Stayers' Hurdle Ante-Post Preview: Cap looks a good fit

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If The Cap Fits (far side) has impressed in each of his last two starts.
If The Cap Fits (far side) has impressed in each of his last two starts.

Following the release of entries for this year’s Stayers' Hurdle, Alex Stearn has taken a look at the line-up and picked out two ante-post bets at this stage…

The entries for the Stayers' Hurdle were announced on Thursday afternoon, with a near perfect split from both sides of the Irish Sea. The Stayers Hurdle is really the only Championship race that hasn’t faced a dramatic market shake-up to date, with Paisley Park headlining the 40-strong list, but a lot can change in a short space of time in racing - as we’ve seen over the past few months with the other Championship races…

Andrew Gemmell owns the short-priced favourite, and given that he hasn’t tasted defeat in his last six starts, it isn’t hard to see why. His seasonal reappearance saw him fend off the challenge of Thistlecrack, a notable absentee from the entries, despite reportedly only being ‘fit enough to do himself justice’ for that engagement. He missed his next intended engagement in the Long Walk when Ascot was bottomless, and connections took him out on account of the ground after the track survived its inspection. He has to defend his crown here and could well do-so, but we will know whether the current 5/4 on offer looks any good after his run in the Cleeve Hurdle on Festival Trials Day at the end of them month. 

That will likely confirm the pecking order of this particular division, with current second favourite, If The Cap Fits, set to throw his hat (or cap) into the ring. Harry Fry’s charge has confirmed himself as a top-level performer since being equipped with cheekpieces, signing off with a game victory in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree last term. He needed every yard of the three-mile trip that day, but is clearly versatile, and has since made a winning reappearance in the Ascot Hurdle over two miles and three furlongs in November. Like Paisley Park, he was another that side-stepped the Long Walk when reportedly needing more time to get over his last race, so expect him to put his best foot forward in the Cleeve, and he can throw down a serious challenge to Paisley Park this term. 

The 2018 winner of this race Penhill tops the Irish entries for the Willie Mullins team, and despite having plenty of form at a good level, his two runs since returning from a long lay-off have suggested that his best days may well be behind him. His entries for this also include the star mare Benie Des Dieux, who would be high on many shortlists based on her ability alone, but the Mares’ Hurdle is surely on her agenda this season - and an attempt to try and gain recompense for last year’s final flight mishap.

Ben Pauling has had a frustrating year or so, and is now back up and running after closing his doors for a spell due to his horses running well below form. He is solely represented in this by Bright Forecast, a horse with immense talent. His yard’s slow start to the season may mean that he is kept over the smaller obstacles for now, and despite his handler not quite back up to the level that he would have hoped, he is more than capable of readying a smart type, as we saw with Global Citizen at Kempton over Christmas, and he rates as a good each-way chance at around the 33/1 mark. 

Local trainer Tom George is doubly represented, with Summerville Boy and The Worlds End both rating as likely runners at this stage. The former was last seen at Cheltenham on New Years Day when winning the Relkeel Hurdle, and without a two and a half mile graded contest as the Festival - for now at least - the step up in trip would suit best. The latter was the winner of a below-standard Long Walk Hurdle and has run well plenty of times in the top contests, but would likely need to run a career best to get involved for win purposes.

Interestingly, three novice chasers also have entries off the back of varying levels of success over the bigger obstacles, and they would all have cases to be made should they turn up. Champ was a faller in the Dipper Novices’ Chase here on New Year’s Day, and with his jumping under question, a return to the smaller obstacles for now wouldn’t be a surprise - and he could be a popular choice amongst the betting public. City Island hasn’t set the world alight since tackling fences, and although he did finish second in a Grade 3 contest at Punchestown last time out, he was 24 lengths behind the eventual winner. He doesn’t look at a natural chaser, and his Ballymore form would bring him right into this if lining up. Lastly, Minella Indo is another who won over hurdles in novice company at last year’s Festival, and would have strong claims in this, but he’s looked a natural over fences so far, meaning he would be a surprise runner. 

Overall, many people think that Paisley Park rates as a banker for this year’s Festival, but given he’s yet to face the tenacious If The Cap Fits, it may be worth siding with Paul and Clare Rooney’s charge at the prices. He has proven stamina, and a combination of his tremendous attitude and the fact that he’s still unexposed at this trip means he’s my idea of the winner. At a bigger price, Bright Forecast is another horse with sizeable potential and at 33/1, he is too big to ignore in what looks more open contest than the market suggests. 

Selection

Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday 12th March 2020 - back If The Cap Fits at 8/1

Stayers’ Hurdle, Thursday 12th March 2020 - back Bright Forecast each-way at 33/1

Tip

Stayers' Hurdle
If The Cap Fits silk

If The Cap Fits

Emerged onto the scene as a potential candidate for this race when running out a game winner of the Liverpool Hurdle last April, and he's since made a winning reappearance over a shorter trip in the Ascot Hurdle in November. He's got proven stamina and a tremendous attitude, and he offers plenty of value at the prices up against Paisley Park.

Tip

Stayers' Hurdle
Bright Forecast silk

Bright Forecast (EW)

Talented novice hurdler from last term, who finished third in the Ballymore at the Cheltenham Festival. We haven't seen him yet this season, but his yard are more than capable of readying a smart type after an absence, and he looks over-priced as an each-way proposition at the 33/1 mark.

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