FORGIVENESS is an important trait in most forms of life and it’s certainly no different in horseracing.
Punters generally tend to side with runners that are in form and have a sexy string of 1’s next to their name.
However, disregarding a horse simply because it might have disappointed slightly on its previous start is a risky strategy.
This afternoon’s Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle (3.30pm) is the most open of the four championship races this week.
A field of 16 is set to go to post and you can be sure it is going to be a brutal test of stamina given the conditions.
The hugely likeable SAM SPINNER is the obvious starting point, as he comes into this on the back of an impressive win in the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.
Prior to that he demolished his rivals in the Grade Three Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.
He is the young up-and-comer and has to be hugely respected because he will have no problem with the testing ground.
It would be a fairytale if he was to land this prize for trainer Jedd O’Keefe, who has recovered from life-threatening cancer, and jockey Joe Colliver, following his prison sentence in 2016.
There are always amazing stories at the Festival, but this one would eclipse them all.
Although I think Sam Spinner has a huge chance at 4/1 with Coral, I’m slightly concerned that this will be his first start at Cheltenham, while it’s not easy to make all in championship races on very soft ground.
He will be hard to keep out of the frame, but the one horse I think has been totally forgotten is UNOWHATIMEANHARRY.
Harry Fry’s stable star was many people’s idea of the Festival banker 12 months ago when he was sent off the 5/6 favourite for this race.
At the time it was slightly disappointing that he couldn't get the job done in what wasn't the strongest of renewals.
However, Fry reported that he was just a little off his game for a few days around the Festival, and the 2016 Albert Bartlett winner bounced back to land the Grade One Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown the following month.
A decent reappearance win at Aintree in November was followed by a second to the well-ridden Beer Goggles in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.
He then finished third behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk and has since been given an extended break to freshen him up for this.
Admittedly, he isn’t going into this year’s Festival in quite as good form as last year, while he’s also a 10-year-old now, but he’s 10/1 with Grosvenorsport.com and that is simply too big.
I think the form of the Long Walk holds the key to this year’s race and I can see the perennial bridesmaid L’AMI SERGE once again claiming a spot on the podium.
Nicky Henderson’s talented yet frustrating eight-year-old has only finished outside the first three once in his last 17 starts – the problem is he’s won just two of his last 15.
As is his want, he travelled like the wrath of God behind Sam Spinner in the Long Walk, only to be outbattled by the brave northern raider.
That may well happen again, but he is a great each-way bet at 12/1 with Paddy Power because he is so consistent.
Don’t forget that he won last summer’s French Champion Hurdle over 3m11⁄2f, while he has also been placed at the last two Festivals.
Daryl Jacob gets on well with him and he has opted to ride him over Whole- stone, who is another with decent Cheltenham form.
Of the rest, I’m worried about the trip on this ground for Supasundae, Yanworth and The New One.
Willie Mullins’ horses have been in great form so far this week, so his three entries certainly can’t be ignored. Barcardys was a decent novice, but perhaps more interesting is Penhill, who won last year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle in fine style.
However, he is making his first start since April and it’s going to be tremendously hard to win this on his seasonal reappearance.
Last year’s runner-up Lil Rockerfeller is another one to consider, although this does look a much deeper edition of the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Stayers' Hurdle 1-2-3
2 L’AMI SERGE
3 SAM SPINNER