THU 17TH MAR
3.30pm Cheltenham: World Hurdle
For Thursday’s big race it’s over to the staying hurdlers for the 3 mile World Hurdle, a race that has been won this century by the likes of Big Bucks, Inglis Drever and Baracouda. In fact, those 3 account for the winner of 9 of the last 15 runnings. This year, Cole Harden attempts to become the next multiple winner having won the prize last year under an enterprising front running ride. However, he will have to overcome a short priced favourite in Thistlecrack whose chance appears to be very solid indeed. More of him later.
Whilst 18 horses are still entered at this stage, it is looking pretty certain that we will have a maximum of 14 runners come Thursday. Fancied horses Nichols Canyon and Vroum Vroum Mag will take their chances elsewhere, leaving Willie Mullins without a runner. Longer priced horses Un Temps Pour Tout and Commissioned are likely to contest other engagements too.
5 of the 14 ran in this race last year. Behind Cole Harden were Saphir Du Rheu (2nd), At Fishers Cross (4th), Whisper (5th) and Lieutenant Colonel (10th). It is interesting that since that race, these 5 horses have run 11 times over hurdles with only Whisper managing to win a race and that was way back in April at the Grand National meeting. It suggests that last year’s race should be treated with extreme caution and 3 of these are amongst the first 5 in the betting (Cole Harden, Saphir Du Rheu and Whisper). The other 2 are trading at odds of 33/1 upwards and that seems to represent their chances this time around.
Other than Inglis Drever and Big Bucks, the 2 most recent multiple winners of the race, only 4 of the other 26 horses to finish in the places in the last 10 years ran in the previous season’s race. 3 of those 4 had managed to win a graded hurdle in the 12 months between races. That statistic alone would rule out all but Whisper, and it is a statistic we are prepared to stand behind. Cole Harden did have the run of the race last year after being gifted an uncontested lead, something he is unlikely to get this time around, and doesn’t look to represent much value at around the 7/1 mark. Paul Nicholls continues to talk up Saphir Du Rheu but 3 of his 4 runs in the last year have been over the bigger obstacles and, on his only hurdles start, he was a very disappointing 5th to Thistlecrack, finishing miles back. He is certainly to have been trained with this race in mind, similar to Cole Harden, but he’s another that you would be taking a massive chance on at cramped odds.
Whisper is our first bet despite his poor form so far this season. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, has already said that last years run was a prep run for Aintree, a race he won for the 2nd year running. This year, however, his trainer is saying that he’s “coming from a better place and maybe this is the Aintree Whisper coming into Cheltenham”. On the face of it, he has a mountain to climb on his 2 runs this season but we can blame the ground for both. It is evident that he needs ground no worse than good to soft, with good ground ideal, and that’s what he’s likely to get this week. He goes well at Cheltenham and his record on his favoured ground here reads 1st of 6, 3rd of 20, 1st of 28 (in the Coral Cup 2 years ago) and 5th of 16 in this 12 months ago which has already been explained was down to a lack of fitness and it being treated as a prep run.
Of the 30 runners in the top 3 in the last 10 years, 14 of them didn’t run at the Festival 12 months previous but only 2 of those 14 had never run at Cheltenham at all. Put it another way, 28 of the 30 horses to win or place since 2006 have encountered the undulations of Cheltenham. The current 2nd favourite, Alpha Des Obeaux, is one of the 3 in this field never to have raced here, with lively outsiders Kilcooley and Prince Of Scars being the others. It is not clear what Alpha Des Obeaux has done to deserve quotes of 6/1, other than a comfortable win last time out on heavy ground. There were excuses for his main challenger that day, Martello Tower, and, previous to that run, he was beaten by Prince Of Scars, a 25/1 shot here. Prince Of Scars is a soft ground horse and is not certain to take his chance, whilst Kilcooley is another who needs cut and his absence since winning the West Yorkshire Hurdle in October is a big worry. All 3 of them can be overlooked.
There are 2 others that missed the Festival last year, Knockara Beau and Thistlecrack. The former is a 150/1 shot and that tells us everything we need to know. He is also a 13 year old and no horse over 9 has placed in the last 10 years, a statistic that also rules out the 2013 Gold Cup Winner, Bobs Worth. On to the favourite, Thistlecrack, and he has a massive chance and we wouldn’t put anyone off backing him. He’s won 4 of 5 in the last 12 months with only Killultagh Vic getting the better of him in that time. He’s improved from race to race and that culminated in a very impressive 12 length win in the Cleeve Hurdle over course and distance in January. A repeat of that performance would see him in the winner’s enclosure here, with the only doubt in our mind being the suitability of the ground. He has won on good ground but has yet to tackle it when facing top class opposition. 6/5 isn’t a price we’ll be taking though, instead preferring to look for some each way value at double figure odds.
That value comes in the shape of our 2nd bet, Martello Tower, a winner of the Albert Bartlett here a year ago. He looked to be a thorough stayer that day and, despite being under pressure coming down the hill, he never looked beaten and picked up really well to land the spoils. This season hasn’t gone to plan, finishing 3rd on both his runs over in Ireland. The first of those was behind Prince Of Scars and Alpha Des Obeaux, 2 of his opponents today but that was his seasonal reappearance where fitness played a part. Connections were expecting an improvement next time out but the result was the same. However, he travelled supremely well that day until hitting 4 out very hard where his jockey did well to stay aboard. The fact he came back on the bridle was impressive and it’s likely that he’d have gone close without that error. He goes on any ground and, whilst he’ll have to improve to trouble the principles, he will be staying on better than most and has already proved he can get up the Cheltenham hill. There is no way he should be 4 times the price of Alpha Des Obeaux and, for that reason, he’s looks to be one of the livelier 25/1 shots this week.
The 2 we haven’t mentioned are Aux Ptit Soins and Aqalim. The former won the Coral Cup last year but hasn’t raced since and therefore cannot be recommended whilst Aqalim falls just below this class, reflected in his odds of 100/1.
Back Whisper (e/w) for a 1/10 stake at 15.00 Skybet (1/4 1-3, NRNB, BOG)
Back Whisper without Thistlecrack for a 1/10 stake at 9.00 with Paddy Power
Back it here:
Back Martello Tower (e/w) for 1/10 stake at 26.00 Skybet (1/4 1-3, NRNB, BOG)