 favourite. Many said he was unlucky in the race with Richard Johnson having to switch and change course but (I’m biased here) the best horse, Monkfish, won on the day. He has gone on to win two grade ones over fences and Latest Exhibition, who was second in the Albert Bartlett, has been second to him on both occasions. He must be getting frustrated. Fury Road won next time out; then followed in Flooring Porter and was second last time out.

This season, Thyme Hill joined the big leagues and his first task was at Newbury for the Long Distance Hurdle. He was amongst a field of ten which contained both Lisnagar Oscar and Paisley Park. He led approaching the last and stayed on well with Paisley Park not able to get to him. He did manage to at Ascot next time out, though, but Thyme Hill was extremely brave in defeat on tough ground. His dam, Rosita Bay, won over two miles four in her career and Kayf Tara’s son Thistlecrack won the race in 2015. Thyme Hill has run incredibly well at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and the last four renewals have been won by seven-year-olds.

Lisnagar Oscar

8yo Bay Gelding; Trainer: Rebecca Curtis; Owner: Racing For Fun; Breeder: Denis Fitzgerald; Jockey: Adam Wedge

Lisnagar Oscar was something of a surprise winner of the 2020 Stayers Hurdle, not to Rein It In Racing’s Killian Broderick, though. Rebecca Curtis’ gelding had a turbulent season before his Festival heroics. He started out placing in two novice chases before finishing ninth in the Haydock grade three handicap hurdle that Paisley Park used to springboard himself into grade one company in the previous season. At Warwick in January, he ran in a Pertemps Qualifier but had a crashing fall. I was there that and he’s a stunning horse up-close. Two weeks later, he finished four and a half lengths behind Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle, receiving 3lbs from the older horse. At Cheltenham, carrying 7lbs more on his back and at equal weights to Paisley Park at 11st10, Lisnagar Oscar won convincingly and stayed on well up the Cheltenham hill.

However, this year, he is still a 16/1 shot and, judging from the way he won at Cheltenham, he should be much shorter. I think the problem is that many people thought it was a fluke – he didn’t show much at all that season and Paisley Park obviously underperformed. But, he did what he had to – he stayed on and asserted like a proper grade one horse. He is an Irish point-to-point winner so the stamina is there and, like Paisley Park, he’s by Oscar.

Lisnagar Oscar returned to racing on Halloween in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby. He ended up fourth, beaten by Roksana, Next Destination and Kildisart. He uncharacteristically weakened up the run-in that day. At Newbury next time, he finished seventh, twenty-one and a half lengths behind Thyme Hill. He was given a wind operation after this as it was quite a tame run. It seemed to work well as he ran in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock and the fact that he had to give 6lbs to the winner Third Wind, who powered home, was probably the reason why he didn’t win. It was a really positive trial race for Cheltenham. He’s owned by ‘Racing For Fun’ and hopefully he’ll keep giving his owners a fun time in the Stayers Hurdle.

Flooring Porter

6yo Bay Gelding; Trainer: Gavin Cromwell; Owner: Flooring Porter Syndicate; Breeder: Sean Murphy; Jockey: Jonathan Moore

I first came across Flooring Porter relatively recently when someone on Twitter asked what I thought of his run at Navan in early December – it was extremely good. He absolutely romped home that day by twelve lengths in a high-quality Grade B hurdle, with subsequent winners Lady Breffni and Maze Runner following him.

It took Flooring Porter five attempts to actually win a race, which was a maiden hurdle at Leopardstown in August 2019. On official ratings, he is Yeats’ best progeny and he was a thorough stayer on the flat, winning four Ascot Gold Cups. His dam, Lillymile, won a three mile point-to-point and two Ballinrobe hurdle races.

Flooring Porter won at Cork in the October and, in July 2020, just held on at Gowran, despite being very keen. Next time, he went to the Galway Festival and he finished third to Great White Shark and My Sister Sarah, coming from the back of the field over just short of three miles. They rode him slightly more prominently in early October, when he came second to Albert Bartlett contender Streets Of Doyen.

Connections chose to implement front running tactics at Navan and, obviously, it worked. After his convincing win, he contested the grade one Christmas Hurdle. He was a long way clear for the majority of the way but didn’t “steal it” – the runners came to challenge him and no one could get past. He won by six lengths and survived a scare after the last when he jinked left and showed signs of greenness. That suggests he’s got more in the tank. Subsequently, The Storyteller and Fury Road have ran well since. He is only six and has a lot of scope for the future. The Cheltenham Hill will pay to his strengths as he does seem to stay really well.

Sire Du Berlais

9yo Bay Gelding; Trainer: Gordon Elliott (Denise Foster); Owner: JP McManus; Breeder: Jean-Marc Lucas Et Al; Jockey: Mark Walsh

Sire Du Berlais started out his career in France, where he was one from two after winning his second start in the Stewards’ Room. His dam amassed nearly half a million pounds with eight wins from twenty-one National Hunt starts – more prizemoney than Poligote earned in his career, which saw him win a group one at two. He was a much better sire than a racehorse as his progeny include Politologue and Don Poli and he is the damsire of Goshen and Elimay.

He joined Gordon Elliott yard shortly later and, after six starts without any success, he was on an ideal handicap mark to win the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival, which he qualified for at Leopardstown by finishing sixth. He was only eighth at Aintree, next time out. His first start last season was at Navan (in the same race Flooring Porter won this year) and he came fourth. After a ninth-place finish over Christmas, I was there when he finished fourth in a Pertemps qualifier and he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic to go to the start but he stayed on from two out. That put him spot on for Cheltenham, where he regained his crown in the Pertemps Final, under a brilliant Barry Geraghty ride. The Storyteller and Third Wind followed him in.

In the 2020/21 season, Sire Du Berlais has been campaigned with the focus on graded races instead of handicapping him for the Pertemps. He started out at Navan where he won a grade two hurdle and the form has worked out well with French Dynamite and Some Neck winning since. His only other start of the season was in behind Flooring Porter at Leopardstown and he just didn’t have it in him to quicken to get to the winner or The Storyteller, who finished second. He was 11/4 that day and many people believe he has a very good chance at Cheltenham – he does have incredibly strong form there, after all.

Sam Spinner (Photo Copyright JTW Equine Images)

The Outsiders

Six of the last ten winners were bigger than 6/1 in the prices and Lisnagar Oscar was the largest priced winner since 1988 at 50/1. A few horses at bigger prices have caught my eye. The Storyteller would have strong each way claims as he never runs a bad race. His sights are on the Grand National. Sam Spinner won the Long Walk Hurdle back in 2017 and he had a successful novice chase campaign last season, winning three races before getting injured. He pulled up behind Cyrname in the Charlie Hall and finished last at Newbury next time. He was second in the race in 2019 and fifth in 2018. He’s got a lot to find on this season’s form but is classy on his day. Similar applies to Bacardys, who was third in the Stayers Hurdle last season. He has run poorly on his last two starts. It will be interesting to see if Reserve Tank contends this race after being a very smart hurdler in the backend of the 2018/19 season, winning two grade ones. He’s was a smart novice chaser last season and he returned at the end of February with a fifth-place finish in the National Spirit Hurdle. It would be his first start at three miles.

Selection

The 2021 Stayers Hurdle promises to be an exciting race. Occasionally, the division is criticised as being weaker than in years gone by. Hopefully, the five horses I have mentioned will all be there with a fighting chance as they jump the final hurdle. My selection is FLOORING PORTER. I have been extremely taken with the way he has won his last two starts and he is definitely the strongest Irish contender in the race. I think he could probably get an easy lead as there is no obvious pace contender. He seems a big baby but is an extremely willing horse who stays very well. It’s great to see two female trainers with strong chances here. I’m sure Emma Lavelle’s Paisley Park will put in another bold showing. He’s such a consistent horse and reports from the yard are really positive. Lisnagar Oscar could be good value at 16/1 as he ran very well last time for Rebecca Curtis.

What Twitter Says

As always, I have consulted my Twitter followers about their idea of the winner of the Stayers Hurdle. Keep reading to find out what they think and join the conversation over on my Twitter page.