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2019 Stayers’ Hurdle tips - Star rating guide for Cheltenham’s most historic Grade One

Jonathan Vine in Tips 4 Mar 2019


Our expert has put together this star rating guide for the Stayers’ Hurdle, looking at each of the top contenders in detail before rating their chances of winning out of five stars.

St Patrick’s day at the Cheltenham Festival is always a wonderful occasion, with the passionate Irish fans creating an atmosphere like no-other within Prestbury Park. While the JLT Novices’ Chase and the Ryanair boast an impressive history of their own, the feature Grade One on the day three card is the Stayers’ Hurdle, the oldest Grade One contest at the Cheltenham Festival.

Since 1912, the finest staying hurdlers in the business have been travelling to Gloucestershire to battle it out for this lucrative prize. While greats like Galmoy, Baracouda and Inglis Drever captured the hearts of the public, Big Bucks is the most successful horse in Stayers’ Hurdle history, winning this race four times between 2009 and 2012.

The 2019 renewal of the Stayers’ Hurdle promises to be as thrilling as ever and our expert has published his star rating guide – looking at each of the challengers and rating their chances out of five stars.

*Note – Chances of winning and value for money at current odds are combined to decide star rating*

2019 Stayers’ Hurdle Star Rating Guide

Aux Ptits Soins



The former Coral Cup winner finally made his stable debut for Dan Skelton at Newbury in November, some 18 months after making his final outing for Paul Nicholls. A runaway win on his second start earned Aux Ptits Soins a crack at the Cleeve Hurdle in January, but Skelton’s nine-year-old was beaten 30 lengths as Paisley Park stormed to victory and it’s hard to see how he could improve enough to get involved at the Festival.

Aux Ptits Soin Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Bachasson


This time last year, Bachasson was preparing for a tilt at the Gold Cup, but fate robbed Willie Mullins’ chaser the chance at sporting immortality, as Danny Mullins was sent crashing to the canvas at just the second obstacle. 

Ruby Walsh took the ride as Bachasson won on his return to hurdling at the start of the season, where the favourite narrowly saw off Darasso when getting seven pounds from the runner-up. While that performance wasn’t exactly full of promise, this 159-rated chaser is clearly a classy operator and he cannot be overlooked.

Bachasson Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Bapaume



Willie Mullins will have been delighted with Bapaume’s performance in the Galmoy Hurdle. Presenting Percy was a little too classy on the day, but Paul Townend’s mount stayed on strongly to finish a two-length third, beating Killultagh Vic and Limini to the post. That was a much-improved performance from those we saw at the start of the season, where Bapaume was blown away by the brilliance of Apple’s Jade.

Mullins’ six-year-old has previous at the Festival, having finished a good third behind Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph before winning the equivalent race at Punchestown. Bapaume skipped Cheltenham last year and needs very soft ground to be at his best, but this six-year-old is a stayer on the up and – if we get a little more rain than expected – he could pull up some trees in the Stayers’. For me, he's the best each-way bet.

Bapaume Star Rating ⭐ 4.5 ⭐

Black Op



Black Op hadn’t performed terribly, by any stretch of the imagination, on his first two runs over fences this term. Yet, Tom George deemed it sensible to drop back to hurdling in time for the Cleeve Hurdle, with a tilt at this prize Black Op’s primary objective. Last year’s Ballymore runner-up looked rusty in the Cleeve, but was still going well enough to lead two from home, before Paisley Park woke up and put the race to bed.

Despite fading to finish third, George will be confident Black Op will improve for that run and he’s failed to finish outside the top three places on either of his four appearances at Cheltenham. There’s a big performance in this horse - whether over hurdles or fences - but this race seems to be more of an afterthought and there are others who hold greater appeal.

Black Op Star Rating ⭐ 3.5 ⭐

Faugheen



Willie Mullins finally bit the bullet at the end of last season, upping Faugheen in trip to take part in the Champion Stayers’ at Punchestown. What followed was one of the finest displays of staying hurdling in recent memory, as “the machine” dismantled a strong field, beating Penhill by a veritable country mile.

Mullins’ teenager ran a decent race on his reappearance to finish second in the Morgiana, over a two-mile trip we now know is too short. I fancied his chances of winning the Stayers’ during the first half of the season, but after a very heavy fall behind Apple’s Jade at Christmas, it’s still unsure whether Faugheen travels to Cheltenham in tip top shape. If Willie Mullins has managed to work his magic, the Machine will be a big player at Cheltenham.

Faugheen Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Midnight Shadow



Sue Smith’s hurdler looked a three-miler in the making when winning the Relkeel Hurdle on New Year’s Day. Danny Cook had barely moved on the approach to the final fence and Midnight Shadow had no trouble seeing off Whole Stone and Old Guard after the final flight.

The six-year-old was then well-backed in the build-up to the Cleeve, but things didn’t go to plan on the day. Cook’s mount came to a virtual stand-still after a final flight blunder – which accounts for the lengthy defeat on his form card – but Smith’s charge was well-beaten in sixth or seventh before that staggering error and I’m not convinced he’ll be able to cope in, what’s likely to be, a much quicker race.

Midnight Shadow Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Old Guard



Paul Nicholls’ former Greatwood winner seems to have been around for decades and Old Guard has looked in decent nick this term, without managing to claim that elusive win. The eight-year-old has placed on five of his six runs this season, securing a strong weight-carrying third on his return to the Greatwood before passing the post less than three lengths behind Midnight Shadow in the Relkeel.

Last year, the ground was too soft for Old Guard to take his chance at Cheltenham and he went on to finish 80 lengths drifts of Identity Thief at Aintree. The ground should be nice enough for Old Guard to take his chance in the Stayers’ this season, but I doubt whether he has the class of stamina to trouble the big guns.

Old Guard Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Paisley Park



Emma Lavelle’s charge has been the top stayer on British shores this season, by quite a considerable margin. Paisley Park has reeled off four straight victories since finishing 13th in last year’s Albert Bartlett, kicking off his second season over hurdles with two excellent handicap victories, carrying top weight into the winners’ enclosure on both occasions.

After staying on valiantly to beat West Approach in the JLT Long Walk at Ascot, many were tipping Lavelle’s seven-year-old to do the business in the Cleeve Hurdle. I doubt even his biggest fan would have been expecting the exhibition Paisley Park put on at Cheltenham, powering to a sublime 12-length triumph.

The ground at Cheltenham should be perfect for Paisley Park and I see no reason why he can’t challenge for the victory. When Penhill was still in the running, he was my fancy. Now the defending champion has been ruled out, however, the stage looks set for Paisley Park to claim his first major title.

Paisley Park Star Rating ⭐ 5 ⭐

Sam Spinner



Jedd O’Keeffe’s top jumper travelled to Cheltenham as the favourite for this race 12 months ago, but has since suffered four-straight defeats, unseating Joe Colliver on both of his opening two starts this term. O’Keeffe had reason to smile after Sam Spinner stayed on for fourth in the Cleeve Hurdle, but he’s clearly not in the same nick as he was last year, when Sam Spinner could only finish fifth.

Sam Spinner Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

Unowhatimeanharry



As Sam Spinner and Momella capsized, Unowhatimeanharry was on hand to claim an overdue victory in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury in November. Despite boasting a season victory, it’s clear Harry Fry’s stalwart is not the force of old and it will be nice just to see the former Punchestown champion complete the course unscathed.

Unowhatimeanharry Star Rating ⭐ 2.5 ⭐

West Approach



Colin Tizzard’s charge has been the surprise package in the staying hurdling ranks this season. After kicking off his campaign with some decent runs in high profile handicap over fences, West Approach finished a narrow second to Paisley Park in the JLT, before running on stoutly for second again in the Cleeve Hurdle.

West Approach has been well-beaten on all three of his appearances at the Festival, including a failure to finish when Nichols Canyon won this in 2017. I doubt whether he has the ability to turn the tables on Paisley Park and beat the Irish brigade, but West Approach is clearly a dour stayer and has the ability to challenge for the places. If you fancy Paisley Park, it could be worth having an each-way saver on West Approach.

West Approach Star Rating ⭐ 4 ⭐

Wholestone



Wholestone has been an excellent flag-bearer for Nigel Twiston-Davies over the past couple of years, winning three Grade Two prizes here at Cheltenham. The Munir and Souede-owned hurdler ran a lovely race to finish third in this race 12 months ago, but Wholestone would ideally want the ground much softer than it’s likely to be come race-day and he’s failed to win on his last eight attempts at three mile trips.

Wholestone Star Rating ⭐ 3 ⭐

Full Stayers’ Hurdle Star Ratings

Paisley Park – 5 ⭐
*
Bapaume 4.5
*
Faugheen – 4
West Approach – 4
*
Black Op – 3.5
*
Bachasson – 3
Midnight Shadow - 3
Wholestone – 3
*
Aux Ptits Soins – 2.5
Old Guard – 2.5
Sam Spinner – 2.5
Unowhatimeanharry – 2.5

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2019 Stayers’ Hurdle tips - Star rating guide for Cheltenham’s most historic Grade One

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