Stayers’ Hurdle: what is the strongest trial?

Unowhatimeanharry winning the Cleeve Hurdle, a famous Stayers' trial

PICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos) Stayers' Hurdle: what is the strongest trial? By Keith Melrose 3:00PM 23 FEB 2017

WITH three weeks to go until the championship for long-distance hurdlers, we look at where the contenders tend to come from.

Cleeve Hurdle, Cheltenham
Average RPR of last ten winners: 166
Stayers' Hurdle winners to come from race in last ten years: 6
2016-17 winner: Unowhatimeanharry

The path for those with designs on the Stayers' Hurdle is easily the best mapped-out of the four championship races. A horse can run once a month in Grade 1s and 2s from late-October to late-January then get a couple of weeks' extra rest before Cheltenham.

As a kicker, the final prep race is over the same course and distance as the Stayers'. The Cleeve Hurdle attracts the majority of the major contenders for the big prize and, in addition to the four times the winner has done the double in the last decade, 12 of the 30 horses placed in the Stayers' had run in the Cleeve less than six weeks earlier.

Note that the Cleeve Hurdle form tends to be upheld at the festival. Nine of the last ten winners of the race ran in the World Hurdle and six times they finished best of the Cleeve runners who joined them.

Incidentally, in two of the three exceptional cases, Inglis Drever (second in 2007) and Cole Harden (fourth in 2015) did not just conquer the Cleeve winner, they won the Stayers' Hurdle.

Significance rating: 4.5 out of 5

Long Walk Hurdle, Ascot
Average RPR: 165
Winners from race: 4
2016-17 winner: Unowhatimeanharry

The only pre-Chelteham Grade 1 for staying hurdlers in Britain has been given to hegemony – no Grade 1 has more repeat winners this century than the Long Walk's six.

The good news for the race is that four times in the last decade the winner has gone on to win the Stayers' Hurdle. Big Buck's habitually used the race on his way to Cheltenham, which helps.

On the other hand, its place in mid-winter often serves up very different conditions to what prevail at Cheltenham. See Reve De Sivola, who ploughed through the mud to win three Long Walks but found things happening too quickly for him come March – in fact he twice finished behind the Long Walk runner-up.

Significance rating: 3.5/5

Reve De Sivola (Daryl Jacob,farside)

Reve De Sivola: relished the test provided in the Long Walk Hurdle

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Christmas Hurdle, Leopardstown
Average RPR: 156
Winners from race: 0
2016-17 winner: Vroum Vroum Mag

Given that the only Irish-trained winner of the Stayers' Hurdle this century, Solwhit, was making his debut at three miles, it is little surprise that Ireland's leading trial for the race comes up short.

Still, so far as Ireland goes it is still a race worth noting. Six times in the last ten years the best Irish-trained performer in the Stayers' ran in this Christmas Hurdle and four times they had won it. That's a fair record for a race that only had Grade 1 status bestowed on it in 2013.

Significance rating: 2/5

National Spirit Hurdle, Fontwell
Average RPR: 152
Winners from race: 0
2015-16 winner: Lil Rockerfeller

The National Spirit has a scattered history, which is something of an occupational hazard with it scheduled to take place less than three weeks before the festival. The spread of winning performances on RPRs is 23lb, which if anything is smaller than might be expected.

Go back far enough and you will find My Way De Solzen as a winner of the race and Stayers' Hurdle in the same season, while Baracouda might have done the same in 2001 but for foot and mouth, but modern fashions have worked against the race. Hardly a runner has gone on to contest the Stayers' Hurdle in the last few seasons. Aintree has been a far more popular destination.

Let it not be said that the race does not produce good horses, however. In 2014, a 100-1 shot named Unowhatimeanharry finished a distant fifth for Helen Nelmes.

Significance rating: 1.5/5

MORE OF THAT - Cheltenham 14/12/13

More Of That winning the 2013 Relkeel Hurdle

PICTURE: John Grossick (racingpost.com/photos)

Wild card:

Relkeel Hurdle, Cheltenham
Average RPR: 161
Winners from race: 1
2016-17 winner: Agrapart

The Relkeel will never match the likes of the Cleeve or Long Walk for popularity among established Stayers' Hurdle contenders, not least because it falls right in between the two, but it is beginning to emerge as the route for latecomers to take.

By far the most famous example is More Of That, who in 2013 beat a field of four that also included subsequent Mares' Hurdle winner Glens Melody before going on to take the World Hurdle.

Besides that, it has not produced much for the Stayers', but that probably owes more to the make-up of those competing, horses like Oscar Whisky or Rock On Ruby who were at that point best over the intermediate trip rather than further.

The race is growing in depth and is likely to continue in that vein in its new New Year's Day slot. The Relkeel is of high enough standard that legitimate Stayers' Hurdle contenders will spring from it. Cole Harden is already setting the blueprint.

Significance rating: 2.5/5

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    NAP of the Day

    DateTime / CourseSilkSelectionPrice
    £10 Win Single Pays £26.25 with Bet365
    22 Aug 201714:30 Brighton
    Al Ozzdi

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