We are now just a few weeks away from the Cheltenham Festival and although the bumper crowd might not be in attendance, they’ll still be plenty watching on from home.
Many Paisley residents will be shouting home the appropriately named Paisley Park, who is already the red-hot favourite to regain his Stayers Hurdle crown that he first won back in 2019.
That announced him as the champion of the staying hurdle division and although he threw it away in defeat in the same race last season, he’s looked back to his best in the current campaign.
After a narrow defeat from Thyme Hill in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November, he quickly bounced back with a second victory in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, and is now the 10/3 favourite for the 2021 Stayers.
That recent performance had punters backing him from the race in the ante-post market, and he is already being talked up as a winner in waiting by tipsters across the industry, including those on the freebets.com Cheltenham page.
Like any horse race though, this is far from a one-horse race, and with Thyme Hill already beating Paisley Park this season, we can look forward to another dig-dong battle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Let’s take a look at who could be his main dangers.
As the newer kid on the block as a seven-year-old, Thyme Hill is a new rival for Paisley Park this season after finishing third in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over three miles at the Cheltenham Festival last year.
As we’ve only mentioned, he got the better of Paisley Park at Newbury earlier this season, and then was narrowly denied under heavy conditions in a photo finish at Ascot.
That was his first run on heavy, and although he does have several wins on soft going, his connections will be hoping that the Festival ground comes up good this March, where they could get their own back in the big one as 4/1 shots.
Sire Du Berlais
Another newbie to this division is the JP McManus-owned Sire Du Berlais, who is 10/1 for the race. He was at the same price when a surprise winner of the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham last year, beating a handy yard stick in The Storyteller, who has won a Grade One since then.
Sire Du Berlais himself was a Grade Two winner on his first start this season but was slightly disappointed when a distant third in the Grade One Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, with The Storyteller reversing the form by finishing second.
However, his trainer Gordon Elliott had a poor run over the Christmas period with many of his horses running below par, so that disappointment can be overlooked.
As horse racing fans will know, you overlook JP McManus runner at your peril and it would be no surprise to see him well in the picture in the Stayers’ Hurdle this March.
One of the outsiders who looks good value in the betting is Ronald Pump, who is 20/1 with some firms. He was second to Lisnagar Oscar in the Stayers’ Hurdle last season, but has been lightly campaigned this term and might well be overlooked.
He fell at the last when holding every chance on reappearance in the Grade Two won by Sire Du Berlais in November, but then put in an eye-catching performance to finish second to Honeysuckle in the Hatton’s Grace over a far from ideal distance.
He’s likely to have another outing before the Festival in March, but even with that in mind, the Stayers would then only be his fourth race of the season. For a horse that usually goes well when fresh, that could be the difference in him going one better this time.