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Jamie Lynch's Cheltenham Day Three Preview: Staying ain't what it used to be

Doubts over Oscar Whisky are all relative, according to Jamie

"What's especially pertinent about flagging up the discrepant demands of the old and new ahead of this year's World Hurdle is that stamina is the pivotal issue regards the pivotal player."

The World Hurdle mightn't be a wholly accurate name for the day-three feature, but it's arguably better than one that gives unwarranted heart to plodders, argues Jamie Lynch as he tries to make a case for third-time-lucky over three miles of the New Course.

There's a school of thought that the World Series, the annual Baseball championship that's global in name but exclusively North American in practice, gets its title not from any mild pomposity but from the newspaper that first sponsored it, the New York World. 

It's a blow to those who snipe and say that only in America could there be such blind arrogance as to take a sporting contest that's so conspicuously municipal, never leaving its shores, and label it as a 'World' event. On an unrelated matter, the big race of the day at Cheltenham is the World Hurdle, though only since 2005 has it had such a grandiose title. 

A name change sometimes does more harm than good. In the 'nineties, when Kellogg's dared to mess with Coco Pops, in the scandalous misbelief that what we actually wanted was Choco Krispies, so fierce was the public backlash that within a year, tail firmly between legs, order had been restored. In the racing industry, where renaming of races is epidemic, even at the major festivals,  there was little more than the shrugging of shoulders and rolling of eyes when it was announced in 2005 that, as part of a new sponsorship deal, the Stayers' Hurdle, which did exactly what it said on the tin since 1972, would henceforth be the World Hurdle. More shiny, less relevant. 

However, there's evidence to suggest the race was in fact overdue a name change and that the 'Stayers' tag was something of a misnomer, at least compared to the original design. Prior to 1993, the race was run on the Old Course over a distance of three miles and a furlong. The last winner under those conditions, in what is widely considered to be one of the strongest ever renewals, was Nomadic Way, who clocked a time of 6:33.93, on good ground.

Since its switch to later in the week on the New Course, the average winning time in the Stayers' Hurdle, using the 14 of the 19 runnings when the going was good, is 5:47.23. That's significantly less staying to be done, equivalent to over three furlongs. 

Wholesale remeasurements undertaken by Cheltenham after the 1999 Festival did see an official reduction in the Stayers' Hurdle distance by half a furlong to a flat three miles, but there's more to it than that, and it seems that 'declinism' - the idea that things ain't what they used to be - applies to championship races at Cheltenham and not just to meat, Arsenal and Quality Street - both the tin and the sweets.

What's especially pertinent about flagging up the discrepant demands of the old and new ahead of this year's World Hurdle is that stamina is the pivotal issue regards the pivotal player. The universal acceptance that Oscar Whisky is the best horse in the World Hurdle is qualified by his doubted staying power, but, as highlighted, staying isn't necessarily the name of the game, or the race, anymore.

It can't, though, be brushed under the carpet that Oscar Whisky is working on the premise of if at first - or second - you don't succeed, try, try again, because he's already had two tries over the World Hurdle course and distance, but with mitigation both times. In last year's World Hurdle, he paid a heavy price for trying to match the unmatchable Big Buck's from a fair way out, and then in this season's Cleeve Hurdle, the major trial, Oscar Whisky was much more convincing, beaten only a neck by Reve de Sivola when the ground was heavy and the ride was more exploratory than excavatory. 

If we were in the 1980s, the halcyon days of unprocessed meat, a reliable Arsenal, quality Quality Street and a stamina-sapping Stayers' Hurdle, then Oscar Whisky wouldn't have a prayer against the relentless Reve de Sivola, but we're in the age of fast food, fast connections and faster times in the 'staying' championship, and Oscar Whisky can make his class count.

Every Which RSA But Jewson

Dynaste is only one letter away from Dynasty, a soap opera that specialised in cliffhangers and regularly held its followers in suspense. When I attended the David Pipe media day two weeks ago, I thought he was just playing the game when he suggested that he didn't know whether Dynaste would run in the RSA or the Jewson, but it turns out he wasn't, and still doesn't, looking at the Betfair markets for both races. 

If the ghost of Grands Crus still hasn't been exorcised by next week and Dynaste swerves the RSA for the first race on Thursday then it's a win-lose situation for me: Dynaste wins and my ante-post bet on Aupcharlie loses. It's as simple as that.
 
The Make-Or-Breaker

While the Dynaste missile is yet to receive exact coordinates, the Ballynagour bomb looks to be locked onto the Byrne Group Plate. The fifth race on the third day is deep enough into the Festival for Ballynagour to be a "sod it" bet, or a "(worse word than sod) it" bet, by which I mean some people will just go 'all in' with what's left of their Cheltenham bank, myself possibly included. In that eventuality, we'll all be sitting tight, including Tom Scu hopefully.

Thursday's C.H.I.L.D. Is Old And Slow

Old, slow and exposed aren't usually the qualities you look for in a handicapper for Cheltenham, but the Pertemps Final is different, and Junior fits the bill very nicely. Six of the last 14 Pertemps winners have been aged nine or older, while three have been returning to hurdling after a spell chasing, and Junior qualifies on both counts. Previous Festival form also seems an advantage, and Junior scores highly in that regard, having won the Kim Muir in 2011 and finished third in the Coral Cup three years earlier. 

Two runs since a winning reappearance this season have been in races he literally had no chance, but safeguarding his handicap mark for hurdles, and the ironically-named Junior might just show the youngsters a thing or two in a race the Pipes have won three times, including twice with the old, slow and exposed Buena Vista.

Read Jamie's Previews of days One, Two and Four.

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13 March 2013

Cheltenham

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