Our expert takes a look at the ante-post betting in the Champion Stayer’s Hurdle at Punchestown and tips an each-way outsider to make a big impact at a second major Festival this spring.
The feature championship race on the third day of the Punchestown Festival is the Champion Stayers’ Hurdle, the Irish equivalent of the race formerly known as the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
This Grade 1, three mile hurdle was added to the Punchestown festivities just over 20 years ago and has been won by several notable names. Willie Mullins’ mare, Quevega won this title four years in a row between 2010 and 2013, completing her season with a spring festival double, after she claimed the Mares’ Hurdle title at Cheltenham on all four of those occasions.
David Nicholson, whose name will forever be synonymous with the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, was the last trainer to land the Stayers’ Hurdle double, when Richard Johnson rode Anzum to victory at Cheltenham in 1999, before venturing to Ireland to land this title later that same spring.
) is the hot favourite to follow in Anzum’s footsteps and secure the Stayers Hurdle double after his stunning, surprise victory at Prestbury Park. It seemed to be a very late call when Mullins redirected his charge towards the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Champion Hurdle. His seven-time Grade 1 winner had struggled over two miles this season and despite only ever running over three miles once on a summer adventure to America, Mullins decided to throw Nichols Canyon in with Unowhatimeanharry
(5/1 Paddy Power
) and many other more experienced three milers at Cheltenham.
That decision proved to be a stroke of genius, as his seven-year-old travelled comfortably in the middle of the pack, before ploughing a lone furrow along the inside rail down the home straight, overtaking a flagging Unowhatimeanharry in third and pipping the tenacious Lil Rockerfeller
) to the post to claim an eighth major Grade 1 title.
Both of the second and third placed horses at Cheltenham feature prominently in the Punchestown betting, along with Nichols Canyon and both have chosen to travel to Punchestown in search of major festival revenge.
Nichols Canyon (left) beating Lil Rockerfeller (centre) and Unowhatimeanharry (right) to the Stayers' Hurdle title.
Lil Rockerfeller went to post as an unfancied 33/1 shot at Cheltenham, despite running Yanworth and Unowhatimeanharry very close on separate occasions during the season. Alan King’s six-year-old set off at the front of the field with Cole Harden, but as the 2015 champion started to feel the pace, Lil Rockerfeller kicked on again and looked to have the title in the bag as he kept Unowhatimeanharry at arm’s length, but Nichols Canyon swept through to snatch the Stayers’ Hurdle crown away from him.
Cole Harden will be staying at home after a dismal showing at Aintree, but one Warren Greatrex runner who is extremely likely to make the trip to Punchestown is defending champion One Track Minded
). He went to post as a 10/1 shot last spring, but put in an excellent display to hold off a challenge from Alpha Des Obeaux and 33/1 surprise package, Jennies Jewel to claim a maiden Grade 1 title.
The seven-year-old’s form has been pretty dismal since switching to chasing at the start of the season. He was tailed off in the Berkshire Novice’s Chase and eventually came home almost 100 lengths behind Clan Des Obeaux. He was dropped down to a Class 3 at Catterick in December, but that confidence-finding mission ended in a ten length defeat. He may appreciate the return to hurdling, but it’s highly unlikely he will be able to defend his title.
Willie Mullins will have bee surprised to see Shaneshill
(16/1 Paddy Power
struggle so much at Cheltenham, where he was eventually pulled up down the home straight whilst bobbing along at the back of the field. He fell when looking like the most likely winner in this race last year and beat Snow Falcon to a Grade 2 title on his final pre-Cheltenham appearance, so he has to be in with a chance of challenging for this title once again.Snow Falcon
) built on his good sixth place finish in the Stayer's Hurdle at Cheltenham with an excellent run at Aintree. He loomed up on the outside of Yanworth, with Supasundae also challenging the leader on the inside, but Noel Meade's charge was just found wanting over the final few hundred yards and he eventually finished a length behind Yanworth in third. That was his fifth defeat in a row since beating De Plotting Shed
) to a Grade 2 title at Navan in November, but he certainly has the quality to be involved in the finish here, if his previous festival escapades haven't taken too much out of him.
Yanworth (centre) heading Supasundae (right) and Snow Falcon (left) in the Liverpool Hurdle at the Aintree Festival.
Arguably, the most interesting entrant into this premier three miler is Gordon Elliott's Sutton Place
), who has won five races in a row since narrowly being beaten by Anibale Fly in December 2015. Elliott's six-year-old beat De Plotting Shed to a Grade 2 two-and-a-half mile title at Navan on his latest appearance, but his inactivity throughout what could have been a lucrative spring campaign is a little worrying. He comfortably saw off Supasundae over two miles earlier in the campaign, following on from the excellent form he showed during the latter months of his novice hurdling season. He could use fellow two-mile convert, Sizing John as inspiration, as he looks to transform himself into a top three miler. Whether that first major three mile victory comes here at Punchestown or a little further down the line, he certainly seems to have the talent to go right to the very top.
Nichols Canyon will be very difficult to beat if he can capture his Cheltenham run, but considering the subtle margin of his defeat at Cheltenham, Unowhatimeanharry and Lil Rockerfeller have to be in with a chance on their Irish debuts. This race has thrown up a few upsets over the years and with Nichols Canyon offering very little value for money at the head of the market, an each-way chance could be taken on Jury Duty
) continuing his strong seasonal form in the handicaps with a big run here. However, now this has been confirmed as his season-ending path, UNOWHATIMEANHARRY represents good value for money at the top of the market.
Harry Fry made no excuses after his odds-on favourite's defeat at Cheltenham, he simply did not perform on the day. 'Harry looked set for an outing in the Liverpool Hurdle last week, but the good ground at Aintree forced Harry Fry's hand and connections decided that the going at Punchestown is likely to come up favourably soft.
The nine-year-old has won on right-handed tracks over recent seasons, including an excellent victory over Lil Rockerfeller to the Ascot Hurdle title in December, so Fry will fancy his former champion's chances of reversing that Cheltenham result.
27/4/2017 5:30pm Punchestown Champion Stayers’ Hurdle – UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (5/1 Paddy Power)