The County Hurdle is a Grade 3 Handicap race on day four of the Cheltenham Festival, ran over 2m1f and with a maximum field of 26 runners. This valuable race is worth £100,000 and Willie Mullins has won four of the last eight renewals. Last year, Arctic Fire got up close from home to beat L’Ami Serge by a neck after a long absence.
14:50 – Grade 3 County Handicap Hurdle 2m1f
The County Hurdle is always a competitive race, but the record that Willie Mullins has in it speaks volumes. The Irish Champion Trainer always sends a good string for this contest, with Arctic Fire being rated 158 when getting up to win last year. This is somewhat of an anomaly to recent trends however, as winning this race from top weight hadn’t happened for 53 renewals prior to this (Albergo won from 12-5 in 1960). In fact, a horse hasn’t won from a weight higher than 11-7 this century, so it is wise to look a bit lower down in the weights. One horse that fits this profile is Whiskey Sour from a weight of 10-11, and he can out-run his price if he turns up.
“In England you seem to need Novices’ to win handicap hurdles now…He [Whiskey Sour] might just fit that bill.”
– Patrick Mullins
Willie Mullins has this Novice entered in a lot of races at the festival, but recently his son Patrick hinted that he could go for a handicap (quote above). Being a Novice is actually a very applicable metric for the County Hurdle, as five-year-olds have won five of the last ten renewals. Whiskey Sour has had experience running in handicaps on the flat already, winning one in the Summer of 2016 before moving to Closutton the following year. He started his career over jumps at Tramore in June, winning a 2m Maiden Hurdle easily on good ground. This would not signal the end to his flat career however, as he subsequently won a very competitive 2m1f handicap at the Galway Festival, following up just four days later by winning a 1m4f handicap at the same track. Winning two €100,000 races is a remarkable achievement for any horse, and highlights how much speed he has to win over the shorter trip.
Whiskey Sour had a well earned 145 day break after his Galway Festival heroics, and made his return in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas. The 9/1 about him seemed to accurately reflect his chances in the race after a long time off, and it was a big ask. The race couldn’t have been more dramatic, with Mengli Khan jumping through the wing of the second last, leaving stablemates Sharjah and Real Steel out in-front. The drama continued however with both falling at the last, leaving Whiskey Sour to win the race by 19 lengths. This form cannot be taken literally as he was a huge beneficiary of luck, however back in 3rd that day was Hardline, who has since won at Listed and Grade 2 level. Luke McMahon’s Grade 1 winner made a return to Leopardstown in February, to contest the Grade 1 Deloitte Novice Hurdle at the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival. Although the field were obliterated by superstar Samcro that day, Whiskey Sour did stay on really well to the line to finish fourth, ahead of Real Steel and Sharjah yet again.
Being an ex-flat Horse, Whiskey Sour will definitely appreciate better ground at the Cheltenham Festival, with the soft conditions last time out at Leopardstown an obvious inconvenience. It is also a benefit that he has won a big field handicap before, so the occasion shouldn’t get to him. The County Hurdle is often a race where they go hard for the full 2m1f, so the ability of our selection to stay on should get him up the famous hill and will put him right into contention. With the profile and ability to win a Handicap like this, Whiskey Sour looks a great each/way bet at the prices for the County Hurdle. Whilst he is still entered in other races over varying distances, a late switch to the Supreme would be my only worry as he definitely seems like a two-miler. For this reason, it makes sense to make the most of the Non-Runner No Bet concession.
Whiskey Sour Each/Way in the County Hurdle @ 20/1 NRNB