Stayers' Hurdle 2018 Ante-Post Preview: Right time to pick Apple's Jade
By Timeform, Thursday 23 March 2017
"...there’s plenty of time yet for Gigginstown’s Apple’s Jade to prove herself over three miles and it’s entirely possible she’ll improve further for even more of a test..."
It’s no surprise that Nichols Canyon heads the ante-post betting for the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle after winning this year’s race on just his second start over three miles. He’s therefore unexposed at the trip, as well as being young enough to be a leading contender for the race again, and has a reliable overall record for his top-class yard. However, all those positives have been factored into his price, and the list of recent winners to have won the race more than once – Baracouda, Inglis Drever (who also carried the Nichols Canyon colours) and Big Buck’s – shows that it’s an exclusive club that Nichols Canyon would be seeking to join.
In any case, there’s a good argument for thinking he caught Stayers’ Hurdle favourite Unowhatimeanharry on something of an off-day. After all, Unowhatimeanharry started odds-on as one of the bankers of the Festival, having won his last eight races, and had looked a class apart from the other leading British stayers on his previous outing in the Cleeve Hurdle. With his odds varying between 6/1 and 12/1, there’s clearly a difference of opinion among bookmakers as to how much Unowhatimeanharry should be forgiven his below-par third in the Stayers’. At twice the price of Nichols Canyon in some lists, Unowhatimeanharry represents some value as it’s not hard to see him stating his case again by winning some of the big staying hurdles next year, although no ten-year-old has won the Stayers’ this century.
Cole Harden has finished fourth in the last two Stayers’ Hurdles, so there’s no reason to think he can reclaim the crown he won in 2015, whereas runner-up Lil Rockerfeller, beaten less than a length despite coming off a true line in the closing stages, is always likely to go off at longer odds than he merits for his smaller yard, and has youth on his side, not to mention a really likeable attitude. However, the fact that Unowhatimeanharry beat him fair and square in the Long Walk at Ascot earlier in the season lends weight to the theory that Harry Fry’s gelding wasn’t at his best at Cheltenham.
Champion Hurdle flop Yanworth, who’d begun the season looking a plausible Stayers’ Hurdle candidate, features prominently in the ante-post lists again, though a chasing campaign has apparently been earmarked for him. There are a number of interesting up-and-comers who also feature in the Stayers’ market, though a novice chase campaign likely beckons too for the likes of the first three in the Neptune, Willoughby Court, Neon Wolf and Messire des Obeaux, along with the disappointing Albert Bartlett favourite Death Duty and the third from that race, Wholestone, and possibly the Pertemps Final winner Presenting Percy too.
Chasing won’t be the game for ex-Flat racer Penhill who won the Albert Bartlett, and it’s easier to see him joining stablemate Nichols Canyon in the 2018 Stayers’ line-up, though trainer Willie Mullins has mapped out a campaign back on the Flat for him in the shorter term. Penhill doesn’t represent much value at current odds and nor, at a general 14/1, does Mega Fortune, runner-up in what was an average Triumph Hurdle.
Mega Fortune does at least shape as though a greater test of stamina will suit him, but at similar odds it’s his stable-companion Apple’s Jade, with much better form already in the book, who appeals as more likely to give Gordon Elliott a first Stayers’ Hurdle. The 2016 Triumph runner-up put up a strong staying performance when a runaway winner under much more testing conditions at Aintree next time, and evidently benefited from the step up to two and a half miles when beating Vroum Vroum Mag, firstly in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse before Christmas, and then when finding plenty up the hill to get the better of her again in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Still only five, there’s plenty of time yet for Gigginstown’s Apple’s Jade to prove herself over three miles and it’s entirely possible she’ll improve further for even more of a test given that her sire Saddler Maker is also responsible for the likes of high-class three-mile performers Bristol de Mai and Alpha des Obeaux, the latter runner-up in the same colours in Thistlecrack’s World Hurdle.
Back Apple’s Jade at 14/1 in the World Hurdle.