Stayers’ Hurdle: Blazing Khal favourite despite tough prep
His participation in the day three feature has been a hot topic of discussion in the build-up to the Festival and one that intensified once trainer Charles Byrnes revealed the seven-year-old suffered a cut during his impressive comeback victory in the Boyne Hurdle – subsequently facing a race against time to secure his place in the field.
Blazing Khal defies a 428-day absence to run out a ready winner of the Grade 2 @WilliamHill Boyne Hurdle, with the seven-year-old forging clear late on to score for the @PhilipByrnes1 and @cbyrnesracing combination 👏 pic.twitter.com/Eu0pc0UxnC
— Navan Racecourse (@NavanRacecourse) February 12, 2023
The Ballynoe Stables handler is relieved to be in touching distance of getting Blazing Khal to the start line for his first run in Grade One company.
“It’s been well documented, his preparation, but I can’t change anything. That’s gone and we have him here and we can now just hope for the best,” said Byrnes.
“We’re pleased to get him here, we would have preferred a better preparation, but we will make the most of it and hope the horse and jockey come back safe.
“He’s beat lesser company so far and it’s a big step up to Grade One company from what he has been up against, but we will try to make the most of it.”
Blazing Khal will be ridden by Byrnes’ son Philip as the trainer bids for a second Stayers’ Hurdle victory following Solwhit 10 years ago.
“It’s a massive day and a massive family occasion,” continued Ballingarry-based Byrnes. “But as far as we’re concerned, there is no pressure as he hasn’t had the ideal preparation and we’re here and hoping more than anything.
“It would be lovely to win it again, but Solwhit was an exceptional horse. He won eight Grade Ones while Blazing Khal is yet to win one. They don’t make Solwhits too often.”
Blazing Khal will have to lower the colours of Flooring Porter, who after his own struggles to make the Festival, returns to his old stomping ground looking for a third-straight victory in Thursday’s main event.
Can FLOORING PORTER make it three in a row? 🤔
— The Jockey Club (@TheJockeyClub) March 6, 2023
“He’s had an interrupted preparation, but we’re pretty happy with him and hopefully he can run a big race,” said trainer Gavin Cromwell.
“He knows how to win around the track which is a big positive. It’s not going to be an easy task, it’s a very good renewal of the race and we’re probably a little bit up against it, but he is the horse who has the form in the race. Everyone is very excited now and looking forward to it.”
Teahupoo was the first horse to down Honeysuckle when capturing the Hatton’s Grace earlier this season and followed up by winning Gowran’s Galmoy Hurdle to put himself firmly in contention in the Stayers’ Hurdle betting as the 7/2 second favourite.
“We were trying to make him a quicker horse than he is last year running over two miles, but he looks to have found his niche over longer trips,” said trainer Gordon Elliott, who also saddles 2021 runner-up Sire Du Berlais.
“If you’d spoken to me this time last year, I’d have said he had a squeak in the Champion Hurdle, but he was just run off his feet.
“He’s a good horse and Davy (Russell, jockey) said he’s better for knowing. He said he got there too soon the last day, as he’s so relaxed and then he grabs hold and goes.
“He’s a young horse on the way up. He was good in the Hatton’s Grace and he was equally as good in Gowran.
“He’s a fair horse. He doesn’t do anything exciting at home, but he seems to do it on the track.”
Honeysuckle’s unbeaten streak comes to an end.
Teahupoo wins to Klassical Dream with Honeysuckle back in 3rd.
What’s next for this wonder mare after suffering her first defeat in her career? 👀
— Coral (@Coral) December 4, 2022
The Irish challenge is further strengthened by Joseph O’Brien’s Home By The Lee, who accounted for a useful cast in Navan’s Lismullen Hurdle before proving that was no fluke when running out a three-length winner of the Jack de Bromhead Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
“He goes there with a big chance. He is fit and well and his preparation has gone great,” said O’Brien.
“We are looking forward to the race. It looks a really strong Stayers’ Hurdle this year, but we are right in the mix.
“He likes being fresh, so it was always the plan to go straight from Christmas to Cheltenham.”
Ashdale Bob was runner-up to Home By The Lee in the Christmas Hurdle and is another raider from the Emerald Isle in the line-up along with Willie Mullins’ former Festival hero Klassical Dream, while there is a continental flavour to the contest with two runners from France taking part.
Gabriel Leenders’ Gold Tweet caused an upset when romping to Cleeve Hurdle success on Festival Trials Day and he is joined by Hugo Merienne’s Henri Le Farceur.
“He jumps his hurdles very fast and he’s a very strong horse. He’s not big, but he’s very strong and if we follow (the pace) he’ll have a fast finish, which is perfect for an English race,” said Leenders.
“We’ve trained him for every possibility and if the race is fast or steady, it’s not a problem. The jockey will keep relaxed and it won’t be a problem, he will be ready.”
IT'S THE FRENCH RAIDER! 🇫🇷💪
Gold Tweet wins the Dahlbury Stallions At Chapel Stud Cleeve Hurdle by two lengths 🥇
— ITV Racing (@itvracing) January 28, 2023
Merienne added: “Henri Le Farceur likes the distance and I think he’ll like the track. It’s a challenge but we’ll see. He’ll need to come and improve but we will try.
“We were actually thinking about whether to go to Kempton over Christmas, but the horse had a hard race at Auteuil and we gave him a few weeks off. When Gold Tweet won, the horse was in really good form and back in training and we thought we’d come over.
“There’s a lot of French trainers who’ve won in England and a few have come here already, it’s like a dream to come here. It’s like the World Cup and we’ll try our best.”
There are just two British-trained contenders – Dashel Drasher and Paisley Park – who were second and third respectively behind Gold Tweet in the Cleeve.
Emma Lavelle believes she has her 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle hero in top form ahead of his fifth run in the race and is crossing her fingers the popular 11-year-old can roll back the years.
She said: “He’s amazing to keep pulling it out the bag the way he has over the year and he certainly seems in good order.
“It looks a competitive renewal, but we know he loves Cheltenham, we know he loves that course and, touch wood, he has had a good preparation since his run in the Cleeve. Hopefully there will be plenty of pace and we see him flying up the hill at the finish.
“The ground is a positive for him in that it will probably slow the others up a bit, but to be honest I don’t think he really cares too much about the ground. He doesn’t like that really tacky ground, but outside of that he’s quite happy with whatever is thrown at him.
“It would a phenomenal achievement (to win the race again), but he has done us so proud over the years and has won a Grade One this year. Fingers crossed he can show us all what he is capable of.”
Stayers’ Hurdle betting odds
5/2 Blazing Khal
11/2 Flooring Porter, Home By The Lee
8/1 Klassical Dream
10/1 Gold Tweet
10/1 Monkfish, Sir Gerhard
16/1 Paisley Park
25/1 Ashdale Bob
33/1 Dashel Drasher, Henri Le Farceur
66/1 Sire Du Berlais
All odds and market correct at date of publication