County Handicap Hurdle Date is March, 19, 2021
Type: Grade 3 Handicap Race (2 miles 1 furlong)
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The County Hurdle is a Grade 3 handicap run over a trip just short of 2 miles and 1 furlong on the New Course at Cheltenham. For those aged five and over, the County Handicap Hurdle 2021 will take place on the day 4 of the Cheltenham Festival, Friday March 19th at 2.10PM and will be worth £100,000.
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County Handicap Hurdle 2021 Preview & Tips
Preview By Frank Monkhouse
Former professional boxer who is now a content writer specialising in sports and betting. Has worked for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Coral and Betfair covering all manner of sports, from boxing and football to horse racing. A student of the formbook, he loved stats, trends, numbers and how they can guide punters towards a winner.
Featuring eight flights of hurdles, the County Hurdle is hugely competitive because of its place in the calendar, it’s prize fund and the fact that it’s a handicap so picking the winner of this race has never been made easy.
That said, it remains one of the most popular betting races of the whole year in Britain turning over millions of pounds at the track, in the offices and online while jockeys and trainers are desperate to win it.
The County Hurdle has been on the go since 1920 and was famous for bringing the curtain down on the Festival every year, and while it is no longer the last race but rather the second race of the final day, it has lost none of its brilliance and excitement.
Antepost Key Runners & Favourites
Official entries are a long way off for this race, and given the scale of the potential runners right across Britain and Ireland an accurate ante post book is something most bookmakers aren’t yet thinking of either.
One bookmaker, William Hill, has listed a few prices though and from that we can dig out a couple of big priced types that could make it to the Cheltenham Festival to challenge for this race, giving us some tentative early County Handicap Hurdle tips.
Most of the ante post prices will be between 25/1 and 50/1 at this stage, a pretty tight market, but that also means that whatever you fancy at this stage will be doubtless offering you a bigger price now than you can hope to get on March 13th.
An early outsider is Mohaayed, one of the more experienced hurdlers in the field for Dan Skelton. All things considered his two best hurdling performances last season were his win at Ascot in December and his 7th placed finish in this very race and of course he actually took this race back in 2018.
So far the seven-year-old hasn’t quite been in the same form, but there’s a very good chance he’ll come back to within a pound or so of his best and if he does, given that he could be racing off a handicap mark some 8lbs lower than when beaten 9 lengths in last year’s County Hurdle, he would have to have an each-way chance.
Nicky Henderson’s mare Epatante was a hugely impressive winner of a Listed handicap hurdle at Newbury in late November, putting her right in the frame for several potential Festival targets.
She has been improving something like 10lbs race by race, so even having gone up markedly in the weights she should still feature highly, but without knowing where her improvement ends, what handicap mark she’ll have by March and the fact that she’s not guaranteed to run given her other targets she may not be worth chancing.
Another rapidly improving mare is Willie Mullins’ Buildmeupbuttercup, though she’s not exactly a prolific winner. The daughter of Sixties Icon has won just one of her six hurdle races, on debut in fact, but she ran very well at the Festival last year in the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle and that could count for a lot.
She moved up another level when finishing second to Janadil last time out who is not without a chance here either, so her apparent ability to improve while being beaten can mean not being too harshly treated by the handicapper while her liking for Cheltenham could mean a career best in March.
Gumball has run 14 times over hurdles, only running out of the first three on four occasions and his consistency could play a big part in this race.
Philip Hobbs’ runner will be six when the race comes around so while he has a little mileage on the clock, he’s still young and could improve further yet. It’s worth noting that his standout performance was a runner-up effort in the Greatwood Hurdle, so while he may not be well looked after by the handicapper he is proven around Cheltenham.
Nicky Henderson always has numerous options for these races and the County Hurdle 2021 is no different. When his Epatante was cruising home in front at Newbury, in behind was stablemate French Crusader as part of a 1-2-3 for the trainer.
French Crusader can improve further, may not be so harshly handicapped and could eventually get to Epatante, but those aren’t certainties and so if we don’t have quite enough confidence to back his teammate, we don’t have enough confidence to back him either.
County Hurdle Stats & Trends
The leading rider in this race is the now retired Ruby Walsh with four victories, while the most successful trainer title in the County Hurdle is held jointly by two current giants of the game; Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls.
While those trainers each have four wins apiece, we cannot ignore the knack Dan Skelton seems to have with this contest and having won it three times in four years it seems it may not be long before he is overhauling them.
This Season’s Form
In terms of the number of runs winners of this race have had, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. Some have had light campaigns while others had been kept going right throughout the previous summer.
Form-wise though, and taking out Arctic Fire who hadn’t run for a year, 8 out of 9 (89%) winners had been placed last time out, or the time before and that is crucial. Not many horses will come into this race in bad form and can be expected to win it.
All of the last 10 winners have been aged between five and eight, 3 x 5yo, 4 x 6yo and 3 x 8yo. A fair spread then, meaning we can probably expect more of the same.
None of the last ten winners of this contest have gone off as market leader, so while that’s not to say the favourite cannot win, we must think bigger in terms of where to look for potential winners.
That being said, the average SP of winners in this race during this time period is less than 17/1, so it may well be that an in-form type of the right age who is perhaps around 16/1 or under could be the one, and so narrowing this field may not be so difficult.
County Hurdle Tips
Based on what little information we have in the early stages though, the two horses worth concentrating on at the odds are most likely BUILDMEUPBUTTERCUP and MOHAAYED. Starting with Dan Skelton’s Mohaayed, who will be eight when the race comes around, he is interesting for two key reasons; his form in the County Hurdle over the last two years and his price which is currently 50/1 on the Cheltenham 2021 ante-post markets.
As we’ve already mentioned we’re aware he hasn’t been in quite the same form as he was last year, at least not yet anyway, but he wasn’t far off it as recently as September when fifth in a Listed race at Market Rasen. Assuming he can get back to within a pound or two of his best, or perhaps even right back up to it, then it is a pertinent point that he could be coming into a race around 8lbs lower in the weights than he was last year when finishing 9 lengths behind Ch’tibello in seventh place having led the race.
Better tactics may pay off this time, as they did when he was held up before scoring in the 2018 edition of this race. Willie Mullins’ mare is our other early selection, based on the fact that she has that lovely knack of being able to improve without winning. While that doesn’t sound great to the uninitiated, it means that she is not being given lumps of weight by the handicapper which will count for plenty on race day when she will surely be prepared to perfection.
Along with the fact that she’s been improving and should reach a new level come March, it’s noteworthy that she ran a cracker at 66/1 in the Dawn Run last year, finishing midfield and beaten only eleven lengths at Grade 2 level. With her course experience she could be a major player in the race.
County Hurdle Ante Post Bets: BUILDMEUPBUTTERCUP & MOHAAYED
County Handicap Hurdle Offers
At the 2020 Cheltenham Festival we saw a real peak in terms of the offers delved out by bookmakers, so while we cannot know yet what deals will be put forward this time around by bookies fighting for your custom, we can use last year’s as a guide.
Paddy Power were especially aggressive with their special offers last year, one of their deals being the £20 Risk Free Bet – Money Back in Cash if it Loses offer while 888Sport were offering enhanced odds on specific horses, something the remain likely to do in a big betting handicap races like this one so keep looking out for that.
County Hurdle Betting Guide
We already have a couple of live ante post betting options, so if you can get a bet on either of these horses with a ‘non-runner, no bet’ deal then you’ll be doing well. This means that you can take prices up to 50/1, safe in the knowledge that if these selections have any chance on the day, they’ll be a lot shorter in the market and yet still get your money back if the horse doesn’t run.
When the final declarations for this race are made on Wednesday March 16th, we will have a better idea of the final prices and key contenders and by then you can bet on a more solid each-way County Hurdle betting market.
Past County Hurdle Winners
Last 10 County Hurdle winners:
|2019||Ch’tibello||5692||8||12/1||Harry Skelton||Dan Skelton|
|2018||Mohaayed||023||6||33/1||Bridget Andrews||Dan Skelton|
|2017||Arctic Fire||-||8||20/1||Paul Townend||Willie Mullins|
|2016||Superb Story||12||5||8/1||Harry Skelton||Dan Skelton|
|2015||Wicklow Brave||580P||6||25/1||Paul Townend||Willie Mullins|
|2014||Lac Fontana||141||5||11/1||Daryl Jacob||Paul Nicholls|
|2013||Ted Veale||2311923||6||10/1||Bryan Cooper||Tony Martin|
What Happened in 2019?
After some strong money came for him in the morning, Willie Mullins’ Whiskey Sour went off favourite for the 2019 County Hurdle at 5/1 but it was a competitive betting market. One that was relatively weak was Dan Skelton’s Ch’tibello, opening at 9/1 before going off at 12/1 but he was looking incredibly well and it seemed a big race was on the cards.
After moving up to challenge following the penultimate flight, he hit the last hurdle but got to the lead and despite drifting across the track somewhat he was ridden out well by Harry Skelton to score. Ch’tibello takes his place then among our list of the last ten County Hurdle winners.