RYANAIR WORLD HURDLE PREVIEW
3.30 CHELTENHAM 17TH MARCH 2016
Day three of the Cheltenham festival sees the best staying hurdlers in the business take centre stage. Paul Nicholls and Big Bucks dominated this race from 2009-2012 with four victories on the spin, but the last three years have seen three different trainers take the prize and we could be set to have another fresh face in the winner’s enclosure this year, if the bookmakers are to be believed.
Last year saw a superb performance from Cole Harden to take the race for Warren Greatrex and Gavin Sheehan, and they are sure to put up a fierce defence of their crown. The famous Big Bucks silks will be there with Saphir De Rheu looking to follow in his stablemate’s hoofsteps, while Thistlecrack for the Tizzards has been all the rage for this race after three wide margin wins this Winter.
Of the last 10 runnings of this race 5 have been won by 6yos, and the top 5 in the betting have filled the 1-2-3 in this race on 8 of the last 12 heats. The stats would suggest that it pays to stick with the more fancied runners in this race, and you can find out what we think of the market leaders’ chances in our in depth preview below.
THISTLECRACK 11/10 Paddy Power
The Tizzards could be in for a pretty special week at Cheltenham and they will be looking to complete the first leg of a Grade 1 festival double with Thistlecrack, who will be ridden by regular partner Tom Scudamore. This 8yo son of Kayf Tara has looked almost unbeatable this season and the way he has brushed some serious opposition aside has seen him installed as a hot favourite for this race. He is 6/9 over timber and he has won five of his last 6 races (all 24f), his only defeat coming at Punchestown behind Killultagh Vic last April.
He has relished the step up to 3m and this year he has been flawless. His winning margins have grown wider with each run, and after a 6L win on his seasonal reappearance (24f soft) ahead of Deep Purple he increased that to 8l with a win at Ascot (24.5f good to soft) over Reve De Sivola. He cruised home by 12L at Cheltenham on heavy ground on his last start at the end of January in the Cleeve, and on the evidence of those three runs he is definitely the one to beat.
He has won on ground ranging from heavy all the way to good, and it takes a serious horse to be able to handle, and win, on any ground. He won’t care whether it rains or not before the race and it is very hard to pick holes in his form. However, the worry is that some of the horses he beat earlier this season will be in a lot better nick going to the festival, and that tempers enthusiasm slightly at his likely very short odds.
ALPHA DES OBEAUX 6/1 William Hill
This 6yo son of Saddler Maker, owned by Gigginstown and trained by Mouse Morris, is the next best in the betting after Thistlecrack. He was in the process of running a massive race behind that rival at Aintree last April (24.5f good to soft) when tipping up at the last, and the outcome of that contest was far from certain if he had stood up. He was off the bridle himself, but so was Thistlecrack, and it could be a similar story coming to the last at Cheltenham.
He has won just 2 of his 9 hurdle starts thus far, but he has been placed on the 6 other occasions he has completed and he has some decent form in the book. He was runner up on his first two runs this season, over 20f (soft) at Fairyhouse and again behind Prince Of Scars at Leopardstown (24f heavy). His final prep run at Gowran (24f heavy) saw him slam At Fishers Cross by 11L to win his first Graded race, and he will be brimful of confidence for this test after that run. He looks to be the biggest threat to the favourite and it will be fascinating to see how close he can get if he puts in a clear round.
COLE HARDEN 8/1 Boylesports
Last year’s World Hurdle winner has been something of a forgotten horse this season as Thistlecrack has hogged all the headlines. He made all last year to beat Saphir De Rheu by over 3L but he hasn’t hit the same heights in two runs so far this season. Warren Greatrex will undoubtedly be happy heading to the festival under the radar, and all the pressure will be on the Tizzard horse. People shouldn’t forget that he came into last year’s race having been beaten in his three runs beforehand, so although Thistlecrack had his measure back in November he will likely get a lot closer if he gets his favoured good ground.
This 7yo son of Westerner is 4/14 over timber, but when you look at his record on ground better than soft over 3m his form figures read 2112 (all graded races). A decent surface is key for this fella and if you are considering backing him I would advise waiting until there is certainty about the ground conditions. He was beaten 6L back in third behind Thistlecrack on his seasonal reappearance on soft at Newbury (24f) and then followed that with a 20L third behind Camping Ground over an inadequate 20f on heavy at Cheltenham. After those runs he is as big as 8/1 in the betting, but if the ground comes up good at the festival he will put up a bold defence of his crown.
SAPHIR DE RHEU 10/1 Ladbrokes
This 7yo son of Al Namix represents the connections of World Hurdle legend Big Bucks, and he ran a gallant race to be second behind Cole Harden in last year’s renewal of this race. He was well fancied and was sent off a 5/1 favourite, but he never looked like reeling in the winner and if conditions are similar this season it is hard to see him reversing the form.
He has had a couple of poor runs this season after returning with a wide margin win in a Listed chase at Carlisle (20f good to soft). However, it has been all downhill from there and he was well beaten on his next run in another chase at Newbury (26f soft). He was returned to hurdles in the Long Walk at Ascot (24f good to soft) and he was beaten out of sight in fifth, over 30L behind Thistlecrack. A repeat of that run and he hasn’t got a hope here, but there has been a few quid floating around for him and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see an improved showing at the festival. All the same, it is hard to see him winning, and he has place claims at the very best.
AUX PTITS SOINS 14/1 B365
6yo son of Saint Des Saints that comes here as something of an unknown quantity as he has had just one start on these shores. He had three runs for former handler Emmanuel Clayeux back in France, winning 2/3 and suffering his only defeat when dropped to 14f. He wasn’t sighted again until turning up in the Coral Cup at the festival last year off a mark of 139 (21f good) and he seemed to relish the better ground, beating Zabana by a neck and rewarding his supporters at 9/1.
However, he hasn’t been seen since that exciting UK debut for Paul Nicholls and he has reportedly had plenty of problems. He has had three operations, two on his sinuses and one on his teeth, and he has had a far from ideal preparation for this stern test of his credentials. The fact that he is as short as 14/1 would suggest that he is highly regarded by his handler, and his ability to go well fresh is not in question. However, in a race as competitive as this it is hard to be bullish about his chances and he is best watched on this occasion, possibly with a view to backing him at Aintree.
WHISPER 16/1 Coral
This 8yo son of Astarabad has been a fine servant to connections and he has won 7 of his 15 hurdle starts. The highlights have undoubtedly been back to back wins in the Stayers Hurdle at Aintree, but he showed he can win at Cheltenham too with a thrilling triumph in the Coral Cup back in 2014. He was fifth in the World Hurdle last season, over 10L behind Cole Harden, but he reportedly had a nightmarish preparation going into the race and Henderson revealed subsequently that he used it as a prep run for Aintree.
He was pulled up on his last run at Cheltenham (20.5f heavy) behind Camping Ground and he had previously finished last of five on his seasonal reappearance behind Thistlecrack at Newbury (24f soft) beaten over 30L. However, Henderson is a lot more bullish about the condition of his charge this year and reckons he might have “Aintree Whisper going to Cheltenham”. If that is the case he shouldn’t be written off, and at his current odds of 16/1 he is of definite interest each way, especially if the ground is decent.
BEST OF THE REST
There are a couple of interesting types at much bigger prices and one that sticks out like a sore thumb is At Fishers Cross, a 9yo son of Oscar in the care of Rebecca Curtis for JP McManus that has been fourth and third in the last two runnings of this race. His form in the build up has been less than impressive, but the Albert Bartlett winner of 2013 seems to come alive when he runs at the festival, and for those looking for an each way alternative to the market leaders at a huge price you could do a lot worse than have a pound or two on this fella at 33/1.
Lil Rockerfella is another horse that has been written off by the bookies and he is available to back at odds of 33/1. Neil King’s pride and joy showed his well being with a 9L win in the Grade 2 National Spirit at Fontwell (19f good to soft) but this 5yo son of Hard Spun is untried over further than 20.5f over timber. There are mixed messages in his pedigree regarding whether he will stay, but he seemed to get 14f on the flat so there is every chance the trip will suit. He is one to watch and if he runs a good race he could be worth backing for next year’s edition.
This has all the ingredients to be an absolute thriller of a race, and it may not be as simple for Thistlecrack as many people are predicting. Yes, he has been brilliant this year and nothing has got close to him, but many of his rivals would not have been fully wound up when they met earlier in the season and the likes of Cole Harden, Alpha Des Obeaux and Whisper will have been primed for this race and this race alone, with better ground in mind. The latter looks a huge price at 16/1 with Coral, and with Nicky Henderson bullish about his physical condition going into the race he looks to represent definite value, once the ground comes up good or better.
At an even bigger price At Fishers Cross should not be written off and it would be no surprise to see a massive run from the JP McManus horse returned to the festival. Cole Harden will also appreciate the return to a decent surface if it comes up good, and he will make a bold bid from the front in defence of his crown. Alpha Des Obeaux is another that cannot be discounted back on a decent surface. Whatever the result it promises to be an exciting race, and hopefully it lives up to expectations.
WHISPER E/W 16/1
AT FISHERS CROSS E/W 33/1