As many as 21 starters will line up Thursday for the £300,000 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle (Eng-Gr. 1), and J. P. McManus’ Unowhatimeanharry will be the horse to beat in the first leg of the $500,000 TVV Capital Iroquois-Cheltenham Challenge.
To seize the Challenge’s prize, a horse must win the Stayers’ Hurdle and the $200,000 Calvin Houghland Iroquois (Gr. 1) in a 12-month period. This year’s Calvin Houghland Iroquois is Saturday, May 13 in Nashville.
The three-mile Stayers’ Hurdle, feature race of the Festival’s third day, is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT and is available for live viewing on many advance-deposit wagering sites.
Trained by the young Dorset-based horseman Harry Fry, Unnowhatimeanharry has done nothing wrong since he came under Fry’s management, winning eight consecutive starts. He most recently won the Cleve Hurdle (Eng-Gr. 2) on Cheltenham’s Festival Trials program in late January.
Unowhatimeanharry is 5-to-4 in the wagering, a very heavy favorite against a talented group of horses and a large field. The Cheltenham turf was soft to good over the weekend, with a forecast of several dry days preceding the four-day festival.
Willie Mullins left four candidates in the Stayers’ Hurdle at Friday’s declarations, including Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon, who finished second and third, respectively, in last year’s epic Calvin Houghland Iroquois.
The Iroquois winner, Irv Naylor’s Rawnaq, was pointed toward the Stayers’ Hurdle after his Eclipse Award-winning season but sustained a setback in January and will miss the 2017 racing season.
Owned by Andrea and Graham Wylie, Shaneshill and Nichols Canyon were listed at 7-to-1 in the betting.
Also in prospect for the Stayers’ Hurdle is Cole Harden, the 2015 winner of the race then known as the World Hurdle.