Last year’s race
- Winner: Arctic Fire
- Jockey: P Townend
- Trainer: W P Mullins
- Owner: Wicklow Bloodstock (ireland) Ltd
- Age: 8 Weight: 11st 12lb
- Starting Price: 20/1
- Season Form Figures: Seasonal debut
- Previous Best: 2nd - Champion Hurdle (Grade 1), Cheltenham Festival (March 2015)
First or second-season hurdlers in the bottom half of the handicap are usually the starting point so it came as a shock to trends punters’ systems when an eight-year-old won off top weight on its seasonal debut beating a former chaser off second-top weight into second! One for Mulder and Scully.
Prior to Arctic Fire beating L’Ami Serge, 12 of the previous 13 winners were in their first or second year over hurdles, and 11 were officially rated in the 130s. The question is whether the 2017 running was a one-off or a sign of things to come given how the classier horses are taking over Cheltenham Festival handicaps of late?
In winning off 158, 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!
Take particular note of five-year-olds with ten wins in the last 19 years from approximately 20% representation.
Novices have won three of the last six runnings. Prior to last season’s result, 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. In fact, 11 of the last 14 winners were aged five or six, and one of those two winners aged older was officially a novice. Take particular note of five-year-olds with ten wins in the last 19 years from approximately 20% representation.
Irish-trained horses have won eight of the last 11 runnings including a 1-2-3-4-5-6 three 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 three years ago, Willie Mullins prepared four of the first six horses and Arctic Fire was giving him his fourth victory since 2010. 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 14 winners having also been responsible for two runners-up. Philip Hobbs’s two victories were achieved a fair while back now but his overall record of two winners, a second and five thirds (including Ozzie The Oscar at 50/1 last year) from 27 runners since 1990 catches the eye. He was responsible for the third and fourth in 2016.
The Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown is unquestionably the best guide from either side of The Irish Sea. Not only is it the only handicap to have featured more than one County Hurdle winner in the last decade but it has done so on four occasions in the last ten years. In fact, five of the last eight Irish-trained winners contested their most prestigious handicap hurdle of the season, which has now moved to February.
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 18 years ago and what used to be a relatively punter-friendly handicap has proved much trickier to nail in recent years with six of the last ten 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 Coral Hurdle
- Officially rated in the 130s
- Trained by Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls, Tony Martin or Philip Hobbs
- The Imperial Cup winner
- Rated over 145 or carrying 11st 2lb+
- Aged 7+
- Front runners