This year's Stayers Hurdle is shaping up to be an outstanding spectacle. Over the years, this division has been rather dull, but the presence of some new blood arguably makes this one of the hottest races at this years Cheltenham Festival.
My favourite horse in the land is competing for favouritism, so I will do my best to provide an unbiased opinion, but in all honesty, this race does have strength in depth!
In the last 12 years...
Ten of the last 12 Stayers Hurdle winners were aged between six and eight - not a good start for the second favourite Champ or former winner Paisley Park both ten-year-olds.
Nine of the last 12 were rated 156 or higher.
Nine of the last 12 had a Grade 1 win - Klassical Dream, Champ, Thyme Hill, Flooring Porter, Paisley Park (hurdles).
Klassical a dream candidate for Stayers success
Klassical Dream 3.7511/4 not only fits many of the stats, but he has the form in the book to play a significant hand in this year's Stayers Hurdle at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival.
The Willie Mullins trained runner has been raced sparingly since his Supreme Novice Hurdle triumph in 2019, with just five starts since. Still, two of those include impressive displays over 3m, including a victory over last years winner Flooring Porter 6.511/2 on his latest outing.
The eight-year-old remains unbeaten over three miles, but he may have been flattered by his hard-fought win at Leopardstown over Flooring Porter when stealing five to six lengths as the tape dropped in what was a ridiculously farcical start.
There is no getting away from his raw ability, although his winning margin at Leopardstown was rapidly reduced to two lengths by Flooring Porter at the finish line.
He will need to take a step forward for that run facing this stiffer task in the Stayers Hurdle, but his claims are obvious, especially given he is still on the upgrade.
His 3.7511/4 price looks rather short, and there is value in behind him.
Klassical Dream has a prep run for this contest on the 27th of Jan at Gowran Park against inferior rivals that could see his price contract for fans that want to back him.
Right place wrong Thyme?
Thyme Hill 8.515/2 has been an unlucky horse in his short career. He was denied a clear run at Cheltenham in the Albert Bartlett only to finish 1 1/2 lengths fourth and then suffered a setback that ruled him out of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival and now arrives in a much stronger renewal for 2022.
Thyme Hill is remarkably consistent, and he is entitled to improve again for his second-placed finish to Champ at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle. However, it's hard to suggest he would have had the beating of that rival at any point in the race when always looking held.
He is not far off those at the top of the market, but he does need to take another step forward you feel to challenge. There will be a good pace in this contest that will undoubtedly suit his hold-up running style, and he is impossible to write off.
Is there a new Champ in waiting?
Nicky Henderson's Champ 5.04/1 is an enigma if nothing else but also a hugely talented horse.
He has an excellent CV, having finished second in a Ballymore before a remarkable win in the RSA Novices Chase the following year. Despite that prestigious RSA victory, fences didn't work out, and he is now back over hurdles.
The return to hurdles is a good move by connections, and their decision was rewarded with a commanding Grade 1 win at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle over Thyme Hill and Paisley Park.
He has an unusual blend of speed and stamina, which has not always been seen in this division. He is very lightly raced for a ten-year-old after just 16 career starts, and he has never failed to finish outside of the first two when completing.
He is not one you would associate with consistency for some reason, but his form figures would tell you differently. In his completed starts, he has only been beaten a total of four lengths and a neck, and he is a perfect three for three over today's trip.
His age should prove no barrier to success, and he could easily be the most talented horse in this field. You get the feeling it's now or never for Champ given his advancing years, and I, for one, don't want to miss out.
Porter looks a big price to floor his rivals again
Flooring Porter 6.511/2 may have been behind Klassical Dream at Leopardstown last time and Punchestown last April, but he has valid excuses for both of those, and he could offer a bit of value in the market at his current price.
He did remarkably well at Leopardstown, and even his jockey Danny Mullins looked across to the starter in disgust at letting Klassical Dream steal a lead.
He was an excellent winner of this race last term when making all of the running, and similar tactics are likely to be deployed this time around. He got a soft lead last year, but he is a quick horse, and there's not much that can match him in the early scrimmaging.
He looks like a fair each-way bet at this stage and is hard to ignore.
Best of the rest
It's hard not to give Paisley Park 34.033/1 a mention who probably should be more of a 17.016/1 shot rather than his current price tag. The 2019 winner wasn't disgraced at Ascot behind Champ and Thyme Hill, but he did lack the pace to get involved at the right time. This test with the strong pace on offer should suit him well, and he is not without each-way hope.
Melon 34.033/1, the bridesmaid and never the bride at Cheltenham, is a fascinating entrant and has the class to be involved if returned to hurdles for the first time since 2019, but it may be a bit late in the day for this one.
Stayers Hurdle ante-post verdict
An excellent renewal with strength in depth to this contest but preference, as you can imagine, is for CHAMP for who it feel's like and now or never scenario to fulfil his potential and land a Cheltenham success in open company for the first time. He has the perfect blend of speed and stamina and looks like a good each-way bet at 5.04/1 before his run in the Cleeve Hurdle, and it's looking all too late for connections to switch to the Gold Cup. Flooring Porter and Thyme Hill are both feared over Klassical Dream, whose price is short enough at writing.
2. Flooring Porter
The Stayers is one of the races under the spotlight in episode two of our new podcast, the Cheltenham Roarcast. Listen here