Saint Patrick may have rid Ireland of all the snakes, but he’d have his hands full eradicating Cheltenham of all the Guinness-swilling Irish celebrating St Patrick’s Day as part of day 3 at The Festival. Amid the festivities and proud displays of green, white and orange (well, mostly green), the keener punters will be closely following the markets ahead of the day’s two big races, £300,000 Grade 1 The Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase.
In 2016, Thistlecrack justified banker status as he bounded away from Irish challenger Alpha Des Obeaux to take The Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle in breath-taking fashion and confirmed his domination of the staying hurdle division. Formerly known as the World Hurdle, this race’s short history dates back to just 2000. In that period, there’ve been three multiple winners – Big Buck’s (four in a row from 2009-2012 for Ruby Walsh and Paul Nicholls), Inglis Drever (2005, 2007-08) and Baracouda (2002-03).
Go with Harry, Know What I Mean?
After 21 runners accepted for the Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle, a field of 16 is set to line-up for the fourth on the card of day 3. Unowhatimeanharry ($2.25 favourite with Sun Bets) is unbeaten in eight starts for trainer Harry Fry and signed off last season with victory in the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival, after which he was bought privately by J.P. McManus. The nine-year-old was impressive in beating Ballyoptic (Nigel Twiston-Davies, 16/1) on his return in a G2 contest at Newbury in November before a four and a half-length victory over Lil Rockerfeller in the G1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot the following month. Jessica Harrington plans to run 2014 Stan James Champion Hurdle victor Jezki ($8 with Paddy Power) after two good comeback runs this season. The JP McManus-owned gelding Yanworth ($7 with Coral), who will be ridden for the first time by Mark Walsh, has won each of his three starts this season, the most recent in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. The favourite looks close enough to a good thing.
Mullins Strong Hand in Ryanair Chase
The day’s other feature – the £300,000 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1 over 2m 5f) – is the third on the card. There’s value galore with five of the eight runners rated at 10-1 or better. Willie Mullins sent out the 1-2 in the 2016 Ryanair Chase as Vautour beat Valseur Lido. This year, the trainer is responsible for saddling the favourite in the championship contest this year. Un De Sceaux ($3.25 thanks to William Hill) has been victorious on two of his three previous appearances at Cheltenham. The nine-year-old stormed to six-length victory in the Racing Post Arkle Novices’ Chase at The Festival in 2015 and returned last year to chase home Sprinter Sacre in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. He also triumphed at the course on his latest start, beating the 2015 Ryanair Chase winner Uxizandre (Alan King) by five lengths in the re-scheduled G1 Clarence House Chase on Festival Trials Day (January 28). The British challenge includes Josses Hill (Nicky Henderson), an impressive winner of the G2 Betfred Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon in December and the best of the next at $8 (Betway).