Cheltenham - At The Races

14:10 Cheltenham 15 Mar 2019

Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) (Class 1) (5YO plus)

Winner £56,270 - 24 ran


2m 179y

Good to Soft

View Course Guide

Weighed In

Last year’s race

  • Winner: Mohaayed
  • Jockey: Bridget Andrews (3)
  • Trainer: D Skelton
  • Owner: Mrs June Watts
  • Age: 6 Weight: 10st 8lb
  • Starting Price: 33/1
  • Season Form Figures: 023
  • Previous Best: 3rd - Christmas Hurdle (Grade 1), Kempton (Dec 2017)

First or second-season hurdlers had won 12 of the 13 runnings up to and including 2017 but the last two winners have been more experienced. I still prefer the young horse angle but not so much the trend that 11 of those winners were rated in 130s as the quality of the race is gradually improving. Two years ago a Champion Hurdle runner-up beat the subsequent French Champion Hurdle winner for example.

In winning off 158 in 2017, Arctic Fire blew many weight stats out of the water as just one winner has been officially rated higher since 1998, only two horses had carried more than 11st 8lb into the frame since 1979 and no winner has carried more than that same weight for 57 years! In victory, he also became only the third winner to have carried more than 11st 2lb since 1960!

Novices have won three of the last seven runnings and five of the first six horses home in 2016 were aged no older than six following on from 2015 when the first seven horses to pass the post were also aged no older than six. Go back another year and the first seven home were first or second-season hurdlers. Take particular note of five-year-olds with ten wins in the last 20 years from approximately 20% representation.

Take particular note of five-year-olds with ten wins in the last 20 years from approximately 20% representation.

Irish-trained horses have won eight of the last 12 runnings including a 1-2-3-4-5-6 four years ago! When the Irish missed out narrowly in 2014 they still fared very well collectively by supplying four of the next five horses which followed them providing three of the first four home in 2012 and 2013. Not content with just training the winner four years ago, Willie Mullins prepared four of the first six horses and Arctic Fire was giving him his fourth victory since 2010. The on-the-day gamble of last season’s race as his Whisky Sour who finished third. Tony Martin has only run five horses in last decade; Ted Veale, who cruised round for all bar the final 150 yards when winning in 2013 plus Psycho (second when given too much to do) and Quick Jack (third in 2015).

Paul Nicholls has also saddled four winners and with more luck that could easily have trained six of the last 15 winners having also been responsible for two runners-up. His former assistant, Dan Skelton, is making a habit of winning big 2m handicap hurdles and his Mohaayed caused a 33/1 surprise last season (also trained the fifth) adding to his victory with Superb Story in the 2016 County Hurdle.

The Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown is unquestionably the best guide from either side of The Irish Sea having featured the winner on four occasions in the last 11 years. In fact, five of the last eight Irish-trained winners contested their most prestigious handicap hurdle of the season, which was moved to February last year.

We must also respect the Imperial Cup winner under a 5lb penalty should it line up here six days later. Five Imperial Cup winners since 1985 (and six in total) went on to win at the Cheltenham Festival the following week, three of which won the County Hurdle.

Other trends to bear in mind are that the last County Hurdle winner to race prominently was Sir Talbot 19 years ago, the last handicap debutant to win was Thumbs Up in 1993 and what used to be a relatively punter-friendly handicap has proved much trickier to nail in recent years with seven of the last 11 winners despatched at 20/1+ compared to 32 of the previous 33 winners being sent off at no bigger than 16/1.

At a glance summary

Ran in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at Leopardstown
Irish trained (notably Willie Mullins and Tony Martin)
Trained by Paul Nicholls or Dan Skelton
The Imperial Cup winner
Rated over 145 or carrying 11st 2lb+
Front runners
Handicap debutants
Previous Winners
Year Going Ran Winner Draw Age Weight OR Form Last run Trainer (Distance) Jockey SP Time
2018 Soft 24 Mohaayed 6 10 11 139 73-1023 80 days D Skelton (27 miles) Bridget Andrews 33/1 4:18.00
2017 Good 25 Arctic Fire 8 11 12 158 F-21142 418 days W P Mullins P Townend 20/1 4:00.00
2016 Good 26 Superb Story 5 10 12 138 1444-12 124 days D Skelton (27 miles) H Skelton 8/1 3:55.50
2015 Soft 24 Wicklow Brave 6 11 4 138 6F-580P 6 days W P Mullins P Townend 25/1 4:05.40
2014 Good 28 Lac Fontana 5 10 11 139 238-141 48 days P Nicholls (69 miles) D Jacob 11/1 3:58.50
2013 Good to Soft 28 Ted Veale 6 10 6 134 311923 48 days A J Martin B J Cooper 10/1 4:16.10
2012 Good 26 Alderwood 8 11 1 139 610120 33 days Thomas Mullins A P McCoy 20/1 3:59.00
2011 Good 26 Final Approach 5 10 12 139 13-8051 68 days W P Mullins R Walsh 10/1 3:54.90
2010 Good 28 Thousand Stars 6 10 8 134 440110 55 days W P Mullins Ms K Walsh 20/1 4:02.60
2009 Good to Soft 27 American Trilogy 5 11 0 135 9-31349 27 days P Nicholls (69 miles) R Walsh 20/1 4:05.20