Cheltenham Stayers’ Hurdle 2023 runners and riders: A horse-by-horse guide

French to conquer with Gold Tweet

By Marcus Armytage

French involvement in the Cheltenham Festival is everywhere and nowhere; seven of the nine runners in Thursday’s Ryanair Chase were bred there, along with five of the 11 in the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle. But, after a hiatus of a few years, two young French trainers have realised that there is a bit of fun to be had if you do not sell them all. 

After all, Francois Doumen, now 82, made the cross-Channel raid an art form, winning the 1994 Gold Cup with The Fellow, and a new generation, headed by Gabriel Leenders, can start the process of adding some je ne sais quoi to the meeting by winning the Stayers’ with Gold Tweet. 

Indeed, both French runners, his compatriot Henri Le Farceur too, are players in the hurdle, where stamina trumps speed. Gold Tweet and his veteran jockey, Johnny Charron, who won the Grand Steeple de Paris last year, won the Cleeve Hurdle on trials day in January and the old Army adage, time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted, springs to mind. 

Gold Tweet, more of a chaser in France than a hurdler, was very free in the Cleeve but came through to beat Dashel Drasher, a fair performer on soft ground, by three lengths. A stronger pace, which he is almost certain to get here, should help. Hugo Merrienne’s Henri Le Farceur, who Felix de Giles returns home to ride, appears to have a bit to find on ratings but will enjoy the soft ground. 

Ironically, Leenders may have scuppered his own chances here by selling Teahupoo, with whom he won a race at Auteuil, just over two years ago to Gordon Elliott. Too slow for last year’s Champion Hurdle, he may have found his metier over a trip and, though he did not beat a lot at Gowran last time, he appeared to stay the trip well and you could not argue that it was not impressive. 

He looked a picture out with Gordon Elliott’s string of 35 horses in the centre of the course on Wednesday morning from my grandstand seat on Dunboyne, an eight-year-old who should go well for Elliott in the Kim Muir. The wetter the better for Teahupoo, so he appears to be the one Gold Tweet has to beat. A bit like Teahupoo, Shishkin looked a new horse when Nicky Henderson stepped him up to 2½ miles at Ascot. 

Last year he had a hard race at Ascot against Energumene, bombed out after a mile in the Champion Chase, could not go the pace in the Tingle Creek, after which he needed a wind operation. If his win in the Ascot Chase felt like some sort of redemption, he can complete that in the Ryanair Chase, a race which looks designed for him. Fury Road is probably his biggest threat but Jamie Snowden’s Ga Law is an interesting each-way shot. 

He won the Paddy Power Gold Cup here in November and was coming through to win at Doncaster recently when falling at the last. Surpassing Cheltenham golden hour on Tuesday when the sheer brilliance of Constitution Hill was matched, if not trumped, by the raw emotion of Honeysuckle’s victory 40 minutes later, will take some doing, but half of Ireland are coming over for the Jack de Bromhead Mares’ Novice Hurdle and should any of his father Henry’s quintet of runners Magical Zoe, Foxy Girl, Belle The Lioness, Still Ciel or Ladybank win it, the grandstand roof will be raised once more. 

On all known evidence they have Henderson’s unbeaten Luccia to get past, but when something is written in the stars it does not matter what is in the form book.