As we continue our previews of the Festival's biggest races, we're asking for your opinion on the World Hurdle. Last week, we asked who you thought would emerge victorious in the Champion Hurdle and Hurricane Fly leads the way. The World Hurdle looks equally as tough to call but we've gone for Big Buck's to win the race for a fifth time.
Sam Twiston-Davies came in for some criticism for his positive ride on Big Buck’s recently, as the staying phenomenon was just touched off by shock winner Knockara Beau in the Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham’s Festival Trials Day, but Paul Nicholls was ecstatic with his stable star’s return in the three-mile event and the Ditcheat maestro is now ready to unleash him on March 13 as he bids for his fifth Ladbrokes World Hurdle crown.
Having been off the track for over a year, it was more about testing the waters to see if Big Buck’s still possessed the class that saw him propel into the record books and had seen him dominate the staying division with aplomb over the last few years and he certainly showed that he can still be a shining beacon over three miles and Nicholls will be ebullient heading into the Thursday showpiece of the Festival.
The Somerset handler’s transparency yet again came to the fore in his post-race analysis as he indicated that he will have him at his prime come the World Hurdle and having just got a little tired in the closing stages of the Cleeve, he could well bound up the hill in more accomplished fashion come the Spring and that’s why the bookmakers are fearful of the national hunt superstar and Betfred’s 9/4 will most definitely attract some significant money over the next few weeks.
Whilst Nicholls continues to provide punters with insightful information about his Ditcheat battalion, Willie Mullins struggles to enlighten the general public with his own thoughts and he is keeping his cards close to his chest about the final destination of Annie Power at Prestbury Park, so the 3/1 on offer with a number of firms who aren’t offering Non Runner No Bet is unbackable.
She has soared into the limelight this campaign with a host of impressive displays, but with Quevega already a potential shoo-in for the Mares’ Hurdle then the Co. Carlow mare is left with the Champion Hurdle and the World Hurdle as her port of call, but many believe that she will not lock horns with stablemate Hurricane Fly in the aforementioned Champion and take on three-mile test on day three of the Greatest Show On Turf.
A facile winner on many of her ten career starts, she has comfortably dispatched Zarkandar (10/1) with disdain on two separate occasions, but having never raced over three miles there is that nagging doubt over the step up in distance and most of her wins have come in soft conditions, so if there’s a dry spell leading up to the meeting then she could have faster ground to contend with as well, so the 3/1 is rather skinny with so many questions to answer.
At Fishers Cross was expected to launch into the big time this season after a successful novice campaign last season saw him land the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, but defeats in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot cast doubt over his ability to land a blow at the elite level.
However, Rebecca Curits’s stable star stormed back to form in the aforementioned Cleeve Hurdle when finishing a short head behind Knockara Beau and duly beating Big Buck’s and this just highlighted the seven-year-old’s love of Cheltenham and he has to be classed as a major player in the Championship race and that’s why he has been trimmed into 6/1 in recent weeks.
AP McCoy will have a tough decision to make in the days leading up to this epic contest as he will not only have the option of partnering At Fishers Cross, but emerging talent More Of That has stormed into the reckoning with some taking victories and his two-and-a-quarter length win over Salubrious in the Grade Two Relkeel Hurdle showed that he has to be handed significant respect and is one of the unknown quantities taking his chance.
Another not yet to race over three miles, he will have to be something special to be able to continue his progression into Grade One company and you’d think the perennial champion jockey would opt to partner At Fishers Cross, but it’s worth keeping an eye on McCoy’s choice as More Of That will be classed a major player should the Northern Irishman choose to get the leg up on that JP McManus-owned raider.
Solwhit was spectacular in landing victory in this event for the Irish last year, but with him unable to take his chance in the contest, the Emerald Isle will need to find another to fly the flag and whilst many will instantly think of Annie Power there are a couple of exciting talents in the shape of Rule The World and Monksland who could take their chance.
Mouse Morris is particularly sweet on the former’s chances and his impressive seven-and-a-half length victory in the Limestone Lad Hurdle saw him slashed significantly in the betting, but having failed in top class company a couple of times this season it’s tough to see him getting his head in front and he may have to settle for the minor honours.
Noel Meade’s Monksland has had an injury-plagued career, but the snippets he has shown in his time on the track have shown he oozes potential and he was last seen beating an excellent yardstick in Zaidpour by two-and-a-half lengths in the 2012 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle and if he can make it back in time for March then has to be a major outsider to consider and could mark the each-way value at his current 20/1 odds in the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle Betting.
Big Buck’s may be the premier bullet shot from the Nicholls gun, but the Somerset team could unleash another couple of raiders with Saphir Du Rheu looking a shade ahead of last year’s Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle winner Salubrious, but it’s not set in stone that the former will take his chance and he may look to land the Pertemps Final earlier in the week.
Celestial Halo defied his lengthy odds last year to finish a gallant runner-up to Solwhit, but this year’s renewal looks a lot deeper in quality and he may struggle and the bigger-priced runner who could land a blow in this year’s race is Mala Beach, who stormed to victory in the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle and at 50/1 with some bookmakers is over-priced for a fascinating contest.