2020 Stayers’ Hurdle ante-post preview – The one to beat, the big danger and the dark horse in St Patrick’s Day feature

Our expert casts his eye through the early betting for the Cheltenham Day 3 highlight as we pick out our Stayers Hurdle tips.

St Patrick’s Day at the Cheltenham Festival is headlined by the oldest of the four Championship races during the week, the Stayers’ Hurdle. The Prestbury Park faithful rejoiced after the feature race on day three 12 months ago, as a well-backed favorite, Paisley Park capped off a marvelous break-out campaign with superb success, beating Sam Spinner and Faugheen by three lengths.

Emma Lavelle will be hoping Paisley Park will be fit to return to Cheltenham in March – something the three previous winners of the Stayers’ Hurdle have failed to do – and the returning king could face stiff competition from a handful of dangerous rivals. Here’s our guide to the 2020 Stayers’ Hurdle.

2020 Stayers’ Hurdle Ante-Post Preview

THE ONE TO BEAT – Paisley Park

PAISLEY PARK’S meteoric rise to the top of the staying hurdle ranks started at Aintree back in October, winning a Class Two Handicap off a mark of just 140. Victories in the Grade Three Handicap at Haydock and the Grade One JLT Long Walk Hurdle followed, before Lavelle’s seven-year-old announced his intentions for the Cheltenham Festival with a devastating 12-length triumph under a penalty in the Cleeve Hurdle.

The public piled onto Lavelle’s likable hurdler in the build-up to the Stayers’ Hurdle and Paisley Park traveled beautifully throughout the race. Aidain Coleman’s mount made a fairly hefty blunder at the final flight, but Paisley Park still has plenty left in the tank and strode out convincingly in the strides before the line.

Reports coming out of Lavelle’s yard are that Paisley Park has enjoyed a well-earned summer break and his campaign will revolve around his return to Cheltenham Festival 2022. I doubt Paisley Park will be as busy this season as he was during the last, but he’s sure to be the hot-favorite wherever he turns up and he’ll definitely be the one to beat if he gets back to Cheltenham in one piece.

THE BIG DANGER – If The Cap Fits

The betting suggests Benie Des Dieux will be Paisley Park’s main challenger in next year’s Stayers’ Hurdle. Willie Mullins’ mare came down when on-course to win the Mares’ Hurdle at this year’s Festival and, with big guns like Apple’s Jade, Honeysuckle and Roksana likely to enter that Grade One in 2020, Mullins will probably give Benie the chance to make up for that final hurdle blunder and prove she’s the best mare in the business.

The chief danger to Paisley Park could well turn out to be IF THE CAP FITS, who won on his only start over three miles in 2019 and Harry Fry’s charge certainly seems to have further progression left in his locker.

If The Cap Fits took brilliantly to three miles on his final start of last season, seeing off Roksana and Apple’s Jade to win the Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree. Like Paisley Park, Sean Bowen’s mount made a real mess of the final flight, but Fry’s seven-year-old proved he had plenty of guts and tenacity to go with oodles of class, getting up in the dying strides to beat two Grade One-winning mares.

Fry’s charge looked a really strong stayer in the making when winning at Ascot earlier in the campaign and proved he had no trouble seeing out the trip at Aintree, despite a few shoddy jumps. If The Cap Fits has never previously run at Cheltenham, so that would be a worry for his supporters, but he’s fairly lightly-raced for his age and could be a big player in all the Grade Ones for staying hurdlers over the coming months.

THE DARK HORSE – Sams Profile

The obvious choice in this category is Penhill, who will likely rock up at Cheltenham without a run like he did when winning this race in 2018. That was Mullins’ plan last year until injury struck and his champion was ruled out of a return to Cheltenham. If Penhill does make it to the Festival, then he has to be respected, but that’s a big “if” considering he’s only run twice in the last two-and-a-half years.

Emitom would have been my original ante-post bet, as I feel he’s a horse with bundles of untapped potential and a “Paisley Park” style progression seemed to be on the cards. However, Warren Greatrex informed the press earlier this month that Emitom had suffered a setback and wouldn’t return until the New Year, so it’s highly doubtful whether he will be fit and sharp enough to make his Cheltenham Festival debut.

Bapaume was my dark horse in last year’s contest and he ran well to place fourth behind Paisley Park. Willie Mullins’ charge has, once again, been a little overlooked in the betting, but I’m going to side with SAMS PROFILE as my outsider to keep an eye on.

One of the most unheralded novice hurdlers from last season, Sam’s Profile enjoyed a hugely successful first season under rules. Mouse Morris’ youngster won on debut and went on to place in three Graded races, including a pair of runner-up finishes in Grade Ones at Naas and Punchestown, where Sams Profile lost out to Reserve Tank by just half-a-length.

With so many exciting youngsters from the big yards going novice chasing this year, Morris has decided to keep his six-year-old over hurdles – a tactic he used when training Alpha Des Obeaux in 2016 and he went on to finish second behind Thistlecrack in that season’s Stayers’ Hurdle. Sams Profile did very little wrong during his novice campaign and I’d be disappointed if he didn’t shape up into a genuine Cheltenham Festival contender.