Timeform preview Saturday's Liverpool Stayers' Hurdle and expect a northern contender to be hard to beat...
"...he wasn't seen to best advantage, not setting a strong enough pace to bring his stamina and guts into play, his jumping not so good as it had been at Ascot..."
Timeform on Sam Spinner
The Stayers' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival could prove key to unlocking what looks a potentially weak Grade 1 on paper, with seven of the Cheltenham runners entered in Saturday's three-mile Liverpool Stayers' Hurdle.
Supasundae fared best - beaten just two lengths by a tuned-to-the-minute Penhill - and would be the one to beat if running here, only beaten a length in this race 12 months ago. However, he is odds-on for the Aintree Hurdle and is more likely to run in that shorter race, especially with original favourite Buveur d'Air not in attendance.
Wholestone finished three lengths further back in third at Cheltenham, running up to his best on a track where he has such a solid record, but he was probably helped more than most by the slowly-run nature of the race, for all that he lacked the pace of the first two. He ran well on his last visit to the North, beaten two lengths in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby in November, and is not discounted here.
Responsible for that pace (or lack of it) in the Stayers' Hurdle, was the Joe Colliver-ridden Sam Spinner. Strong in the betting, he looked the pick on form after his Long Walk win, but he wasn't seen to best advantage, not setting a strong enough pace to bring his stamina and guts into play, his jumping not so good as it had been at Ascot. This track should suit (wide margin winner at Haydock on testing ground earlier in the season) and he is the one to beat if given a more aggressive ride.
The Worlds End was seventh at Cheltenham, however this track may play more to his strengths, as he has a win in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at this meeting 12 months ago to his name. His trainer Tom George has suggested that better going would suit, however The Worlds End has won three times on soft ground and a better end result is expected here compared to Prestbury Park - he looks a big danger at 7/1.
Other Cheltenham also-rans include L'Ami Serge (eighth), The New One (12th) and Lil Rockerfeller (13th), whilst Thomas Campbell also met with defeat there, albeit in the Pertemps Final handicap under a big weight. Thomas Campbell made big strides in the autumn but those races have not worked out particularly well. Both L'Ami Serge and The New One have alternative entries this week (including over fences for L'Ami Serge), and both have something to prove.
Of the rest, Old Guard had a length and a half in hand when beating Lil Rockerfeller in the National Spirit at Fontwell in February, though was receiving 2 lb from his rival that day. He needs to improve again for the longer trip, though it's perhaps significant that this is his only entry this week. The same applies to Identity Thief, who will be stepping up a mile in trip if he runs; surely the Aintree Hurdle would have given him a better chance.
Coole Cody has made good strides this season (improved by 15 lb on the pick of last season's form), and took another step forward when completing a hat-trick of wins at Cheltenham in November. He hasn't been seen since, but is not one to discount too readily if running in this rather than the three-mile handicap on the same card.
Though they have mopped up all of the big all-weather Flat races of late, the French-trained Serienschock looks up against on Timeform ratings, a comment that certainly applies to the useful handicapper Shelford, who has spent most of the year over fences but was last seen finishing a well-beaten third over hurdles at Haydock in January.
A return to Aintree could see The Worlds End in a better light, however the most solid option at around 15/8 is Sam Spinner. If The New One and Coole Cody take up alternative engagements, Sam Spinner could get an easy lead and - whilst the general consensus is he should have been ridden more aggressively at Cheltenham - this should mean that his jockey can kick on a lot earlier and draw the finishing kick out of his rivals. Supasundae, who has improved plenty this term, would rate the biggest danger if lining up.
Back Sam Spinner to win the Liverpool Stayers' Hurdle