The World Hurdle has been dominated by some real superstars of the sport since the turn of the century with the names of Baracouda, Inglis Drever and Big Buck's etched on the minds of every National Hunt punter and fan. Those great names have ensured that the World Hurdle has grown massively as a race over the past few years and attention is turning towards this year’s renewal on the 17th March.
In recent years this has been a good race for favourites with only one winner of the race since 2000 coming in at a bigger price than the 17/2 of Solwhit in 2013 and that was the most recent winner Cole Harden, who won at 14/1 in 2015. That does tend to point punters towards the head of the market but what about the race this year I hear you asking?
Well, it's time to run the rule over the 2016 World Hurdle and as we speak there is one clear favourite for the big race this season.
Will Thistle Be Cracked at Cheltenham?
There is absolutely no question that the staying hurdler of the season before we get to the Festival has been Thistlecrack and as such he is a red hot favourite for the big race. A huge improver for Colin Tizzard, Thistlecrack has been a different horse since he won at Aintree as a Novice and he has followed that up with three excellent performances so far this term.
Thistlecrack had already won the Long Walk and Long Distance Hurdles before Christmas before he made his most impressive performance to-date to win the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on Trials Day. In very testing ground, Thistlecrack galloped all over a good field before pulling well clear of the field up the hill and that run put to bed any lingering doubts about his ability to perform at Prestbury Park.
It is hard to find a single fault with Thistlecrack on the basis of his three runs this term and has certainly proven himself the best of the British this season which is reflected in his price of 13/8 with PaddyPower.com.
Bigger Priced Contenders
At the time of writing the ante-post World Hurdle market is dominated by Thistlecrack but surely there has got to be some value further down the market.
Three of the horses towards the head of the market are far from certain to run in the race and that muddies the waters further. 2014 winner More Of That (16/1) holds an entry but has gone chasing this season which rules him out, whilst the Willie Mullins duo of Annie Power (9/1) and Vroum Vroum Mag are also not certain runners. Annie Power looks likely to run in the Mares Race which could mean Vroum Vroum Mag (11/2) does go to the World Hurdle although she also has the Ryanair Chase as an option.
Pricewise was happy to select Vroum Vroum Mag on a NRNB basis and that is an interesting punt given that we have no idea how good she is. Vroum Vroum has been flawless in her career so far but should she run in the World Hurdle it would be a massive step up in class and her first time out of her own sex which whilst is not completely out of the question given her connections, it is a big ask.
Cole Harden was a shock winner of the race last year and on that basis the current price of 8/1 about him backing that up looks more than fair. His form this season has not reflected that of a World Hurdle winner though and few are selecting him as their winner this season. A return to good ground and back up to 3m is sure to see Cole Harden back to very good form which means he cannot be completely ruled out but nothing he has done this season suggests he can beat Thistlecrack despite the fact he has been trained with just one day in mind.
There are two Gigginstown horses of note to consider in the form of Alpha Des Obeax and Prince Of Scars and both have their merits for punters. Alpha Des Obeaux (8/1) had form behind Douvan as a novice and has looked at home this term with his win in the Galmoy Hurdle last time out a very good one.
Alpha Des Obeaux was running a really good race at Aintree last season when falling with the ground more than decent that day so the conditions shouldn't be a problem for him. That might not be the case for Prince Of Scars (20/1) who clearly enjoys getting his foot in which would be a worry but if there is rain at Cheltenham in March, he would be a major player given his splendid Christmas Hurdle win at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Paul Nicholls could throw a number of darts at the race this season with Saphir Du Rheu (20/1) and Aux Ptit Soins (20/1) perhaps the two with the best chance. Aux Ptit Soins looked a potential word beater when winning the Coral Cup on his first start at the Festival last season which makes him interesting but he has had his problems this season and going to the World Hurdle for his first start of the winter would be a mammoth ask, even for a big talent like Aux Ptit Soins.
Martello Tower might something of a forgotten horse when you consider that he won the Albert Bartlett last season and at that time looked set for a big career. His form this season has been baffling though with poor defeats to Alpha Des Obeaux and Prince Of Scars hard to ignore which has seen his price pushed out to 33/1. It might be that he can re-find his best form in the spring which could make that price decent for each-way punters but that is a big if at this stage.
Scars Looks The each-Way Selection
No horse heading to Cheltenham is bombproof but it is hard to pick holes in the form of Thistlecrack given the way he has run so far this season. He has appeared to improve on all three starts and the truth is that if he were trained by Willie Mullins, he would be an odds-on shot.
Thistlecrack is the one to beat and the most likely winner but we are taking a chance on a bigger priced each-way contender for our selection. Prince Of Scars cantered all over subsequent Galmoy winner Alpha Des Obeaux in the Christmas Hurdle and it was hard not to be impressed by the way he did it that day. There is no doubt that he prefers some cut in the ground which is always a worry ahead of Cheltenham but with a NRNB concession attached to the bet, Prince Of Scars could be a terrific each-way price.