Champion Stayers Hurdle – Preview
The highlight on Punchestown’s Thursday card is the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle with an eight-strong field set to line up in the Grade 1 contest. Our expert editor has delved into the entries and has had their say on who is going to come out on top on Thursday afternoon.
ASHDALE BOB returns to the top grade after posting some creditable efforts in defeat in Grade 2 and Grade 3 company, including when chasing home Fastorslow and Commander Of Fleet in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival last month.
Generally consistent, the seven-year-old has only really disappointed when sent over fences at the start of the season, however, after that failed chasing spell, Ashdale Bob has returned to form and whilst he hasn’t been able to get his head in front since last year, it’s certainly been hard to knock his attitude in recent starts.
The return to Grade 1 company and three miles do pose question marks for him on Thursday afternoon and it is highly likely that he will find one or two too good once again.
GENTLEMANSGAME has some smart form to his name, including when finishing second behind Galopin Des Champs at last year’s Punchestown Festival in the Grade 1 Irish Mirror Novice Hurdle.
Despite that creditable runner-up effort last term, the six-year-old returned this season with a below-par performance in a Pertemps network qualifier at Leopardstown before weakening rapidly in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park back in January over three miles.
Tongue-tie and cheekpieces sparked a comeback last month when running away with a five-runner event at Thurles, however, Gentlemansgame still has plenty of questions to answer as he returns to Grade 1 company and is certainly not one for maximum faith.
Arguably one of the greatest training performances in recent memory took place in this contest twelve months ago, as KLASSICAL DREAM returned from 487 days to land his fourth Grade 1 success of his career, powering clear of his thirteen rivals to win by nine lengths on his first start over three miles.
Well-supported in a first-time hood, the returning 2019 Supreme Hurdle winner quickly asserted under jockey Patrick Mullins and never looked in any danger as the talented eight-year-old roared back to his best with a remarkable display.
After defeating Flooring Porter in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, Willie Mullins’ star was turned over at short odds in the Galmoy Hurdle before heading to the Cheltenham Festival in search of his second Festival triumph.
No match in fifth behind Gavin Cromwell’s dual Stayers Hurdle winner, Klassical Dream still ran with credit despite being reluctant to line up, travelling arguably the best as they climbed up the famous Cheltenham hill.
Willie Mullins’ charge is exceptionally talented on his day and the eight-year-old will be a warm order to defend his crown in this season’s renewal.
Emma Lavelle’s stable star PAISLEY PARK has been a tremendous servant for the yard and returned to winning ways on his penultimate outing, running away with the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham despite forfeiting ten lengths at the start after proving unruly in the preliminaries.
Following that success, the ten-year-old finished third behind Flooring Porter for the second year running typically outpaced for the majority of the contest before finishing strongly up the hill.
While he remains pretty useful despite his advancing years, Paisley Park looks up against it on Thursday and the sole British representative may have to settle for a place as a best-case scenario.
Sire Du Berlais
Gordon Elliot saddled a 21,293/1 four-timer on Tuesday and will be hoping SIRE DU BERLAIS can provide him with another red-letter day following his breakthrough success at Aintree earlier this month.
Although readily beaten at the Cheltenham Festival in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, the ten-year-old produced a career-best when gaining revenge on his old adversary Flooring Porter in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle, staying on much the best to win by just under two lengths.
Consistency hasn’t really been the ten-year-old strongpoint throughout his career, but if turning up on Thursday in similar form to Aintree, Sire Du Berlais will be a threat to all and can’t be left out of the reckoning.
THEDEVILSCOACHMAN enjoyed a productive campaign last season, winning three times over hurdles including at Listed level at Punchestown over two miles.
Returning this campaign, the six-year-old lined up over fences in his first two outings and was far from disgraced over the larger obstacles, finishing third behind dual Grade 1 winner Ferny Hollow before bumping into the talented Saint Sam at Fairyhouse.
Reverting back to timber, Thedevilscoachman was stepped up to 2m5f for the first time and was a cosy winner of the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan, defeating Ashdale bob by a head.
The six-year-old will need to improve again following that career-best performance as he takes another step up in distance and grade and although he is unexposed over this new trip, Noel Meade’s charge takes on established stayers for the first time in his career and this looks a big ask.
It’s safe to say VANILLIER has failed to scale the heights that he achieved over hurdles for trainer Gavin Cromwell this season, and it’s no surprise to see the talented stayer revert to the smaller obstacles on Thursday.
The former Albert Bartlett winner made a pleasing start to his chase career, finishing third behind Beacon Edge and Lifetime Ambition at Down Royal before thumping three rivals by twenty six lengths in a Grade 2 novice chase at Punchestown back in November.
However, three wide-margin defeats have subsequently followed at Leopardstown, Naas and Cheltenham and connections have wisely decided to send him back over hurdles in the hope he can get back to his best.
Last year’s impressive Albert Bartlett winner is not one to discount despite his current position in the market and he wouldn’t be the first seven-year-old to bounce back to form in this very race.
Another runner who reverts to hurdles is CONCERTISTA, who was let down by her jumping when running no sort of race in the Grade 2 Paddy Power Mares’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival when last seen.
Prior to her Festival flop, the eight-year-old had made a pleasing start life over fences, recording back to back Grade 2 victories at Cork and Limerick back in December.
A three-time winner over timber, Willie Mullins’ mare faces a tough task now stepping back into Grade 1 company for only the third time and although she remains completely unexposed over the three mile trip, Concertista will have to produce a career best and others look to hold more pressing claims.
Big Race Verdict
The majority of the field has questions to answer in some shape or form but it’s hard to get away from KLASSICAL DREAM who put in a remarkable performance in this contest twelve months ago and shaped better than the bare result in the Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival following a disappointing run on his penultimate start at Gowran Park. Willie Mullins’ star stayer is taken to record another famous success and can get the better of talented hurdler Vanillier and recent Aintree winner Sire Du Berlais.
Sire Du Berlais