The County Hurdle is a fiercely competitive handicap run over an extended two miles on the new course and there are eight flights of hurdles to jump.
Traffic problems often occur here and can produce nightmare scenarios for both runners and riders as they can often find themselves blocked in at certain stages.
Willie Mullins and Dan Skelton have been the trainers to focus on in recent years having won the last six of the last seven renewals between them (three apiece).
It often pays to ignore exposed runners with seven of the last ten winners having nine or fewer runs over hurdles.
A trend that has emerged in recent renewals is that of ex-flat horses seem to be coming to the fore and as French horses seem to be developed at an enhanced rate, they seem to be well suited by this type of challenge.
Previous Winners of the County Hurdle
Runners To Watch
Below are selected runners who hold entries for the County Hurdle 2023.
Karl Hedley provides some recent form notes to help point you in the right direction of identifying the winner.
FILEY BAY – EMMETT MULLINS
Has been a profitable addition to the Emmet Mullins team since leaving Declan Wall late last year. The seven-year-old picked up wins at Doncaster and Wincanton in decent handicaps at similar trips. He was last seen finishing runner-up to Aucunrisque in the Betfair Hurdle.
There is no doubt he is a talent and no surprise if he were to put his best foot forward here. A lack of experience around this track hasn’t stopped the last three winners of this race and he could well go close.
HUNTERS YARN – WILLIE MULLINS
Has impressed on his two most recent starts with wins at Navan and Naas. Crucially he has experience in large fields and that experience will be invaluable here.
He remains progressive and could well give Willie Mullins an another winner in this race. He put some six lengths between himself and Imagine on his most recent run and there should be plenty more improvement left in him.
PEMBROKE – DAN SKELTON
A winner of two low grade races late last year and was then upped in class to compete in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in January. A well backed favourite that day, but could not get to Rock My Way who got first run on him.
With no experience in large fields and no flat experience to fall back on, he may well struggle in a race of this nature.
GIN COCO – HARRY FRY
Warmed up for this by being a good second to I Like To Move It over this course and distance in the Greatwood Hurdle last November. You only have to look as far back as 2016 when Superb Story plotted an identical path to victory as Harry Fry will be well aware.
The Irish have had a firm grip on this race in the last three years, but he does look to be the best that the home contingent has to offer. The form of the race has been boosted again following subsequent wins for the winner as well as First Impression, Mark Of Gold and Sonigino. He has to be rated a threat to all.
WINTER FOG – WILLIE MULLINS
Now in the care of Willie Mullins having left the care of Emmet Mullins. The nine-year-old won on his sole start for the Closutton handler when taking a handicap at Leopardstown just after Christmas. He pulled some six-and-a-half lengths clear of a decent field that day and there could well be more to come.
He is also entered in the Coral Cup, but this could also be a viable target for him. If he runs he is likely to go extremely well having gained invaluable course experience in the Pertemps Handicap where he finished a solid fourth to Third Wind.
PATH D’OROUX – GAVIN CROMWELL
Has gained two wins already this season at Galway and Navan. The most recent came in January where he got the better of Ifiwerearichman and Glamorgan Duke.
It is difficult to assess just how good that form is though and others look to have stronger claims. He is clearly on an upward curve and if the ground were to turn soft, his claims would be enhanced. Based on what I have seen so far, he needs to improve again.
SHARJAH – WILLIE MULLINS
Has been a wonderful servant to Willie Mullins down the years and has run some great races here in the past. He had to settle for the runner-up spot in two Champion Hurdles behind both Epatante and Honeysuckle.
This looks the more likely of his three potential entries and with his sights lowered, this race could be tailor made for him. Willie Mullins won this with Arctic Fire who had a similar profile to Sharjah. He cannot be discounted and may well be the forgotten horse.
FIRST STREET – NICKY HENDERSON
Was a good second to State Man in this last season, but Willie Mullins surely knows how good that form is and what it would take to beat him again.
He was last seen upped in class when contesting the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. On a line through I Like To Move It, Gin Coco would appear to have the beating of him also. He continues to move up the ratings but the handicapper may now have his measure.
Ticks The Right Boxes?
2023 County Hurdle Tips & Key Trends
Sharjah could well be the one here. The nine-year-old has this as his only realistic target this season and we know that he certainly acts on the track.
He still has a bit of class about him and as his trainer has shown in the past, he can get the older types right back to their very best for this race.
With Winter Fog and Hunters Yarn also in the field, Willie Mullins holds very strong claims here.
- 6 of the last 13 winners were trained by Willie Mullins
- 18 of the last 22 winners were novices or second season hurdlers
- 13 of the past 19 winners used to race on the flat
- 8 of the past 15 winners have returned at SPs of 20/1 or bigger
Odds With Betfred – correct at time of publication
- 5/1 Filey Bay
- 7/1 Sharjah
- 8/1 Pembroke
- 8/1 Gin Coco
- 8/1 Hunters Yarn
- 9/1 Winter Fog
- 10/1 Path D’oroux
- 12/1 Fil D’Or
- 16/1 First Street
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