County Hurdle Tips – Skeltons Can Strike With Classy Outsider

A view of the runners during the 2019 County Hurdle.

A view of the runners during the 2019 County Hurdle.

2021 County Hurdle Tips

The penultimate ante-post preview for Daniel Overall is the County Hurdle, the second race on Day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival.

County Hurdle Overview

With eight of the last ten winners returning at a double figure price, this has often been a tough race for punters although Saint Roi did land a gamble last year when winning at 11/2. With nine of the last 14 renewals going the way of the Irish (including a 1-2-3-4-6-7 last season), Dan Skelton has been heading the British resistance in recent years although the Irish remain the place to start.

Mullins Mastery

Willie Mullins has won five of the previous eleven renewals of this race; a remarkable feat even considering that he’s run 35 in the race since 2010. A further seven have finished in the first four in that time period while he recorded a 1-2-4 last season. 

Blue Lord (14/1) is prominent in the market but would seem more likely to head to the Supreme. Saldier (20/1) would be an interesting runner but like Blue Lord, he is more likely to run on the opening day of the festival, although there is a chance that his dual Grade 1 winner could run in his first handicap. He’s been held in high regard for sometime and owing to a number of setbacks, he’s still only had eight starts over hurdles.

His profile isn’t too dissimilar to last year’s runner up, Aramon; both ran in the Irish Champion Hurdle on their last start and both had never previously contested a handicap. However, he has been badly out of form this season and he’d be off a lofty mark.

6/1 for this race last term, Ciel De Neige (25/1) finally got off the mark over hurdles at the tenth attempt on his penultimate start and could be set for another run here, although he was comfortably beaten in 2020 when stopping quickly on the run to the final flight. Third in the 2019 Fred Winter, he wouldn’t be without a chance as he has threatened to win a race like this. 

Like Ciel De Neige, Blue Sari (33/1) represents JP McManus and Willie Mullins. His close second to Envoi Allen in the 2019 Champion Bumper is outstanding form but it has not been plain sailing since that day. While he beat a good field on his debut over hurdles, he finished last of four next time out before pulling up in the 2020 Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.

Easy to back on his belated seasonal reappearance, he went well enough to a point before weakening quickly and pulling up. While his bumper form is top-class, he has a lot to prove at this point and it’s surprising that he’s even entered at Cheltenham; perhaps that’s indicative of the fact that they’re happy with him at home, but too many doubts surround him at this stage for my liking.

Five-year-olds have won four of the last ten renewals while Saint Roi was a French bred novice winner from that age group last year; step forward Ganapathi who is like Saint Roi in the three aforementioned characteristics. A winner on his debut for the yard having shown plenty of ability on his sole start in France, he finished second in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle next time out having hit the front approaching the last, only to be run down late on by Dreal Deal.

He looked a bit awkward out in front and he was not helped by a slow final jump, but he still emerged with credit. Stepped up to 2m6f at the Dublin Racing Festival, he was patiently ridden and travelled well but he unequivocally didn’t stay the trip but he shaped far better than the bare result.

Rated 137 in Ireland, the British handicapper will have his say and he could yet run in the Supreme, although he’d certainly be of interest if lining up here instead.

Skelton’s Speciality

With three wins in the last six renewals, Dan Skelton clearly has a liking for this particular handicap. 

Third Time Lucki (12/1) was fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper and he has enjoyed a decent start to life over hurdles, winning three of his five starts. Rated 144, his trainer has indicated that the Supreme is his more likely destination although he is keen to see what weight his promising novice will carry here. 

Cadzand (25/1) was well fancied for the Betfair Hurdle but ran disappointingly, eventually finishing twelfth. He had been extremely progressive before that effort and there is still plenty of time for him to bounce back.

Perhaps the yards most interesting entrant is Proschema; having reached a mark of 104 on the flat for Tom Dascombe, he’s been held in high regard by the Skelton team for some time but his dependency on good ground has meant that he’s only had five starts over hurdles since October 2019.

A winner of two “Jumpers Bumpers” so far this year, his current mark of 131 might leave him a couple of pounds shy of a run here; that would’ve high enough in just three of the last 11 renewals, with the average lowest mark in that time period being 132.2. However, handicap entries are down across the board this season so he might well sneak in. If he does, he’d hold a leading chance off what is a lenient looking mark if the ground was good.

Other Irish Runners

The Shunter (14/1) won the Greatwood earlier in the season and ran with credit over fences when last seen. His versatility with regards to trip and discipline means that this is just one of many options for him, with Emmet Mullins entering him in five handicaps throughout the week. Given his form at Cheltenham, he’d be entitled to respect in whichever race he lines up in.

Thedevilscoachman (16/1) has progressed nicely this season, winning three of his four starts over hurdles including a listed race when last seen. Given his most recent run and the open look to the festival opener, Noel Meade may well decide to let his talented five-year-old take his chance in the Supreme, and he has certainly earned that opportunity. 

Others to note include Champagne Gold and Saint D’Oroux (25/1)who finished second and third respectively in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. The former is a progressive novice and is respected although he also has the options of the Supreme and the Martin Pipe, while the former finished a solid third in the last seasons Fred Winter. 

The Remainder of the British

Fifty Ball (14/1) ran a superb race in second in the Betfair Hurdle having won handicaps off 113 and 120 on his two previous starts. Edwardstone (20/1) was third in that race and still retains potential; both of the aforementioned are entitled to respect, with four of the last 16 County Hurdle winners running with credit in the Betfair Hurdle before their Cheltenham win. 

Paul Nicholls has won the race four times and he could run a few this term, including Scottish County Hurdle winner Christopher Wood (20/1). Raised 7lb for that success, he’s now 5lb higher than he was when finishing 16th in this race last season. Thyme White (33/1) is another possible runner although he was well beaten in the Betfair Hurdle, while the Johnny de la Hey duo of Solo (33/1) and Pic D’Ohry (33/1) are also amongst the early entries. 

Conclusion

A chance is taken on Proschema who could sneak in at the bottom of the weights due to the reduced number of entries this year. A horse that thrives on good ground, he looks handicapped to win a race of this nature when conditions are in his favour and his wins on the all-weather demonstrated his wellbeing. The past five winners of the County Hurdle began their career on the flat, which Proschema did, while his patient run style also suits this race. With his trainer having a phenomenal recent record in the race, he would have a leading chance if running.