With 28 races over the course of four days, there has been plenty to talk about in the run up to next month’s Cheltenham Festival. Adding to the confusion among tipsters and bookies is the fact that many of the runners hold provisional entries in multiple races. But with every passing day, the picture becomes steadily clearer, as they make their final decision as to which horse will run where.
As far as the showcase races are concerned, most are seen as little less than foregone conclusions, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Might Bite and Buveur D’Air being hotly fancied by tipsters and bookmakers alike. But according to those close to the action at Cheltenhamfestival.net, there is one headline race in the festival that is still wide open, and that is the St Patrick’s Day showpiece, the Stayers Hurdle.
Early favorite Unowhatimeanharry’s odds plummeted with his dip in form, Sam Spinner became the warm favorite among bookies only to be eclipsed in the betting by Supasundae, and now Yanworth has been added to the mix. The tipsters, meanwhile, still have more than half an eye on L’ami Serge. So where is the smart money? Let’s take a look at the top contenders a little more closely.
When the runners were first announced, Supasundae was a 7/1 shot, and attracting very little interest. But what a difference a month can make. When the Jessica Harrington trained eight year old edged out Faugheen to take the Irish Champion Hurdle at 8/1 odds, the racing world, and more to the point the bookmakers, sat up and took notice. The horse is now at 3/1 and the odds are shortening daily.
The increased profile of Supasundae has taken some of the weight of expectation off Jedd O’Keefe’s Sam Spinner. A comfortable victory over a star-studded field, including early Stayers Hurdle favorite Unowhatimeanharry, at Ascot over the Christmas period catapulted the six year old to the front pages of the racing press. But while Supasundae has taken over the top spot in terms of media coverage, O’Keefe is confident that his horse is ready for the challenge and can beat anyone. After a steady day of training at Newmarket’s all weather track, O’Keefe said: “It wasn’t a serious workout. He’s very fit already. It’s fairly straightforward what we’ll do between now and Cheltenham.”
There was some degree of doubt over whether trainer Alan King would choose to run Yanworth in the Stayers or opt for one of the novice chases, but he and owner JP McManus have decided to aim for the big prize. King felt the opportunity was too good to turn down, and the decision must have been at least partly connected with Yanworth’s fantastic showing in the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree last year, when he beat none other than Supasundae to the finish line.
One of the most notable things about the Stayers is that we have discussed the three most fancied runners without mentioning either of the trainers who have dominated the Cheltenham Festival for the past three decades. However, you should never overlook Nicky Henderson, and many of the top tipsters feel Ami Serge is one of the most tempting bets. Some are still offering odds as long as 12/1, and it is a case of get them while you can. The eight year old has maintained a relatively low profile over recent months, with a second place finish at Ascot over Christmas followed by a third in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster on January 27. But Henderson has a quiet twinkle in his eye. After the Doncaster race, he said: “With a clear run, he probably would have won.” While the odds remain long, the horse would certainly seem worthy of an each way wager.