Cheltenham - At The Races

15:30 Cheltenham 16 Mar 2017

Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1) (Class 1) (4YO plus)

Winner £170,850 - 12 ran


2m 7f 213y

Good (Good to Soft in places)

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Weighed In

Runner Profiles

    Andy Gibson's horse-by-horse guide.
  • Tuesday 07 March 2017
  • Runner Profiles

The 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle has a horse with a very solid looking profile heading the market in the shape of the Harry Fry-trained Unowhatimeanharry. With doubts about the participation of two or three of the horses next in the betting it would be no surprise to see the favourite trade much shorter than his current price of 11/8 closer to the festival.

Horse profiles

Ballyoptic (IRE)

  • 7-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Old Vic - Lambourne Lace (Un Desperado)
  • Trained by: N A Twiston-Davies
  • Last Race: Aintree, 8 Apr 2017 16:20
  • Result: 5/11, tracked leaders, led before 5 out, headed briefly before 3 out, mistake 3 out, ridden and headed 2 out, no extra and lost 4th place run-in
  • View full form

I think there is a real possibility that he went too fast from the top of the hill in the Cleeve Hurdle on his latest start. As a consequence Ballyoptic finished a lot further behind Unowhatimeanharry than could have been expected based on his previous race.

In the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in the middle of December Ballyoptic jumped the final hurdle alongside the Harry Fry gelding. Unfortunately he rather lost his back legs a stride after the hurdle and came down. He had endured a really tough lead at Ascot with Reve De Sivola taking him on up until just before the fourth last hurdle where he was then joined by West Approach.

He was clear of his field along with the Nick Williams horse for much of that contest and I suspect that Richard Johnson might not go quite as quickly if he had his time again. He can be seriously marked up on his Long Walk Hurdle performance given the way that the other horses that raced alongside him, and prominently in third and fourth place, all dropped away.

If Ballyoptic had headed straight for the Stayers’ Hurdle after Ascot he would now be a single figure price for this Grade 1 contest. He may have run disappointingly in the Cleeve Hurdle; however, he remains one of only two horses in the field that have managed to perform in a manner that would suggest they have a chance of giving the favourite a race. There are very few viable contenders for the Stayers’ Hurdle and Ballyoptic is towards the head of the group in behind the favourite based on his overall profile if not his latest performance.

Video Form
8 Oct 2016:
19 Mar 2016:
21 Feb 2016:
26 Dec 2015:

Cole Harden (IRE)

  • 8-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Westerner - Nosie Betty (Alphabatim)
  • Trained by: W Greatrex
  • Last Race: Ffos Las, 9 May 2017 15:20
  • Result: 2/4, led, jumped slowly 6th, ridden after 4 out, headed next, no impression on winner from next but kept on
  • View full form

Warren Greatrex’s Westerner gelding finished fourth and third in his final two prep runs at Cheltenham prior to his victory in the 2015 renewal of this contest. Both of those races were run on softer ground than he encountered at the festival. The difficulty for Cole Harden is that he tends to hang to his left in his races and the place to be on the hurdle course when the ground rides soft is usually on the outside. Consequently, his tendency to go left was almost certainly a massive disadvantage in the Relkeel Hurdle and the Cleeve Hurdle in 2015.

Fast forward two years and we have a remarkably similar scenario on our hands as we head towards the 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle. Cole Harden has been beaten in the same two prep races both run on unsuitably soft ground. He will be 8lbs worse off with Unowhatimeanharry for that latest defeat in the Cleeve Hurdle and will have to find plenty of improvement to beat the favourite in the Stayers’ Hurdle.

In 2015 Cole Harden finished well beaten behind Saphir Du Rheu, Reve De Sivola and Un Temps Pour Tout in the Cleeve Hurdle before comprehensively reversing the form with all three of those rivals on quicker ground on the day that mattered most. He will need to show a similar level of improvement to turn around the 2017 Cleeve Hurdle form with the Harry Fry-trained favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Video Form
9 May 2017:


It has to be said that Jezki was most disappointing in his final prep run for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival. Apparently the way he performed in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle was meant to determine whether it was the Champion Hurdle or the Stayers' Hurdle next for Jezki. Immediately after that Grade 2 contest I imagine that his connections may have considered the possibility of avoiding the March festival altogether. He will certainly have to improve significantly on his four lengths defeat by the well-exposed Tombstone to figure in the finish of either potential festival target.

In his favour is the fact that we do have some previous evidence to consider on this matter. Prior to his 2014 Champion Hurdle success Jezki had finished last of four in his prep race which was run on unsuitably heavy ground. His connections will be hoping to see a similar level of improvement after his latest heavy going defeat behind Tombstone.

The fact that Jezki has yet to show that he has retained all of his ability in either of his two races after his near two year absence from the track is a major cause for concern. I would also have preferred him to have proven his stamina for three miles against a horse with a more robust ‘three miles profile’ than Hurricane Fly. I know that form reads very well given the long term profile of ‘The Fly’; however, the fact is that on that day at Punchestown in April 2015 Jezki merely outstayed a horse that may well have failed to get home.

At the time of writing no decision has been made between the two races for Jezki. Whichever race he goes for there has to be a reasonable chance that we will see plenty of improvement in him just as we witnessed in 2015. All things considered, however, I am more than happy to take a watching brief on him whichever race he ends up in.

Video Form
17 Apr 2017:
18 Feb 2017:
21 Jan 2017:
30 Apr 2015:
25 Jan 2015:


The outcome of the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in late January offered further evidence that there is not much between the better three-mile hurdlers in Ireland. Shaneshill was left in the lead at the fourth hurdle on that day and made all from thereon in. It should be noted that he appeared to have a little in hand at the finish; however, these races between the same set of horses seem to produce a different result as often as not.

He was in the process of running a nice race on his previous start when coming down at the final flight in the race won by Vroum Vroum Mag.

I felt that he would have finished close up but for that late fall and he may have even finished a close second behind the mare.

The major factor in favour of Shaneshill for the Stayers’ Hurdle is his previous Cheltenham Festival form in Grade 1 races. His festival record reads: 2 2 2 – which is a phenomenal achievement for a horse shy of Grade 1 class. Although it is difficult to see him actually beating the likes of Unowhatimeanharry and Cole Harden; at the same time there is plenty of available evidence to suggest that he should perform close to his best and finish in the prize money at worst.

Video Form
27 Apr 2017:
26 Jan 2017:
28 Dec 2016:
4 Dec 2016:
13 Nov 2016:

Unowhatimeanharry (GB)

  • 9-y-o; bay gelding
  • Breeding: Sir Harry Lewis - Red Nose Lady (Teenoso)
  • Trained by: Harry Fry
  • Last Race: Punchestown, 27 Apr 2017 17:30
  • Result: Won/12, took keen hold early, chased leaders, 5th from 5th, closed up 4 out, travelling smoothly and almost on terms 3 out, led after 2 out, strongly pressed before last, stayed on well run-in, just held on
  • View full form

He is a horse that just tends to do enough to win his races. This is in sharp contrast to both Altior and Douvan and, as a consequence, the supremacy those two horses enjoy in their respective divisions is much more clear cut than the advantage that Unowhatimeanharry holds amongst his fellow stayers hurdle contenders. This, in turn, is reflected in the prices of each horse in their respective festival markets. Both Altior and Douvan are currently trading at long odds-on, whereas, this Harry Fry Stayers’ Hurdle favourite can be backed at a general 5/4 and is as big as 11/8 in places.

I think the discrepancy in those odds is far greater than it should be. I would suggest that Unowhatimeanharry has proven his superiority over most of his main rivals in all three of his races this season. He may not succeed in the same sexy manner compared with the ‘Altiors and Douvans’ of this world; nonetheless, the advantage he holds over his British rivals is a convincing one backed by plenty of strong supporting evidence. Furthermore, he has won his last eight races over hurdles, has a Grade 1 festival win to his name (same course and distance as the stayer’s race) and generally has the profile of a champion.

I suppose if we were to question why Unowhatimeanharry is available at such relatively generous odds we might conclude it is due to the presence of the three Irish contenders who are currently just below him in the ante-post markets. Now I can understand to some extent why Vroum Vroum Mag could be regarded as a potential threat in some people’s eyes; however, both Nichols Canyon and Jezki would surely have an awful lot more to prove if lining up in the Stayers’ Hurdle. Personally, I hope all three remain standing in the final declarations as I would suggest that they are all trading shorter than their respective profiles merit.

Unowhatimeanharry has plenty in his favour for this Grade 1 contest. He is unbeaten in two years and has that very significant festival victory to his name. My only concern for his Stayers’ Hurdle chances would be if the ground rode fast on the third day of the festival. I am not too concerned by this potential fly in the ointment, however, as his winning time in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle would suggest that he can handle ground without some cut in. If short priced horses are for you then I would suggest that Unowhatimeanharry at 11/8 is the best value bet amongst the current crop of short-priced festival favourites.

Video Form
27 Apr 2017:

Vroum Vroum Mag (FR)

She is currently trading at a single-figure price for the Stayers’ Hurdle and is the clear second favourite with most firms. She ran badly in her prep race for the festival despite eventually coming home in front in a weakly-contested mares’ race at Doncaster. Previously Vroum Vroum Mag had won the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on yielding ground over three miles at Leopardstown in late December. She was very keen through the race and, although she almost certainly idled in front on the run to the winning line, she also did not leave the impression that she was crying out for three miles in a more competitive contest.

Vroum Vroum Mag is a high-class mare who might just about get home in the Stayers’ Hurdle. One can understand, however, why her connections are keeping their options open with her for the festival. They may well elect to allow her to defend her Mares’ Hurdle crown on the opening day as she would be extremely difficult to beat in that contest. The same connections had a similar dilemma with Annie Power a couple of seasons ago and elected to go for the easier race on that occasion.

If she does line-up on the third day of the festival then I think she will run very well and probably finish in the first three or four at worst. At this moment in time, however, given the other available options open to her, Vroum Vroum Mag is a mare I am happy to cross off my shortlist.

Video Form
28 Apr 2017:
28 Jan 2017:
28 Dec 2016:
4 Dec 2016:
29 Apr 2016:


I know that Nichols Canyon is trading at a single figure price for the 2017 Stayers’ Hurdle. Personally, I would be surprised if they did not head back for another go at the Champion Hurdle given the open looking nature of that contest. If he did take his place in the Stayers’ Hurdle, however, Nichols Canyon would have his stamina to prove for this three mile trip. He is currently as big as 12/1 in the NRNB market for this race and, at the same time, is as short as 7/1 with many firms. I suppose there may be some room for taking advantage of those discrepancies for the purposes of a pre-race trading opportunity.

Lil Rockerfeller was withdrawn from his intended prep race at Fontwell recently. Providing he turns up at the festival in the best of health he is very likely to go under the radar due to his unfashionable connections plus through his recent absence from the track. I think he will hold a very strong chance of outrunning his price and finishing in the prize money.

Snow Falcon appeared set to finish close up with Unowhatimeanharry in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in late November. He fell too far out to be certain on that matter; nonetheless, it was still a performance full of promise and one that augers well for his chances of running well at Cheltenham. His overall profile, however, suggests he has plenty to find and any hopes we may hold for him are almost purely dependent on the promise of that Newbury run.


Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle

Whilst I do believe that the favourite Unowhatimeanharry will be very difficult to beat; I also feel that the current framework for the ante-post market offers a couple of betting opportunities slightly further down the line.

As things stand the inclusion of Vroum Vroum Mag, Jezki, Shaneshill, Nichols Canyon and Yanworth at single figure prices in the current market has resulted in a couple of horses trading bigger than they should do. Now I realise that an over round book in the ante-post odds can be very different from the percentages we will usually find on the day of the race; nonetheless, the fact that only one or two of those single figure priced horses noted are likely to line-up on the day is still in our favour.

The horse that interests me most is the Warren Greatrex contender COLE HARDEN and the dilemma with him is how to back him rather than whether or not to have him on my side. He is currently available at 10/1 NRNB in the main market and can also be supported each-way at 11/2 in the ‘without the favourite’ market. My personal preference is to support him at double figure odds each-way in the main market. He will no doubt be ridden very positively from the front; thus offering plenty of opportunity to trade out of the bet during the race if ‘in running betting’ is your bag.

There is a negative attached to every bet and the most obvious one with this selection is that he will need a decent surface to be seen in his best light. I think it is a case of the faster the better for Cole Harden; in addition, the bonus here would be that a Stayers’ Hurdle run on fast ground would be my idea of the main ‘fly in the ointment’ with regards the claims of the favourite.

The horse that I believe has the third best chance of winning the Stayers’ Hurdle is the Nigel Twiston-Davies horse Ballyoptic. If the favourite Unowhatimeanharry performs to his best then I doubt very much that Ballyoptic will finish in front of him; consequently, I am definitely only looking in the ‘without the favourite’ market for this selection.

BALLYOPTIC is currently trading at odds of 15/2 in that market which under estimates his chances of finishing in the first four places. The bonus with this bet would come if the ground turned soft for the third day of the festival. Given this scenario Ballyoptic would have a favourite’s chance of following home the Harry Fry horse in my opinion. At the same time, I would be perfectly happy with his chances of sneaking into the first four places if competing on a decent surface.

I prefer to be aggressive with my betting rather than take a safe small profit; therefore, I intend saving some of the potential place profit in my two each-way bets for the Straight Forecast markets. If Cole Harden chases home the favourite I want to be rewarded by more than the monies I will earn via a simple each-way bet. If the ‘day of the race prices’ are attractive enough I intend playing Unowhatimeanharry to beat Cole Harden in a SFC and will also play both Ballyoptic and Lil Rockerfeller to finish second to the favourite to smaller stakes.

Previous Winners

Year Winner Trainer Jockey Age/Wt SP
2016ThistlecrackC L TizzardT Scudamore8 11-101/1f
2015Cole HardenW GreatrexG Sheehan6 11-1014/1
2014More Of ThatJonjo O'NeillB J Geraghty6 11-1015/2
2013SolwhitC ByrnesP Carberry9 11-1017/2
2012Big Buck'sP F NichollsR Walsh9 11-105/6f
2011Big Buck'sP F NichollsR Walsh8 11-1010/11f
2010 Big Buck's P F Nicholls R Walsh 7 11-10 5/6f
2009 Big Buck's P F Nicholls R Walsh 6 11-10 6/1
2008 Inglis Drever J H Johnson D O'Regan 9 11-10 11/8f
2007 Inglis Drever J H Johnson P Brennan 8 11-10 5-1
2006 My Way De Solzen A King R Thornton 6 11-10 8-1
2005 Inglis Drever J Howard Johnson G Lee 6 11-10 5-1
2004 Iris's Gift J O'Neill B Geraghty 7 11-10 9-2
2003 Baracouda F Doumen T Doumen 8 11-10 9-4jf
2002 Baracouda F Doumen T Doumen 7 11-10 13-8f
2001 No Race
2000 Bacchanal N J Henderson M Fitzgerald 6 11-10 11-2
1999 Anzum D Nicholson R Johnson 8 11-10 40-1
1998 Princeful Mrs J Pitman R Farrant 7 11-10 16-1
1997 Karshi Miss H C Knight J Osborne 7 11-10 20-1