Early Look at Stayers Hurdle - Two Months To Go

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EARLY LOOK AT STAYERS HURDLE - TWO MONTHS TO GO

The Stayers' Hurdle is a Grade One contest on Day Three at the Cheltenham Festival - one of the four Championship races during the week.

The event is run on the New Course at Prestbury Park, over the staying distance of three miles, where there are twelve hurdles to be jumped.

The inaugural race was run in 1912, with £100 prize money to the winner and £10 to the runner-up. A lot has changed since then, with the title of the race changing to the World Hurdle when Ladbrokes took over the sponsorship in 2005.

Their sponsorship came to an end in 2016, where it was sponsored by Ryanair for one season.

In 2017 and 2018 it was sponsored by Sun Bets and the title reverted back to the Stayers' Hurdle. Sun Racing has taken over the sponsorship since, so the 2019 renewal will be the Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle.

Last year, Penhill stormed up the run-in to land the contest for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend, with Supasundae and Wholestone second and third.

Let's look at this years' leading contenders:

THE CONTENDERS:

As was the case this time last year, Gordon Eliott's star mare Apples Jade currently has three options at the Cheltenham Festival - two of which she is favourite for, including the Stayers Hurdle.

Twelve months ago, many thought that winning one Mares Hurdle was enough, and that she was all set with a date against the opposite sex in this contest, but her connections decided against it - in favour of the race they thought was easiest to win.

However, she was turned over by former stable-companion Benie Des Dieux in the Mares showpiece and could only manage third under Jack Kennedy, breaking the hearts of several punters.

This year, she has been on a roll again, with three wins from three - two of which in Grade One company: the Christmas Hurdle and the Hatton's Grace.

Will she go back to the Mares? We don't know, but for the time-being, should Michael O'Leary surprise us all by subbing her in for the Stayers, she will no doubt go off the strong favourite.

She currently leads the way at 9/2, amongst many who are all but confirmed to race in this contest.

Last year's first and second - Penhill and Supasundae and there or thereabouts again, and are next best priced at 5/1 and 6/1 respectively, with the 2015 Champion Hurdler Faugheen at 8/1.

Willie Mullins' stable star was actually the favourite for this race on the final day of last season, after dismissing Penhill in the Irish equivalent at the Punchestown Festival by thirteen lengths.

Many believed after this, that Faugheen had turned over a new leaf after such a lengthy injury kept him on the sidelines, and although he may have lost his speed to compete in the two-mile division, he still has his engine to compete over three.

This term, he reappeared to finish second in the Morgiana to Sharjah - but that was over two. He then returned to race over three miles over Christmas in his second start, and fell just two lengths down on eventual winner Apples Jade, when holding every chance two-out.

A nasty looking fall which was heart-in-mouth stuff for those watching, but like all great Champions, he got to his feet and lived to fight another day.

That day may prove to be in the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham in March - a race that now looks made for him, and this looks to provide the obvious opportunity for him to repay the trust his owner and trainer have invested in him, to keep him over hurdles instead of tackling fences.

Midnight Shadow and Paisley Park are very much the new boys on the scene, but after stunning displays this term, they cannot be overruled and are both priced at 10/1.

Black Op is returning to hurdles after a disappointing start to life over fences, and is valued at 12/1, alongside If The Cap Fits - who failed to land any sort of blow to Buveur D'Air over two-miles in the Christmas Hurdle, having won the Coral Hurdle at Ascot so emphatically.

Aux Ptits Soins, Colins Sister and Bachasson, are also all towards the summit of the market.

Two months to go, the declarations for this race just before the start of the Festival will really get the gears going.

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