Monday, March 08, 2021

Looking ahead: the 2021 Stayers' Hurdle

Compared to the other championship races, to date The Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (3.05 Thursday) seems to have received relatively sparse attention. 

In an attempt to redress the balance a little, here's a copy of a preview that landed on my desk recently, followed by my own initial thoughts on the race.

Stayers’ Hurdle at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

Of the four feature races of the Cheltenham Festival, the Stayers’ Hurdle has arguably been under the least scrutiny in the lead up to the 2021 event. The narrative of the other big races is plain to see: Al Boum Photo gunning for a Gold Cup hat-trick; Epatante taking on Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle; Chacun Pour Soi as a red-hot favourite to deliver Willie Mullins a first-ever Queen Mother Champion Chase.

But while there haven’t been many headlines concerning the Stayers’ Hurdle, it remains intriguing. The 2019 winner, Paisley Park, is the slight favourite, with odds of 10/3 generally. But Thyme Hill is right on his shoulder at 4/1. But those publishing their Cheltenham tips and predictions for day 3 will be well aware that a 50/1 winner, Lisnagar Oscar, confounded the experts last year. There are several candidates tipped to upset the leading pair in 2021.


Last Year’s Winner at 16/1 

Indeed, the lead up to the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle has been defined by one of those strange situations where the majority of tipsters eschewed talking about the market leaders, but instead have backed the JP McManus-owned Sire Du Berlais. The 9yo is a general 7/1 chance and has popped everywhere up on racing forums and tipping sites as the prime candidate to upset the two favourites. The Storyteller (12/1) has also had plenty of backing. He finished second to Sire Du Berlais in the 3m Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last year. 

The Storyteller and Sire du Berlais finished second and third respectively to Flooring Porter in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle (also run over 3m) in December. The feeling is that Flooring Porter caught rivals on the hop that day, but the Gavin Cromwell-trained 6yo was also impressive when winning a big handicap hurdle at Navan a few weeks earlier. 14/1 will tempt some. Last year’s winner, Lisnagar Oscar, is a general 16/1 chance, but hasn’t shown much form since that surprise victory. 

French Runner Is a Wild Card Option 

Further down the markets, Paul’s Saga at 40/1 catches the eye. The French runner was a distant second when making a first appearance in Britain at Warwick last month. But form in France has been impressive: Paul’s Saga won two Grade 1’s in France over the winter, including the French equivalent of the Champion Hurdle (run over 3 miles), Le Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil. 

As for the two favourites, not much needs to be said about Paisley Park. Imperious over 3m up until the shock loss last year, this season has been fine. Paisley Park lost by just over a length to Thyme Hill at Newbury on his season reappearance, and then beat by Thyme Hill by a neck in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas. Neither horse has appeared since. 

So, there you have it – something of a puzzle unless you have some conviction about one of the favourites. The Storyteller suggests value at 12/1, and his consistency might make an each-way bet worth considering. Paul’s Saga is certainly a wild card, but if you can get 40/1 alongside some extra places through a bookies’ promotion on Day 3, it could feel like a masterstroke in hindsight.



In receipt of three pounds Thyme Hill beat Paisley Park one and a half lengths at Newbury in November. Three weeks later, at level weights, Paisley Park reversed the form, beating Thyme Hill a neck in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. With the score one apiece, several see this as the decider. 

Paisley Park's hold-up style of racing reminds me of Baracouda and Inglis Drever - and it doesn't do an awful lot for the old jam tart!

There are likely to be times during the race when Emma Lavelle's charge appears to be struggling but his record speaks for itself. He recorded an adjusted Racing Post rating (RPR) of 176 when winning the 2019 renewal and was found to be suffering from a heart irregularity when failing to defend his title behind Lisnagar Oscar last year.

Philip Hobbs rates Thyme Hill 'our strongest chance going into Cheltenham'. In a Straight from the Stable article in the Weekender [24-28.02.21] he states:

"I will not be checking on the ground as he is effective on anything, but he clearly goes well on heavy."

It would be a mistake though to think this is a two horse race.

I was taken by Lisnagar Oscar's run at Haydock last month following wind surgery, beaten threequarters of a length conceding six pounds to Third Wind. Connections of Third Wind, fourth in last year's Pertemps, have indicated they won't run in this as they see their charge finishing fourth or fifth at best.

16/1 Lisnagar Oscar looks quite big, particularly if the ground comes up on the soft side, but, that said, last year Rebecca Curtis' charge recorded the lowest winning RPR (155) of the past decade.   

From a time angle Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps in 6m 0.22s last year (The Storyteller second, Tout Est Permis third) while Lisnagar Oscar recorded 6m 3.20s in the Stayers' Hurdle.

If those times highlight the chance of Sire Du Berlais, then Flooring Porter has to enter calculations following his all-the-way win in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown (The Storyteller second, Sire Du Berlais third, Fury Road fourth, Bacardys pulled up). 

Some commentators feel that race was stolen from the front but Tom Segal has already tipped this one each-way; the last horse to make all and win was Cole Harden in 2015, recording an adjusted RPR of 162 in the process.

The Storyteller has done more chasing than hurdling this term, finishing a creditable second to Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup last month; no horse older than nine years of age has won this since 1986.

Fury Road isn't lightly dismissed either on the back of his neck third behind Monkfish in last year's Albert Bartlett, with Thyme Hill one and a quarter lengths adrift in fourth; Thyme Hill looked unfortunate to suffer traffic problems at the business end of the race that day. The winning time was 5m 57.96s.

Plenty to ponder there - and certainly no two horse race. 

1 comment:

GeeDee said...


Thyme Hill is set to miss next week's Stayers' Hurdle after suffering a minor injury: