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Penhill claimed the Stayers’ Hurdle crown at Cheltenham Festival last season with a fine performance, but his credentials will face a stern test this term.
Willie Mullins’ charge was an outsider for the crown at 12/1, but was able to put forward a surge down the stretch to beat out a talented field.
The Stayers’ Hurdle is one of the most competitive and lucrative events of the Festival and there will be no shortage of drama on the track.
Paul Nicholls and Big Buck’s enjoyed a period of dominance over the race from 2009 to 2012, winning the event four years in a row. Since then six different horses have won the race, and Paisley Park is among those that will be determined to continue the trend.
We’ll now break down the form of Penhill, his rival Paisley Park and the other contenders for the title.
The bay gelding operated on the flat for the opening three years of his career before making the switch to the National Hunt in 2016. He only has 11 races under his belt over jumps, but two of those have come at Cheltenham Festival and have resulted in victories. Penhill won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in his first experience of the racecourse in 2017. He was an outsider for the crown at 16/1, but with Paul Townend in the saddle, the bay gelding was outstanding down the stretch to beat out Monalee by three-and-a-half lengths.
He ended his debut campaign with a second-place finish behind Champagne Classic at the Irish Daily Mirror Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, but was then out of action for almost a year due to injury before returning at Cheltenham.
His absence affected his odds for the Stayers’ Hurdle, but he displayed no signs of rust, operating at the peak of his powers to fend off a challenge from Supasundae to claim the win by two lengths. Penhill was unable to conjure the same form in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown, finishing well off the pace of the winner Faugheen. He has not been in action since, although that has not stopped Mullins’ charge in the past at Cheltenham.
Emma Lavelle’s charge did not have the best experience in his first outing at Cheltenham Festival. He competed in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle and finished well off the pace down in 13th place out of 20 competitors. Since then his form has been outstanding, winning four races on the bounce, moving him into contention for the Stayers’ Hurdle crown.
Paisley Park made a statement in his first run of the season, beating out Lygon Rock by two-and-a-half lengths in fiercely-contested race at the Racing UK Handicap Hurdle at Aintree. The Irish-bred horse was expected to challenge for the win in the Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock Park amid competition from favourite Shades of Midnight.
With Aidan Coleman in the saddle, he put forward an excellent performance down the stretch to beat out his rival half-a-length to secure the victory. Paisley Park continued to punch above his weight, delivering another fine display. He defeated a talented field, including Call Me Lord and Sam Spinner to triumph at the JLT Hurdle.
As a result, of his form Lavelle’s charge was backed by the bookies as the favourite for the Cleeve Hurdle. This time at Cheltenham, he was able to thrive on the track with a dominant performance, finishing 12 lengths ahead of West Approach. Watch out for Paisley Park as he aims for his maiden Cheltenham Festival crown.
Since his triumph at Cheltenham Festival last season, Samcro has endured disappointment on the track, failing to live up to his potential. The chestnut gelding had won six races on the bounce before his arrival last season in his first appearance at Cheltenham.
He duly delivered with a fine performance at the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, defeating Black Op by two-and-three-quarter lengths. Gordon Elliott’s charge dropped back down to 16 furlongs at the Punchestown Champion Hurdle and was expected to triumph once again, only for him to suffer the first fall of his career three fences from the end of the meet.
The Irish-bred horse had the chance to get back to winning ways at the WKD Hurdle, but he finished off the pace of 12/1 outsider Bedrock in a limited field. The talent of Buveur D’Air loomed large at the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle, which saw Elliott’s charge being unable to cope with the pace of his rival.
The Ryanair Hurdle presented his next opportunity for success. Once again he was considered the leading contender, but he failed to mount a challenge for the crown as Sharjah claimed the win. Samcro has reportedly been dealing with a lung infection, which explain his issues. His form and fitness are a major concern ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle.
One of Mullins’ other competitors at the Stayers’ Hurdle will be Faugheen. The Irish-bred horse has excellent pedigree at Cheltenham Festival, having won the Champion Hurdle twice in successive years in 2014 and 2015. However, after a two-year absence from the Festival, he was unable to claim the crown last season when finished well off the pace of Buveur D’Air.
Faugheen will be switched to the Stayers’ Hurdle this term and will be a fierce contender, although at the age of 11, his best days are probably behind him. However, he proved his mettle with a brilliant performance at the end of last season, defeating his stable-mate Penhill in the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown. David Mullins put forward a brilliant ride to claim the win by 13 lengths.
He returned to action this term at the Morgiana Hurdle, only to be beaten by the pace of another stable-mate Sharjah, losing out at Punchestown. In the Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle, Faugheen suffered a heavy fall two fences from the end of the meet, failing to finish a race for the first time of his career. His quality cannot be denied, although age could be a factor in the contest.
Paisley Park is the early favourite for the race, although his odds could drift between now and the starting line. His triumph at the Cleeve Hurdle will have given Lavelle a great deal of confidence that her charge can claim the crown, although the performance at the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle will remain a concern.
Samcro’s health issues are a worry and could prevent him from competing at all. Faugheen has the pedigree, but his last major win at the Festival was in 2015. Penhill seems to have the measure of the course and the occasion. In two appearances, he has won two titles. Back him to repeat his success in the Stayers’ Hurdle at odds of 5/1 6.00 +500 5.00 5.00 -0.20 with Bet365.