Irish poised for Stayers’ Hurdle hat-trick at Cheltenham Festival

Hurdle Race by Carine06 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
A hurdle race at the Cheltenham Festival” by Carine06 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Ireland, specifically the yard of Willie Mullins, have won the last two renewals of the Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle.

Some three months out from the 2019 renewal of the Stayers, no British trained prospect is shorter than 20/1 in the betting on this three-mile event scheduled for Thursday, 14 March.

In other words, the first five horses in the Stayers’ Hurdle betting are trained in Ireland. Here’s why they have leading contenders to top honours and home team hopes look somewhat forlorn.

More Mullins magic on the cards?
Champion Irish jumps trainer Mullins saddled Penhill to win this race 12 months ago, despite having no prep run at all. Given the seven-year-old also landed the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over course and distance 12 months previously, he’s obviously a leading contender to defend his Stayers crown.

If Penhill can get race-fit at home in Closutton, County Carlow, then what chance does the opposition have? That’s why he heads the Stayers’ Hurdle betting a top-price 7/1, but always make sure you compare Cheltenham betting offers before taking a punt.

Mullins will likely have more than one iron in the fire, however, and popular veteran Faugheen, who won the Champion Hurdle amid much fanfare in 2015, has shaped best over a staying trip of late. In the Punchestown Festival equivalent of the Cheltenham Stayers in April, he smashed Penhill by 13 lengths demonstrating he still retains plenty of ability.

Faugheen would be a sentimental pick, as he’ll be an 11-year-old come the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. Only one horse of that age in the last 90 years has won the Stayers, however, and that’s why William Hill are as big as 12/1 about him doing it.

Elliott may have ace in the pack
Big things are expected of the Gordon Elliott trained, Gigginstown House Stud owned Samcro but – once he stepped into open company – nothing has gone to plan. He fell at Punchestown, got turned over by Bedrock at Down Royal and was then outclassed by dual Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth.

Connections are back to the drawing board, but keeping Samcro over hurdles and have entered him in the Long Walk at Ascot – a key Stayers trial. If his proven stamina from winning an Irish point and the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle over 2m 5f come into play, he might shape better at a staying trip.

Bookmakers are taking no chances on Samcro, with Ladbrokes making him 10/1 joint second-favourite. Should the same connections be bold enough to put ultra-tough mare Apple’s Jade against the geldings again, having landed a third consecutive Hatton’s Grace Hurdle this season, then she too would have claims of Stayers’ success at a top-price 14/1 with Paddy Power.

Supasundae the consistent sort that Brits lack
By far the most reliable hurdler in Ireland is Supasundae, who has run a string of solid races at Grade 1 level for Jessica Harrington. Since winning the Coral Cup at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, he hasn’t finished outside the first three in eight subsequent starts.

That’s the kind of consistency elite British trained hurdlers can only dream of. At 12/1 with Befair, Supsasundae is a solid each-way ante post bet for the Stayers, having gone down by a couple of lengths to Penhill in the race last year.

With stablemate L’Ami Serge injured, Call Me Lord is the shortest-price British contender, but may have a problem running left-handed. He’s unproven at a staying trip too, while other UK trained horses are 25/1 and bigger as they also have question marks over them.

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