All you need to know about the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse on March 14.
By Will Hayler
When and where can I watch the Stayers’ Hurdle? 3.30pm Cheltenham, Thursday March 14. Live on Racing TV or at Racingtv.com/videos
Which Grade? Grade One. Which course is the Stayers’ Hurdle staged on? New Course
What distance? 3m (12 hurdles). How much prize-money? £325,000
Ages: 4yo+ which are allotted a BHA rating of 130 or more
Weights & Allowances: 5yo+ 11st 10lb, 4yo 11st. Allowances, mares and fillies 7lb
Who is the sponsor? Sun Bets
Watch what our experts made of last year's Stayhers' Hurdle won by Penhill
Key Statistics and Trends:
To some extent, recent statistics are on the race are skewed by the dominance of horses such as Big Buck’s (winner four times) and Inglis Drever (three times).
Best after a break:
Winners of this race tend to come into the contest fresh, although Penhill was an extreme example last year when making his seasoinal return! Not since My Way De Solzen in 2006 has the winner been in racecourse action within the previous six weeks.
Favourites do well:
While there were three winners at 20-1 or more in the 1990s, recent trends have made this a race for the market leaders with five of the last 11 favourites winning and the considerable majority of this century’s scorers coming from the first three in the betting market. A total of 15 favourites have won in the 46 runnings.
The oldest winner was Crimson Embers, aged 11 at the time of his second success in 1986.
The youngest winners have been six-year-olds Cole Harden (2015), More Of That (2014) Big Buck’s (2009), My Way De Solzen (2006), Inglis Drever (2005), Bacchanal (2000), Cyborgo (2006), Dorans Pride (1995), Trapper John (1990), Rose Ravine (1985), Derring Rose (1981), Mountrivers (1980), Lighter (1979), Flame Gun (1978) and Town Ship (1977)Cole Harden was the last six-year-old to prevail (PA)
Consistency the key:
Ten of the last 11 winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle had finished in the first two in all of their completed outings that season. Penhill is included, although he was making his return.
A three-mile hurdling contest was first introduced at Cheltenham in 1912, but it was run as a seller until the start of the Second World War with the winners auctioned off afterwards.
A three-mile conditions race was introduced at the first post-war Festival in 1946, the Spa Hurdle, which was immediately well supported.
In its first year, the race was run in two 17-runner divisions, won by Haze and Tregor. The first really high-class winner was the Vincent O’Brien-trained Stroller in 1956, who had been beaten a head by Clair Soleil in the 1955 Champion Hurdle and then fell as favourite for the 1956 two-mile championship before making amends, by a short-head, in the longer contest two days later.
Clair Soleil took the Spa Hurdle in 1959 and another Champion Hurdle winner Merry Deal, followed suit in 1962. They are the only two horses to have won both races.
The Spa Hurdle was transferred to the April meeting in 1968, swopping spots in the racing calendar with the Triumph Hurdle, before returning in 1971.
The race’s name was changed to the Lloyds Bank Hurdle in 1972, before a change of sponsor in 1978 saw the contest called the Waterford Crystal Stayers’ Hurdle, while the Bonusprint Stayers’ Hurdle took place between 1991 and 2004.
Ladbrokes sponsored from 2005 to 2015, with Ryanair backing the 2016 renewal, during which time the race was known as the World Hurdle. The contest reverted to its earlier Stayers’ Hurdle handle in 2017, with Sun Bets taking over sponsorship.
Last 11 winners and full video replays:
2018 - Penhill
The mastery of Willie Mullins was at hand last year, with Penhill, having his first run of the campaign, winning in great style.
Anchored out the back early on, the 12-1 chance hit the front between the last two and won going away by a couple of lengths fromn the plucky Supasundae (6-1).
The progressive Sam Spinner went off the 9-4 favourite, having won the Long Walk Hurdle earlier in the season, but he faded to finish fifth in what was a steadily-run affair. Given the testing underfoot conditions, perhaps it was predictable that the jockeys should settle for steady fractions.
2017 - Nichols Canyon:
Nichols Canyon came from off the pace to register the eighth Grade One success of his career and complete a treble on the day for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh. Making only his second attempt at the three-mile trip, he rattled home with a power-packed finish against the stands’ rail.
He was held up in the early stages as 2015 winner Cole Harden set a strong pace that had the field well strung out. When he faded out of contention, Lil Rockerfeller set sail for home, but Nichols Canyon (10-1) was produced to lead on the run-in and score by three-quarters of a length.
Unowhatimeanharry, the 5-6 favourite, was three and a half lengths away in third as he suffered his first defeat of the season.
Owner Graham Wylie was celebrating a fourth success in the race after three-time victor Inglis Drever, and said: “When I told Willie to buy a horse for me, he rang me up and said 'I think I've found you the next Inglis Drever'.
"He looks like Inglis Drever as he's only a pony, but he flew up the hill. Ruby told me he'd ride him like that to make sure he got the trip.”
Sadly, Nichols Canyon was fatally injured after a fall at Leopardstown before the nyear was out.
2016 - Thistlecrack:
Thistlecrack claimed an imperious victory under Tom Scudamore to confirm his status as the leading staying hurdler of the season. The Colin Tizzard-trained eight year-old hit the front from two out and despite eventual runner-up Alpha Des Obeaux trying to throw down a challenge he was never going to get near the winner.
Cole Harden made much of the running but had no answer to Thistlecrack and eventually finished fouth. The evens favourite stormed up the hill to come home seven lengths clear of Alpha Des Obeaux (8-1), with 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Bobs Worth (33-1) staying on for third a massive 22 lengths adrift.
Scudamore, who was in tears after the winning post, said: “I’ve spent my whole life running around in these races, nearly getting there, and finally I’ve got a horse like this. It’s unbelievable, I never realised it could be so easy! Once we jumped the last it was all over. That was fantastic, what a racehorse. I think it’s fair to say he’s the best I’ve sat on.”
2015 - Cole Harden:
Cole Harden caused an upset under an inspired ride from Gavin Sheehan as the 14-1 shot saw off Paul Nicholls-trained duo Saphir Du Rheu and Zarkandar by three and a quarter lengths. At Fishers Cross was fourth for AP McCoy.
The winner had made the early running alongside Reve De Sivola, with See You At Midnight on their tails in third. Six from home, Cole Harden rapped the top of the hurdle and then made a mess of the next but managed to retain his lead all the way to the winning post.
It was a first Festival win for the jockey and trainer Warren Greatrex, who was memorably in tears afterwards.
Greatrex said: “I believed in the horse, but I was struggling with him early season. I'm normally a cool customer but I got very nervous and the emotion showed after he had won.”
Sheehan added: “This is what dreams are made of. He's done everything right but I was just waiting for a horse to fly past me and beat me. I had my head down going for home and I didn't know where the good horses were but I wasn't going to look round for them!”
2014 - More Of That:
More Of That ended an era with an impressive success in the World Hurdle, as Big Buck's finished a well-beaten fifth in what was immediately announced to be his final race. AP McCoy could have been aboard the big-race winner but chose to ride another horse instead, so the mount went to Barry Geraghty.
Big Buck's was applauded all around the paddock before the race, the crowd appreciating his return from the tendon injury that had kept him on the sidelines through the previous year. But he was struggling from the top of the hill on the final circuit and it was quickly apparent that he could take no part in the finish.
More Of That had drawn ahead with Annie Power on the run to the last and there was a roar from the crowd as the Irish mare, sent off favourite, appeared to shoulder More Of That to one side.
But from that point to the line, it was More Of That who kept on dourly while Annie Power paid the price for racing keenly through the early stages. More Of That won by a length and a half from Annie Power, with At Fishers Cross five lengths further back.
Jonjo O'Neill, trainer of More Of That, was in the winner's enclosure for the third time in the week. “I hope it never stops,” he said. Asked about McCoy's desertion, he said: “That was AP's decision. He believed in his horse and I believed in mine.”
2013 - Solwhit:
Solwhit charged up the hill to land the spoils at a Festival that featured a number of big successes for Irish-trained horses. The result proved a fine reward for the patience of owners Top Of The Hill syndicate and the winning trainer, Charlie Byrnes, after the horse had been off the track for almost two years because of a tendon injury.
Bog Warrior led for much of the race but jockey Paul Carberry produced the winner with a perfectly-timed run to get the better of Celestial Halo by two and a half lengths.
“It's a tremendous feeling,” said Byrnes. “We knew he was a class horse and his form with Hurricane Fly [from two years ago] was exceptional.
“We were happy coming here that he was 100%. The only downside is that he's really Davy Russell's ride but unfortunately he couldn't ride him today.”
Russell had ruled himself out of the ride earlier that day after hospital tests found he’d sustained a collapsed lung in a previous fall.
2012 - Big Buck’s:
Big Buck's made history with a thrilling fourth successive victory in the stayers' championship.
The Andy Stewart-owned nine-year-old, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Ruby Walsh, had to work hard to hold off Voler La Vedette to take his winning streak over hurdles to 16.
The 5-6 favourite battled on tremendously to win by a length and three-quarters from Voler La Vedette (20-1), with Smad Place (20-1) seven lengths away in third.
Mourad forced the pace some way out with Big Buck's moving into second place and Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars waiting in the wings. Big Buck's had those under control but then Andrew Lynch played his cards late on the Colm Murphy-trained mare Voler La Vedette.
The two horses switched positions on the run to the final flight with Big Buck's moving out to the centre of the course and Voler La Vedette to the nearside rail. Big Buck’s refused to lie down though and fought off his rival.
Nicholls said: “When he was pricking his ears going to the last I knew we were in business as he keeps galloping. He's just a fantastic horse, it's brilliant. Ruby needed that, I needed that and so did the team. It's brilliant”
2011 - Big Buck’s:
Ruby Walsh steered Big Buck's to his third consecutive victory in the race, despite an unusual and embarrassing blip before the final flight when he dropped his whip.
Despite the problem, Big Buck’s rallied bravely to deny Grands Crus by a length and three-quarters after a thrilling battle up the run-in, with Mourad back in third.
“It was my own fault because I was trying to figure out where they were behind me and only half-watching what I was doing,” said Walsh.
“It was schoolboy-like. It's not my greatest hour in the saddle, but he is a wonderful horse and he got me out today.”
This was an 11th consecutive victory for Big Buck’s and trainer Paul Nicholls admitted afterwards: “We'll have to try and make it four now. He's still only a young horse and one thing is for certain, he won't be going chasing now.
“It's amazing the support for him here. People really appreciate him and it's a special moment.”
2010 - Big Buck’s:
Big Buck’s produced arguably the most impressive of his four victories in this race as he cruised home by more than three lengths from Time For Rupert.
The first winning favourite at the meeting after a spate of surprise results, his convincing victory was welcomed by punters and Ruby Walsh received a rapturous reception into the winner’s enclosure.
He had cruised up alongside the runner-up heading to the final flight, with Walsh keen not to act his mount a serious question until after the final flight.
“I was very nervous beforehand,” said trainer Paul Nicholls. “But he was very good today. I think it was his best ever performance and win number three next year is the plan. He didn't work very well on Saturday morning but that's normal for him. He's a character that you just have to kid along and get right.”
2009 - Big Buck’s:
Re-routed from an aborted career over fences, Big Buck’s landed the first of four famous victories in the race, staying on strongly to beat Punchestowns and Powerstation.
French hope Kasbah Bliss, sent off the 10-11 favourite having finished second 12 months earlier, was held up well off the pace by Christophe Pieux and never looked likely to lay down a serious challenge.
Big Buck's, too, was being ridden along three out as Punchestowns and Barry Geraghty opened up a useful lead off the home turn, but not for the first time Walsh knew his mount was only just getting going.
“I could see that Barry was the obvious danger but I didn't want to go on, even after the last, so I didn't mind getting underneath it and letting Barry back in front of me again,” Walsh said. “Even as it was, I should have let him carry me further up the run-in and not committed as soon as I did.”
Having unseated his rider at the last fence of the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup earlier that season, Nicholls took the decision to head back over hurdles. In response, the horse’s owner, Andy Stewart initially told the trainer he must be “going bonkers”.
“It was clearly the right decision after all,” Stewart said in the winner’s enclosure. “Perhaps he’ll go back over fences and go for the Gold Cup next season.”
2008 - Inglis Drever:
Inglis Drever ground out a third consecutive win in the race and earned his status as a Cheltenham Festival legend.
It was a second success of the week for trainer Howard Johnson, owner Graham Wylie and jockey Denis O’Regan, who had also taken the Arkle Chase with Tidal Bay, the victories coming despite a virus reaching Johnson’s yard that had left a number of his horses coughing in the build-up to the meeting.
After hitting his usual flat spot in the middle stages of the race, Inglis Drever knuckled down to an intense battle with the Francois Doumen-trained Kasbah Bliss, which he won by calling on all stamina reserves.
He jumped into the lead at the final flight and held off Kasbah Bliss by a length, with a gap of seven lengths back to Kazal in third.
“He's a street fighter who never knows when he is beaten and he loves the attention he gets in the winner's enclosure,” said Wylie.
“It is all so emotional now. I just sat quietly in the stand and watched and watched, and he had so many traffic problems. But when he came over the last, he was too good for them.”
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