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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.