Home By The Lee has emerged as a leading contender for Stayers' Hurdle glory at Cheltenam this season for Joseph O'Brien and will head to the Cotswolds very much on the up in this division.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we are taking a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
If he can continue his fantastic season and win the Stayers' race, Home By The Lee could hand his young trainer his first ever Grade 1 winner at the Cheltenham Festival.
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||3.30, Thursday 16th March, 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Teahupoo 5/2, Home By The Lee 4/1, Blazing Khal 7/1, Flooring Porter 12/1, Klassical Dream 12/1, Dasher Drasher 14/1, Paisley Park 16/1|
It's fair to say that Home By The Lee has come to emerge as a Stayers' Hurdle contender in a roundabout way. Winner of both bumpers and a Fairyhouse maiden hurdle on New Year's Day 2020, he flopped in two graded races over timber that spring.
He went novice chasing in October 2020 and, by the following summer, was contesting tough contests over fences such as the Galway Plate and the Kerry National.
His jumping didn't stand up to scrutiny in those events and so, by New Year's Eve in 2021, he was back over hurdles.
He finished second at Punchestown behind Darver Star and occupied the same berth behind winner Royal Kahala in the Grade 2 Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last season at odds of 80/1.
That was enough to prompt a Stayers' Hurdle tilt, where he was an honourable sixth as Flooring Porter grabbed back-to-back wins for Gavin Cromwell and Danny Mullins.
He reappeared in August at Down Royal and ran out when finding himself short of room late on, before heading to Navan in November for the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle over two-and-a-half-miles.
That race saw the focus on Flooring Porter alongside Zanahiyr and Bob Olinger, while 28/1 poke Home By The Lee appeared all at sea as early as the fourth flight of hurdles as JJ Slevin had to give him sharp reminders.
He never travelled sweetly at any stage but he stuck to his task and, just as Bob Olinger seemed to be putting his rivals to the sword, Home By The Lee emerged and outbattled him in the home straight.
It was an unlikely success but it has been proved as no fluke since, with Home By The Lee going to Leopardstown and winning the Grade 1 Jack De Bromhead Christmas Hurdle over three miles.
This time he moved much better through the race and was able to thwart a sustained challenge from Ashdale Bob late on, with Flooring Porter (fourth) and Bob Olinger (fifth) trailing in behind them.
Cheltenham Festival: Flooring Porter
Cheltenham Festival: Facile Vega
Cheltenham Festival: Edwardstone
That win at Christmas laid bare the case for Home By The Lee as a Stayers' Hurdle contender and he was, for a while, the ante-post favourite. He's out now to 4/1 following Teahupoo's impressive win in the Galmoy Hurdle in January, which was enough to make the Gordon Elliott inmate favourite at 5/2.
Rather like a few of the other possible contenders, Teahupoo may need some breaks. He is generally considered a 'soft ground horse' and will want ease underfoot come 16th March to be at his peak.
Two-time defending champ Flooring Porter has looked a shadow of himself in Ireland this season and is out to 12/1 as a consequence and, while few would rule out a return to form come the Cotswolds, his trainer reported in January that he's 'only 50-50' to make Cheltenham.
A similar story goes with 7/1 chance Blazing Khal for Charles Byrnes - it's more than a year since he last raced - while early-season Stayers' hope Bob Olinger has disappointed to such a degree he didn't even get an entry in the race.
Though he was widely credited for having prepared Ivanovich Gorbatov to win the 2016 Triumph Hurdle, that win sits in the name of Aidan O'Brien, leaving son Joseph still awaiting his Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival breakout moment.
Joseph has enjoyed success at the Cheltenham Festival, saddling Band Of Outlaws to win the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle and Early Doors winning the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle - both in 2019 - but he would dearly love a top-level win at this meeting despite focusing largely on the Flat at this stage in his career.
With Fakir D'oudairies a 10/1 chance in the Ryanair Chase betting and Home By The Lee right towards the head of the Stayers' Hurdle market, the Piltown handler will be hoping that Cheltenham 2023 is the moment it arrives for him.