This race at different points throughout the year, has flip-flopped from being a really hot looking race, to a race that looks quite weak and then back again. In fact we have had 4 or 5 favourites throughout the year and none have really cemented their claims to be the top of the pile. It looked, as well, as though a few horses would be stepping up in trip or reverting to hurdling to take advantage of the weak division, but actually the field now looks set to be relatively small. Buzz wasn't my idea of the winner anyway, but he was well backed before suffering a bad injury, and the ill-fated Latest Exhibition had chased Monkfish home many times and had reverted back to hurdles aiming for this race, before his accident. Even with a month or so still to go until the race, you can already whittle down a lot of the field to around 10 runners. There may be a few that divert to this race late, the likes of Asterion Forlonge, Melon and even Goshen are in the betting, but runners who you look at and go “yep, they’ll turn up here” are on the thin side.
Our Ante Post favourite currently is last years‘ winner, Flooring Porter, at 7/2. It says a lot about how open this race is, that he is so short in the betting because in his three runs since has been pulled up, fell and second. The horse he was second to Klassical Dream is 6/1 here off the back of a poor run where he was beaten in the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle. After Flooring Porter in the betting is Thyme Hill at 5/1, he also hasn't won a race this season, being well beaten in France before finishing second to Champ. Champ himself, 11/2, was subsequently beaten by previous Stayers' Hurdle winner Paisley Park, 7/1 here, in a below par run over course and distance. These five horses are all less than 7/1 but you couldn't be confident 100% on any of them really.
Going through the main runners, Flooring Porter was perhaps unlucky in both starts this season. His reappearance he looked set to win when going well before falling two out, for such a headstrong horse that does look a bit of a handful to ride at times, that was actually the first fall of his career. Then, in the race against Klassical Dream, he was unable to lead as Paul Townend poached a 6 or 7 length lead at the start and took the race from the front, it was controversial and led to people arguing that it should have been a false start. I think he had every chance to get past Klassical Dream, but was hanging left handed towards the finish. He is a horse that likes to lead and the race wasn't ever really in his favour as result of the start, the fact he also had a 7 length deficit to make up but was only beaten two lengths could also be worth bearing in mind. He's not got a bomb proof profile and does need to get the lead, but on reflection has a good chance here.
Klassical Dream was the Supreme winner in 2019, but had three poor runs at the end of that year into open company, and was then off the track for 18 months. His return was at the end of last year in the Champion Stayers' Hurdle at Punchestow, his first start over three miles. Upped in trip and after so long off he was smashed in the betting halving in price throughout the day. Ridden as though defeat was out of the question he was held up but made smooth progress to win by 9 lengths. Flooring Porter was pulled up that day, but after a long hard season it would be fair to write that run off. It was an impressive training performance by Willie Mullins to have him ready off the back of such a long absence. He then returned after another 8 months off over Christmas and as previously mentioned beat Flooring Porter from the front making all to win the Grade One Christmas Hurdle by two lengths. I was impressed as he showed he could win both held up and gamely make all, the sort of versatility that can be crucial in these championship races where you’re not guaranteed to get the race run perfectly to suit. It was his next start that saw his price be pushed out from 11/4 favourite out to now 6/1. Going off just 1/3 in the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle over three miles, he again made the running but could only manage fourth after a flat finish. Perhaps it was the awful ground conditions, or possibly the "bounce" factor, his previous two impressive wins were off the backs of big breaks and this start came less than a month after that Christmas Hurdle win. Going to Cheltenham on the back of a bigger break could see him return to his best and I personally think 6/1 is a little big.
Thyme Hill, won last years Aintree three mile hurdle and looked to have a chance to take hold of this division, but has disappointed in both starts this year. He went over to France for the Grand Prix D'Automne, no easy task beating the fitter French rivals on his first start, it was hard not to be underwhelmed by his 41 length fifth. He then went off favourite for the Long Walk hurdle that he'd been beaten in by Paisley Park a year prior, this time it was Champ who seemingly outstayed him with Paisley Park a few lengths back in third. We know he acts at the track with a really good third Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper, as well as a close up fourth in the Albert Bartlett won by Monkfish. I liked him at the start of the season, but my enthusiasm has been tempered slightly off the back of his runs this year, but despite this he is shorter in the betting than the start of the season and still second favourite.
Champ and Paisley Park, 11/2 and 7/1 respectively, are closely matched in both the betting and on their form this year. Both 10 year olds, statistically they have it against them, but in an open looking renewal would both have chances. Both have won at the festival before and both those wins were over three miles, Paisley Park in this race back in 2019, and Champ in the 2020 RSA. On their day both are class acts and have a lot of good form in the book, but neither are the most reliable. Champ went off just 13/2 for last years Gold Cup but was pulled up and the fact they've reverted to hurdling tells you all you need to know about how he jumped. He has run twice so far this season, a brilliant win in the Long Walk hurdle at Ascot where he beat Thyme Hill and Paisley Park fresh, looking like he was back to his best. But then was beaten over three lengths by Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle, that is despite Paisley Park whipping round at the start and giving the field a huge head start. For Champ it was underwhelming and if he is in that form come Cheltenham, won't be winning, but if he shows the Ascot level of form, then he would have an excellent chance. Paisley Park has had twice as many runs this year, with connections opting for a change of tactics and headgear to try and eek some improvement out of him; there was even talk of a novice chase campaign. His three starts before that victory were all third places. His first was the Paisley we saw last year, outpaced but staying on without ever looking the winner. The second start was where connections opted for cheekpieces and tried to make the running with him, that was quickly abandoned as he didn't take to it and ended up weakening out of the race. His third start was much better staying on and chasing home Champ and Thyme Hill. He was beaten over five lengths so it was a real shock to see him reverse that form with Champ, especially after the suboptimal start. If I was the trainer I think you'd have to ride him as usual, held up in behind to stay on late. You know he'll be staying on at the end, and you just have to hope for a bit of luck in running and give him something to aim at.
Really there is only four more who I think it's worth talking about for this race and will end up in this race. Sporting John was a grade one winner last year over fences and has won twice this year in good handicap hurdles, the last of which was a Pertemps qualifier, so he may well end up there. I think though with his rating now 156 and with Champ losing for the same connections, they may send him here to have another shot at this better race. He would have to have an each way shout at 14/1. Sire Du Berlais at 28/1 is also one that has Pertemp's qualification and won that race back to back in 2019 and 2020. His mark is 155 and he won the 2020 renewal off 152 so that may be a serious option for him and trainer Gordon Elliott recently stated that was the plan again, he was a good second in this race last year though and could just as feasibly turn up here again. But with him having the same owners as Champ and Sporting John, I think we can take Gordon’s word that he’ll be a Pertemps horse.
Another 14/1 shot is Royal Kahala, the mare that beat Klassical Dream last time out. She went off favourite for last years Mares' Novice Hurdle and has good form in the book, having beaten Mares' Hurdle favourite Telmesomethinggirl and Coral Cup winner Heaven Help us in a Mares' Hurdle over Christmas. She looked even better for the step up to three miles and deserves a lot of credit for the win against Klassical Dream. At 14/1 she would be of interest, but bear in mind that all of her best form is on soft or heavy ground and she might end up in the Mares' Hurdle as the ground is typically softer towards the start of the week.
I've had some awful bets on the race Ante Post and have ended up going into the race already on -3 points. All three at the time I thought were value, but 2 have gone chasing instead and 1 of them is a non stayer of the trip who wasn’t entered for the race.
The Bosses Oscar - Stayers' Hurdle 40/1 0.5pts each way (02/08/2021)
Jungle Boogie - Stayers’ Hurdle - 25/1 0.5pts each way (08/11/2021)
Abacadabras - Stayers Hurdle - 33/1 0.5pts each way (29/11/2021) The only bet that still has any chance is the double I advised.
Honeysuckle/Thyme Hill - Champion Hurdle/Stayers - 17/1 double 1pt win (18/10/2021)
With the race looking so open, Thyme Hill would have to have a chance, and if you think Honeysuckle is a banker, then it's almost like a 17/1 single on Thyme Hill.
I will add just one further bet for this race a 1pt win bet on Klassical Dream at 6/1. He has already beaten the current favourite twice, I think the Irish form in general is stronger, and you can reasonably write off his poor run last time. For me the 6/1 is just too big with no bulletproof option.