FROM the speed of Wednesday to the stamina of Thursday – day three of Cheltenham is about heart, guts, and bravery.
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The feature race is the Stayers’ Hurdle, a contest that is often oh so competitive with any number of horses in with a shout.
This year looks no different, as Blazing Khal, Marie’s Rock and Teahupoo are all around the same price at the top of the market.
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A big question mark surrounds Blazing Khal, though, who’s looked a bit of a superstar in his career under rules thus far. Trainer Charles Byrnes announced he had to miss some work and may not make the Festival in time – a preparation which is far from ideal, particularly in a race as demanding as the Stayers’ hurdle.
That said, if he does make the tape then he’d have every chance following his return romp in the Boyne Hurdle. He raced quite keenly that day but has a huge chunk of ability and is one of the most exciting prospects around.
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Of those in opposition, many have been surprised that Nicky Henderson is keen to send Marie’s Rock in this direction. The Relkeel hurdle winner would have been hot property in the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day (a race she won last year) but the master of Seven Barrows is likely to send her over the longer trip instead.
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There’s no doubt she’s innately talented and with that 7lb allowance she’ll receive then you’d have to give her every chance – but the 3m trip is the unknown. And what of Teahupoo? Gordon Elliott’s contender relished the step up to this distance when winning the Galmoy Hurdle and is very unexposed now he’s worked out what suits him best.
Bet on to win at 4/1 Teahupoo with William Hill
There’s so much strength in depth to the contest this year that Flooring Porter hasn’t even been discussed yet – the winner of the last two renewals. Trainer Gavin Cromwell has been open that his journey to the Festival has been compromised (similar to Blazing Khal) but there’s no doubt that if he lines up then he must be respected.
Perhaps the biggest danger to all, though, is Home By The Lee. Usually one contender for this race emerges from the clouds and he could well be that horse this year. A bit of a grinder, he’s won two very hot races over the trip so far this season and is a stamina-laden beast very much on the up. Add Gold Tweet, Ashdale Bob and Paisley Park to the mix and this is one of the most competitive graded races of the week.
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Elsewhere on the cards, there’s plenty to enjoy, too. The Ryanair has been thrown wide open with the re-emergence of Shishkin, who won the Ascot Chase so impressively a few weeks ago. With Allaho out injured, Nicky Henderson’s brilliant chaser is strongly fancied to win at the Festival for the third time.
And with the Turners a very trappy contest, the Kim Muir and Plate providing almost impossible puzzles to solve, and the Pertemps and Mares’ Novice Hurdle both featuring some exciting prospects, there really is something for everyone.
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