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Thursday 10th February 2022
   
Why the Stayers’ Hurdle Might be the Best Race at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham evokes memories of the top National Hunt horses competing in the biggest races. Usually, the Gold Cup is the blue riband event, but the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Coral Cup all deserve honourable mentions.

The Stayers’ Hurdle, while respected, doesn’t often feature in pre-meeting discussions. However, this time around, it could be the competition that catches the attention of the sporting public more than any other. Ignore the Stayers at your peril.

A Consistent Favourite  

The Stayers’ Hurdle is an incredibly open race, which makes the Cheltenham Festival betting more intriguing with Flooring Porter as the out-and-out 10/3 favourite. Indeed, most 2022 Cheltenham tips believe the reigning champion will claim victory again. Jonjo O’Neill Jr, a rival jockey, has openly admitted that Porter will be tough to beat.  

Although watching the favourites win isn’t as exciting as watching the underdogs come from out of nowhere, it’s important to respect greatness. Okay, Flooring Porter won’t be the top-rated horse over hurdles, nor will he receive as many write-ups as the Gold Cup winner, yet consecutive Stayers’ Hurdle victories are no joke.  

Let’s not forget the Irish racehorse’s pedigree as Yeats was the sire, meaning he has the potential to go on achieve even greater things. Whatever happens in the future, Gavin Cromwell’s gelding must do something special to fight off the competition for the second time running. 

Underrated Runners  

Still, it’s an open event, and that adds to the anticipation for pundits and punters. Too many times, the strongest horses at Cheltenham have it their own way and the entertainment factor for the spectators isn’t as high. Thankfully, the Stayers’ Hurdle has a stacked line-up, making it one of the most competitive fields at Cheltenham this year.  

Paisley Park is a prime example because he pulled off a remarkable upset a couple of weeks ago, beating Champ in the Cleeve Hurdle. This is important as Champ is the current Stayers’ Hurdle second favourite at 9/2. Therefore, Paisley Park deserves a lot of respect at 6/1, seeing as he’s recently beaten a direct rival.  

The legendary former jockey, Ruby Walsh, meanwhile, has pinned his colours to the mast of a relatively ignored horse by the name of Thyme Hill. Well, it wasn’t well-known until the Irishman told a podcast that he fancied the runner, leading it to become the joint-second favourite at 9/2, along with Champ and Klassical Dream. Judging the horse's Grand National Festival appearance last year, he certainly has heart.

The Champ  

Champ should get a mention due to his experience. When you look at his CV, the horse has been through it all and competed at the highest level for almost a decade. He needs to improve on his Cleeve Hurdle performance, but O’Neill believes in him. The jockey even said he ran a blinder when beaten by Paisley Park.  

What’s interesting about Champ is the fact that Nicky Henderson has taken his mount out of Gold Cup contention. Not many people thought he could win it anyway, yet Champ has been entered the past couple of years and seemed out of place.  

However, Henderson obviously thinks that the Stayers’ Hurdle represents the gelding’s best opportunity at Cheltenham success, which should be a warning to the rest of the field. Don’t underestimate him as his 2020 RSA Chase rivals did. Jumping over hurdles could easily make life easier for the old boy.  

A few races, including the Gold Cup and Champion Chase, garner attention like no other. This year, though, the Stayers’ Hurdle should be in the conversation too. Just look at the quality of the race. 

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