2021 Cheltenham Festival – Stayers Hurdle decider as Paisley Park and Thyme Hill face off again
2021 Stayers Hurdle Tips
Lewis Tomlinson is back with the latest in his 2021 Cheltenham Festival previews. This time around, he’s focusing on the Stayers Hurdle, so make sure you check this out before picking your Cheltenham Day 3 Tips.
2021 Stayers Hurdle Key Contenders
Paisley Park & Thyme Hill
Ding ding. Round 3. The rivalry between superstar stayers Paisley Park (10-3) and Thyme Hill (4-1) has transformed the ugly duckling of racing’s championship divisions into one of the most captivating storylines of the season, the score heading into Cheltenham standing at one apiece after trading blows in two major staying hurdles already this season. Make no mistake, though- this is the one that matters most.
The pair’s contrasting strengths should make a for fascinating tactical battle; Thyme Hill is speedier and was able to utilise his superior turn of foot to down his opponent for the first time in the Long Distance Hurdle in November, before Paisley Park, who races behind the bridle and is likely to be strongest at the finish, overcame a less than ideal passage around Ascot to overhaul his opponent in the dying strides in the Long Walk a month later. Just as with last season, the Hobbs have opted not to run Thyme Hill again since the turn of the year by choice, whilst Paisley Park’s intended prep-run in the Cleeve fell victim to the weather, so it will interesting to see whether Emma Lavelle whether bites the bullet and heads straight to the Festival, or whether she opts to reroute her stable star to another pre-Cheltenham outing.
Both also have unfinished business from last season’s Festival to bounce back from; Paisley Park’s six race winning streak ended here courtesy of a fibrillating heart and Thyme Hill was left short of room at a crucial stage when an unlucky fourth in the Albert Bartlett.
The pair rightly head the market, as their form is clearly the best on offer and was boosted again by the ultra-likeable Roksana (14-1), who followed up her third behind them in the Long Walk by winning her second Grade 2 of the season with an effortless victory in the Warfield Mares’ Hurdle. The former Mares’ Hurdle heroine is enjoying the season of her life and merits respect from an each-way perspective.
And what of the Irish contingent? Top class staying hurdlers have generally been thinner on the ground in Ireland than in any other division, with only Solwhit and Nichols Canyon bringing the trophy back across the Irish Sea since the turn of the century. That pair both showed top class form over two miles as well, whilst this season’s raiding party have slightly less impressive CVs up to this point, all having worked their way up from handicap company.
The progressive front runner Flooring Porter (16-1) was able to dictate to his advantage and take Leopardstown’s Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle to crown a fantastic 12 months that saw him improve 41lbs over the year, though circumstances that day certainly played to his strengths and I’d be inclined to take that bare form with a pinch of salt given he’s unlikely to have the same level of freedom to dominate proceedings in a better and more competitive race.
SIRE DU BERLAIS
Dual Pertemps winner Sire Du Berlais (8-1) didn’t quite show his best form when third in that race, but his Lismullen Hurdle victory first time out this season confirmed the impression by last season’s top-weight Festival success that he’d be up to competing in Graded company.
His liking for Cheltenham- he was also fourth in the Martin Pipe on his first Festival visit, is a positive and you’d expect to see a better effort here than at Leopardstown, though he’d need to post a career-best to pose a threat if Paisley Park and Thyme Hill are on song.
OTHER IRISH CONTENDERS
A late contender to throw their hat into the ring is Sams Profile (25-1), who returned from a novice chasing campaign to win a real slog of a Galmoy Hurdle, whilst Fury Road (20-1) also deserves a mention on the back of his fine Albert Bartlett third last season, though he’d need to leave his fairly disappointing effort when fourth to Flooring Porter at Christmas behind. Benie Des Dieux (14-1) also has one of her many Festival options in this race, though Mullins tradition would lend you to believe one of the Mares’ races may be more likely. She’d be a fascinating addition if declared, though, and if at her best, would cause a genuine problem for those heading the betting.
I actually think the most dangerous Irish challenger is last season’s runner-up, Ronald Pump (20-1), who is due to warm up for the Festival in Navan’s Boyne Hurdle later this month. Matthew Smith’s gelding didn’t disgrace himself over fences despite lacking the scope for chasing, but resumed his improvement hurdling and showed he was still going the right way when closing down on Honeysuckle to finish second in the Hatton’s Grace. The step back up in trip is a positive and his profile over the past two seasons is consistently progressive. He has place claims once again.
STAYERS HURDLE BIG-RACE VERDICT
Paisley Park was knocked off his perch at the top of the staying hurdling tree last season, but looks as if he has got over the physical issue which held him back last season and the topology of Cheltenham looks likelier to strengthen his level of superiority over Thyme Hill from Ascot rather than reduce them.