The World Hurdle is the Championship race for staying hurdlers which will be run on Thursday of Cheltenham Festival 2016 over a distance of 3 miles on the new course. Previous winners of this race feature multiple time winner Big Bucks (2009-2012) and three-time winner Ingles Drever.
It is due to the aforementioned multi-time winners that make this race not particularly suitable to size up on trends. However, some interesting angles can come out of the season’s key trial races. The Cleeve Hurdle which is run on Festival Trials Day at the end of January has produced 7 winners from 16 that have prepped in that race. This year’s winner being the mightily impressive Thistlecrack who will start a red hot favourite for the World Hurdle. The other most notable race in the season is the Ascot Long Walk Hurdle in which 10 of the last 22 winners come from, another race Thistlecrack was happy to oblige in.
Course form is often pivotal in any Festival race and the World Hurdle is no different. Since 1993 as many of 16 winners had previously made the top three around Prestbury Park.
Leading British Lights
We begin in the most obvious of places with Thistlecrack. The horse is hugely clear on the rest of his rivals based on this season’s form. The question is whether or not the punters see his price of around even money a decent betting proposition. The horse is suitably bred for the stiff stamina test and I don’t see the ground as being an issue. His latest success in the Cleeve Hurdle makes him a deservedly short priced favourite for Thursdays feature event; a banker for many and it would come as a surprise if he failed to continue his winning run. Defending champion Cole Harden took this race is fine style last season under a bold front running ride from Gavin Sheehan, but the horse has had two starts this season and has been disappointing on both occasions (once behind Thistlecrack). However, his trainer has not given up hope and reported he worked well during a racecourse gallop and is looking a millions dollars; decent ground is a must.
Behind Cole Harden last year was the Paul Nicholls Trained Saphir Du Rheu. The Dicheat handler then sent the Andy Stewart owned horse chasing and he picked up two wins before subsequently failing to justify favouritism in the Hennessey Gold Cup at Newbury. Following the Hennessey he was sent back over the smaller obstacles at Ascot where he was well behind Thistlecrack. The Nicholls camp remain quietly confident over his chances and he certainly does not lack ability but you have to hope the break has freshened him up and will bring about improvement.
Staying with Paul Nicholls, another of his horses in the race has had plenty of time to freshen up. Aux Ptits Soins was last seen a year ago winning on his British debut at the 2015 festival in the Coral Cup over half a mile shorter distance. That performance was after a sixth month break since coming over from France, so I wouldn’t be put off by the absence. It was a brilliant achievement for a lightly six-year-old with further improvement surely not hard to envisage.
Nicky Henderson has a couple of live outsiders in the shape of triple Festival winner Bobs Worth, but his form has been patchy of late and the former Gold Cup winner will now take his chance back over the smaller obstacles. He’s unquestionably a great animal but his enthusiasm for the game has potentially been lost. Henderson’s other runner Whisper is an interesting runner who finished fifth in this race last season before reversing the form and beating champion Cole Harden a month later at Aintree. He has yet to have his desired conditions this season and will be hoping for good ground. It may just be this strong travelling horse might have a revival in him after a ten week break.
The Irish Angle
A horse who was giving Thistlecrack a race at Aintree last season before falling was the Morris trained Alpha Des Obeaux. He has since finished second 3 times before before landing a Grade 2 at Gowran Park by an easy 11 lengths and looks progressive, but will certainly need to step his game up further having already been beaten by another leading Irish contender Prince Of Scars who is trained by Gordon Elliot. He remains unbeaten over the 3-mile trip having struck 3 times. Already a Grade 1 winner he probably looks the best chance from across the sea with Davy Russell likely to ride. I will be keen to hear his opinion at a Cheltenham Preview Evening I am due to attend over the weekend. However, it is worth noting that both these horses best form have come on a soft/heavy surface.
Where’s My Money Going?
I’m not one to invest in short priced favourites, especially in the heat of a Festival race so I’ll leave Thistlecrack. It has been reported that Paul Nicholls cannot split Saphir Du Rheu and Aux Ptits Soins. Therefore, I am willing to take a chance on the Paul Nicholls lightly raced Aux Ptits Soins. One quote has always stuck in my mind with this horse and that was from jockey Nick Schofield who said “This is quite possibly the best horse I have sat on since Kauto Star”. I was taken with the way he landed a red hot Festival handicap (Coral Cup) first time out last season and I will be backing him to run well fresh again this season.
Tip: Aux Ptits Soins 16-1 EW with bet365 and others
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