Harry Fry's Unowhatimeanharry has been untouchable in the build-up to the Stayers' Hurdle. Can anyone beat him at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival? Our man Alan Dudman makes the case for two others in the Betfair Sportsbook's Non-Runner No-Bet market...
"His trainer viewed him as a horse with stamina from his novice days, and it seems bizarre to think that he could still have a bit of unfinished business over hurdles (for one who has won plenty of good pots)."
Back Nichols Canyon @ 8/1 Betfair Sportsbook NRNB
Cheltenham Festival Stayers' Hurdle
How did Unowhatimeanharry get beaten in a handicap at Stratford off a mark of 113 three years ago? Actually he got turned over by a few horses back when he was pondering whether or not he was going to be one of the great staying hurdlers of modern times. His victory in the Cleeve during the recent trials at Cheltenham ensured he is on the correct trajectory to join the likes of modern day greats Big Buck's, Inglis Drever and Thistlecrack - who all landed the Prestbury Park race en route to winning the hurdling staying crown.
Tidal Bay won a Cleeve as well. I still love Tidal.
Unowhatimeanharry now possesses a Timefom rating of 169, which is just 1lb behind Annie Power. He has won all eight starts for his trainer Harry Fry, and he's gobbled up all the right races prior to the Cleeve; with victories in the Long Distance and Long Walk races, all with his customary elegance of travelling and doing no more than he has to. He is also a previous Festival winner who appears to be at ease in any ground.
At 6/4, and with an ultra-smooth preparation, we cannot crab the price or form. I don't think he will go much shorter than that, and I would recommend waiting to back him on the day if that sort of range is your thing. He could drift to 7/4 or 2/1.
Cole Harden bravely tried to give Unowhatimeanharry a race in the Cleeve, and attempted to crack the green and gold with his usual front-running, attacking style last month. The former would have hated that tacky surface, so it was full credit to him that he kept battling when under pressure. His trainer Warren Greatrex and rider Gavin Sheehan both hinted that he really comes alive just before the Festival - and as a former winner of the race in 2015, there are worse 11/1 shots around.
Greatrex looked thrilled with his latest run, and it's been a bumpy road following a fairly dismal effort over fences earlier in the campaign. He's back on track and will relish the quicker conditions in March. It's "game on" with Harry, as he bids to become the first horse since 1986 to reclaim the staying crown. Aside from being a decent each-way bet, he's an obvious back-to-lay trade if you are involved in the Exchange.
We don't know what race Jezki will be going for, and he is 5/1 for this and 8/1 for the Champion Hurdle (both NRNB). His family stay well and he has won over three miles, whilst Vroum Vroum Mag at 10/1 would need to be five times her price for me to back her following a laboured effort to score at Doncaster recently.
In the likelihood that Jezki and Yanworth will be pitching up for the shorter trip, one wonders what Willie Mullins will do with Nichols Canyon? On Ryanair Hurdle form, he has seven lengths to find with Petit Mouchoir for the speedier race. And whilst he fell at the last in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he shaped like he was worth a go at this sort of testing trip.
Indeed, at his best he can jump brilliantly and I admire his aggressive style when on song. He was a bit of a handful in his younger days (on transition from racing from the Flat). That particular negatron ruined his chance in the 2015 Neptune as he was far too keen, and he has worn earplugs in the past.
He has been Faugheen's reserve (and has beaten the great horse), but he is also a seven-time Grade 1 winner who is 8/1 NRNB for this race, and judging on the price going skywards on the Exchange for the Champion, the Stayers' Hurdle could be the target. His trainer viewed him as a horse with stamina from his novice days, and it seems bizarre to think that he could still have a bit of unfinished business over hurdles (for one who has won plenty of good pots).
Mullins also has Shaneshill at 15/2, and I like the idea of him being modelled into a three miler. Indeed, his trainer stated after his RSA second last season that they were planning on making him into a staying hurdler due to his lack of scope over the fences. He could be a "mix and match horse", who already has in the bag a trip to Percy Warner Park in the USA. Not many can say that!
Shaneshill fell over Christmas but responded well with a good jumping performance to win the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last time out. It was a weak renewal on 26th January, but Mullins appeared satisfied and said it was "straight for the Stayers".
He has a bit of back-class with three Festivals under his belt. He got fairly close to Douvan in the 2015 Supreme after all. As a hardy horse who stays, he appeals as an each-way bet too.
Back Shaneshill @ 15/2 Betfair Sportsbook NRNB
Back Nichols Canyon @ 8/1 Betfair Sportsbook NRNB
Check out more Cheltenham Festival 2017 ante-post previews and tips in our dedicated Cheltenham Festival section on betting.betfair.com