Benie Des Dieux, Champ, If The Cap Fits, Next Destination, Kemboy and Vinndication are among some of the less-expected names in the 51 entries for the Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle on March 18, day three of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
The David Cottin-trained French Champion Hurdle winner Paul's Saga, scheduled to make her British debut at Ascot this weekend, adds spice as a potential French challenger.
Sponsor Paddy Power has Paisley Park, the 2019 hero, as their 3-1 favourite, closely followed by Thyme Hill on 7-2. The two market leaders have met twice so far this season with the score currently standing at one-all.
At Newbury in November, it was Thyme Hill who came out on top by a length and a half in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle but next time out it was Paisley Park who prevailed, scoring by a neck in Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle on December 19.
Watch a full replay of last year's Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle
Runner-up to Paisley Park in 2019 was Sam Spinner, who went down by two and three-quarter lengths. The nine-year-old won all three of his outings in novices’ chases before sustaining a fractured pelvis. He has not looked at his best in two outings so far this season, but trainer Jedd O’Keeffe believes there were valid reasons for this.
North Yorkshire-based O’Keeffe said on Thursday: “Sam Spinner is fine at home and the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle is a definite target for him.
“He has had a little bit of time off after his run at Newbury as an old foot injury has flared up again.
“Due to that injury, the plan is to stay over hurdles this season and so the Stayers’ Hurdle will be his main spring target.
“I think we are going to struggle to get a run into him before the race, so he will be going to Cheltenham fresh. The Rendlesham was something we were thinking about, but I think it might just come too soon.
“He is a very talented horse, and he has obviously run well in the race before. Sam Spinner was fifth in 2018 and then a good second to Paisley Park in 2019.
“He obviously would have to reverse form with Paisley Park and now there is also Thyme Hill thrown into the mix. But he has solid form at Cheltenham, so hopefully he can get there in one piece.”
Lisnagar Oscar caused a 50/1 shock in race 12 months ago and he is entered once again along with last year’s runner-up Ronald Pump and third Bacardys.
Also among a strong-looking Irish entry are Sire du Berlais (Gordon Elliott), successful in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at The Festival last season. Sire du Berlais was last seen when third behind Flooring Porter and The Storyteller in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle on December 28.
The trio of Benie des Dieux, Roksana and Honeysuckle, winners of the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle respectively, all feature among the 26 entries for the 2020 running of the two-and-a-half-mile contest.
Honeysuckle, who is also entered in the Unibet Champion Hurdle, has continued her forward march this season, taking her Grade One tally to five with victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November.
Roksana, who was fourth to Honeysuckle last season, began her season with a success at Wetherby in October and was far from disgraced when third behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
Benie des Dieux fell at the last when looking in command in the 2019 renewal, before finishing runner-up to Honeysuckle in 2020. She has yet to start since and is one of six entries for trainer Willie Mullins, who dominates the roll of honour with an amazing nine victories – headed by six-time scorer Quevega.
His entries this year also include Concertista, successful in the Daylesford Mares' Novices' Hurdle at The Festival last season, plus Cesarewitch Handicap winner Great White Shark.Bring home the Jumps with a free month of Racing TV! Watch full coverage of the best British and Irish meetings. Start your free month at racingtv.com/freemonth!
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