Unowhatimeanharry is a worthy favourite at 5/4 with Bet365 in the Stayers’ Hurdle betting but defeat is not out of the question in a field of this size and depth (3.30pm Thursday, live on ITV).
Yes, he has won all his eight starts for Harry Fry (pictured) and is well proven over course and distance but he looked far from unbeatable when getting the better of Cole Harden by less than two lengths in the Cleeve Hurdle here in January.
The prolific national hunt racing supporter JP McManus owns both Unowhatimeanharry and Jezki (7/1) and the latter has some very decent Cheltenham form too. Jezki won the Champion Hurdle in 2014 under Barry Geraghty – JP McManus’ retained jockey at the time, Sir AP McCoy, chose to ride My Tent Or Yours who was beaten into second and filled the same position on Tuesday.
Trained by Jessie Harrington in County Kildare, the nine-year-old Jezki has triumphed in his one attempt at this distance of three miles, winning the Grade 1 World Series Hurdle at Punchestown in April 2015 under Mark Walsh who partners him here. He was subsequently absent for 21 months but resurfaced in January to win a decent two mile hurdle at Navan more comfortably than the winning distance of nearly two lengths suggests.
Jezki was last seen getting beaten four lengths by Gordon Elliott’s Tombstone in a Grade 3 at Gowran Park but we can forgive him that defeat as he would have hated the heavy ground. His form suggests that three miles on a decent surface is now his forte. It would not be unthinkable to see a repeat of the Champion Hurdle scenario when a less popular horse in the colours of JP McManus beats his more fancied runner. Jezki has to have each-way claims.
Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Ballyoptic (16/1) looked a serious threat to Unowhatimeanharry when he fell alongside him at the last in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December. He is a talented performer and was the 9/1 winner of the Grade 1 Sefton Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree a year ago, beating Willie Mullins’ favourite, Bellshill.
Now a seven-year-old, Ballyoptic has been beaten twice by Unowhatimeanharry this season when he has managed to stay upright. It was by six lengths in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November and by nine lengths last time out here in January. The handicapper rates him 5lb below the favourite and theoretically the second best horse in the field. Sam Twiston-Davies has only ridden Ballyoptic once before and won on him. If the use of a tongue tie for the first time elicits some improvement Sam is not without hope of gaining a second victory.
Nichols Canyon (10/1) is another classy performer with seven Grade 1 victories to his name. Trained by Willie Mullins and owned by the Wylies, this seven-year-old son of Authorized has the unique distinction of having beaten his illustrious stablemate Faugheen. He was given a perfectly judged front-running ride by David Mullins to do so in the Morgiana at Punchestown back in 2015.
Nichols Canyon kicked off this season with a win in the same race, albeit against much less impressive opposition, in November under Ruby Walsh. Petit Mouchoir, third in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, beat him seven lengths in his next run at Leopardstown in December. Nichols Canyon fell at the final flight last time out at the same track in January, looking likely to finish behind Petit Mouchoir again.
All three of those runs were over two miles but Nichols Canyon has a couple of wins over half a mile further. He was beaten three lengths into third when tried over three miles in a valuable Grade 1 at Percy Warner Park in the US in May but was outpaced rather than outstayed on the good ground under Walsh. His stablemate Shaneshill accompanied him to the US for the same race and was only beaten a neck partnered by Danny Mullins. Walsh presumably preferred Nichols Canyon’s chances, it will be interesting to see which horse he chooses to ride here.
Shaneshill (8/1) also lines up for the same connections. This eight-year-old is rated 5lb lower than his stablemate but comes into the race on the back of a win over this distance in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in late January. He beat Snow Falcon just under a length partnered by Paul Townend.
Shaneshill has an extraordinary record at Prestbury Park, finishing second in each of his three runs at the Festival. Last year he was beaten half a length by Blaklion in the RSA Chase (which is run over this distance). In 2015 he was runner-up to Douvan in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and in 2014 he was beaten less than two lengths by Dermot Weld’s Silver Concorde when starting as the 7/2 favourite under Walsh in the Champion Bumper.
If past Festival form is any indicator, Shaneshill is a solid each-way prospect. He has only fallen twice in his 17 runs over obstacles and he has only once finished out of the first three when completing. Expect his price to shorten if Ruby Walsh chooses to ride him.
Snow Falcon (16/1) is worth a mention and not just because of his performance last time in the Galmoy Hurdle. Trained by Noel Meade, this seven-year-old looked to be travelling well when he tipped up three out in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November. Unusually for a son of Presenting his form suggests that he is most effective with plenty of cut in the ground, conditions could be against him.
Colin Tizzard sent out Thistlecrack to win this race last year and saddles his half-brother West Approach (14/1) for the same owners, Heather and John Snook. West Approach was beaten three lengths into third by Unowhatimeanharry here last time in January under Ruby Walsh whom the Tizzards have thanked for unearthing Thistlecrack’s talent.
This seven-year-old is a sizeable unit who is open to further improvement but he has 10lb to find with the favourite and there is a slight question mark over the yard’s recent form. On the positive side West Approach has put in some decent performances here but, partnered by Tom Scudamore, it is difficult to be confident about his chances.
Cole Harden (8/1) was the favourite’s closest pursuer last time out and could well provide a strong challenge here. He won this race two years ago and, having been tried over fences for the first time on his debut this season, was sensibly switched back to hurdles after he was a beaten favourite, not appearing to enjoy the challenge of larger obstacles. We can expect to see him at the head of affairs early on and he might just be able to stay there.
Our Preview’s Stayers’ Hurdle Each-Way Betting Tip
Unowhatimeanharry is the obvious choice on his recent form but he holds limited appeal at his current price, especially as he is only rated a few pounds superior to a number of his rivals.
- Jezki and Cole Harden have strong claims but SHANESHILL’s consistent course form is particularly compelling. Back him each-way at 8/1 with the admirable Bet365 who are in a select minority of bookies offering ¼ the odds on the first three places and are also providing Best Odds Guaranteed, so if the price does drift you get the longer odds.
Fiona Derek is our Reality TV and horse racing expert. The only time you won’t find her riding or mucking out a racehorse is when she is watching Reality TV or racing on the box.