This race typically goes to an improving hurdler who has aspirations to make the transition from promising novice or hurdler from the previous season, to one that competes in some of the better class two mile hurdle races during the year. It has also been a launchpad for some of the very best novice chasers too.
Plenty of winners of the Stan James Elite Hurdle go onto run well at the Cheltenham Festival – but not always in the same distance Stan James Champion hurdle – their Road to Cheltenham can take on unexpected routes – namely the World hurdle, handicaps or even the Arkle.
Having said that, Morley Street won this race in 1992, had taken the Champion hurdle the previous season, but 1997 winner, Pridwell, went onto finish 4th in that season’s Champion hurdle.
Wahiba Sands (1999 winner) ran in that season’s Arkle Chase (6th) while Azertyuiop (2001) and Well Chief (2003) actually went on to win the Arkle novice chase at the Cheltenham Festival the following March.
The 2009 winner Celestial Halo went onto finish 4th in the Champion hurdle while 2012 winner Zarkandar replicated that effort.
Paul Nicholls is the man to follow in this race – he has taken the Stan James Elite hurdle seven times in the last 15 runnings and he is aiming the lightly raced Zubayr this time around. Zubayr won the Grade Two Adonis Hurdle on his English debut last season and took a novices hurdle race over Wincanton’s course and distance last April, having run unplaced in the Triumph hurdle the month before. He was recently sent by Nicholls to have a racecourse gallop at Chepstow and is said to be in good form.
The race has traditionally gone to a very smart horse, but in reality, it no longer finds horses capable of winning the Stan James Champion hurdle. However, the big stables, notably Nicholls, usually aims a very smart one at the race and his entries should be scrutinized.
Horses to look at for the 2016 renewal could be Moon Racer, Old Guard, Sign of a Victory and Zubayr.