Cheltenham Festival 2021: Stayers’ and Mares’ Hurdle entries
We look at the entries for two Grade 1 contests at the Cheltenham Festival – the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle (2m4f, Tuesday 16 March) and the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle (3m, Thursday 18 March)
Sponsor Paddy Power has Paisley Park, trained by Emma Lavelle, the 2019 hero, as 3/1 favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle, closely followed by Thyme Hill (Philip Hobbs) on 7/2.
The two market leaders have met twice so far this season with the score currently standing at one all.
In November at Newbury, it was Thyme Hill who came out on top by a length and a half in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle but next month it was Paisley Park who prevailed, scoring by a neck in Ascot’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.
Paisley Park has the upper hand on official BHA ratings, being assessed at 165 compared to 162 for Thyme Hill.
The runner-up to Paisley Park in 2019 was Sam Spinner frim Jedd O’Keeffe’s yard), 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’s 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: “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, representing Rebecca Curtis, caused a 50/1 shock in the 2020 Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle and he is entered once again along with last year’s runner-up Ronald Pump (Matthew Smith) and third Bacardys (Willie Mullins).
Ronald Pump and Bacardys are two of the 20 Irish-trained entries. There have been 12 Irish-trained winners of the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle.
Also prominent in the Irish-trained contingent is Benie Des Dieux for Willie Mullins, winner of the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle in 2018 and runner-up in the same contest last year plus the Gordon Elliott-trained Sire du Berlais, successful in the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at the Festivak last season.
Sire du Berlais was last seen when third behind Flooring Porter (Gavin Cromwell) and The Storyteller, also for Gordon Elliott, in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle on 28 December.
There is one entry from France in Paul’s Saga from the David Cottin stables. The seven-year-old mare landed the Grade 1 Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil, the French Champion Hurdle, in October.
Interestingly, Nicky Henderson has given the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle as an option for Champ, last season’s Grade 1 Festival Novices’ Chase hero who also holds an entry in the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The 11-times champion Jump trainer Paul Nicholls has the best record of any trainer in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle, thanks to four-time winner Big Buck’s.
His two entries in 2021 are recent G2 Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle scorer McFabulous and Next Destination, runner-up to Roksana (Dan Skelton), the 2019 Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle heroine, in a Grade 2 contest at Wetherby in October.
The trio of Benie des Dieux (Willie Mullins), Roksana (Dan Skelton) and Honeysuckle (Henry de Bromhead), 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 1 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 Grade 2 success at Wetherby in October and was far from disgraced when third behind Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Grade 1 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 last season’s Grade 2 Daylesford Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival plus Cesarewitch Handicap winner Great White Shark.
Other leading contenders include Dame de Compagnie for Nicky Henderson, a three-time winner at the Home of Jump Racing including in the 2020 Grade 3 Coral Cup at the Festival.
There is a scratchings deadline for the Close Brothers Hurdle on 9 February, with the six-day confirmation stage and supplementary entry stage following on 10 March.