A high-quality field is taking shape for Cheltenham Race Course’s Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle, the first contest of the 2017 TVV Capital Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge. The unique bonus offers $500,000 to any horse that can win the Stayers’ Hurdle and the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in a 12-month period.
Heading the lineup for the March 16 race is Unowhatimeanharry, who has not tasted defeat in his last eight starts, ever since he was placed in the hands of young trainer Harry Fry, now 30. At Cheltenham’s January meet, the nine-year-old Sir Harry Lewis gelding won the Cleve Hurdle with Barry Geraghty in the irons.
Unowhatimeanharry currently is a consensus 6-5 among the bookmakers and could go off at odds-on in the three-mile feature of the Cheltenham Festival’s third day. John P. McManus’ Unowhatimeanharry previously won the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Nov. 25 and Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle on Dec. 17.
Fry, who took out his trainer’s license at age 26, is based at Manor Farm Stables in Dorset. His young operation recently celebrated its 50th victory of the 2016-2017 National Hunt season.
Leading Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins again will play a strong hand in the Stayers’ Hurdle. His leading prospect is Vroum Vroum Mag, winner of the three-mile Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown with Ruby Walsh in the saddle. The eight-year-old French-bred mare subsequently won the Doncaster Mares’ Hurdle in January.
She is second choice at 5-1 in the bookmaker consensus for the Stayers’ Hurdle but also is under consideration for other Festival races.
Mullins’ potential lineup for the Stayers’ Hurdle also includes Shanehill and Nichols Canyon, who finished second and third, respectively, to Rawnaq in last year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois. Shaneshill is 7-1 and Nichols Canyon is a consensus 8-1.
This year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois, the richest race on the National Steeplechase Association’s spring schedule and also at three miles, is scheduled for Saturday, May 13, at Nashville’s Percy Warner Park.