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World Hurdle Preview

Thursday's feature is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and it's a classic case of the young contender challenging the evergreen champion, not to mention Ireland vs Britain, and Willie Mullins vs Paul Nicholls. Big Buck's was 6/1 for his first World Hurdle win, and then odds-on for the next three. Today, there's 4/1 around...

Taking up the challenge of this fascinating contest is Andrew Downes, @17forlife.


World Hurdle Preview

This is without doubt the race at the Cheltenham Festival which I am most looking forward to. There are several storylines which will all come to a climax Thursday afternoon. The line-up consists of the most exciting horse in training, Annie Power, against one of the greatest of the last five years, Big Buck's. This is going to be a belter!

Big Buck's, winner of four World Hurdles in a row before missing last year’s renewal through injury, has probably been the most popular racehorse since his first World Hurdle win mainly due to being the banker of the meeting for all of those successes. He has never let punters down at the Festival meaning he quickly became a fans’ favourite.

Annie Power is an unbeaten mare, boosting a perfect 10 out of 10 record. She is a gorgeous horse with a destructive racing style. Trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Ruby Walsh she currently trades the 6/4 favourite.

Onto the race analysis, this may be a two horse race in terms of emotion and betting but it is most certainly not when it comes to finding the winner. There are some seriously talented animals behind them in the betting and there are a couple of question marks over the big two, which I will come onto later.

There are only a few I can confidently dismiss.

Reve de Sivola (40/1) was very disappointing last time and doesn’t seem at his best at Cheltenham. I can’t see how he turns the tables with At Fishers Cross, Big Buck's or even Celestial Halo from last year. He won’t be fighting out the finish.

Salubrious (25/1) was confidently beaten last time by More of That (10/1) and by Reve de Sivola. He is consistent but below the level needed to win this.

Celestial Halo (28/1) ran a great race last year to finish a close second however I believe he will be used a pace setter by Nicholls, after all he has the same owner as Big Bucks. He will probably be sacrificed.

Mala Beach (66/1) is a good horse but well below what is needed to win this which can also apply to Medinas (33/1).

Zarkandar (14/1) has regressed this year, looking even slower in his races than he did last season. This seams a last resort having become too slow for 2 mile races.

The rest could all feature in the finish;

The legend that is Big Buck's (4/1). He unfortunately injured his leg just before last year’s Festival. It is notoriously hard for these top horses to come back from a long-term injury to the same level they showed before, however one thing that for sure is that he is trained by the right person if he is going to get back to that lofty level.

He returned this year in the Cleeve Hurdle, a key trial for the World Hurdle. He was confidently ridden and seemed the winner coming to the last, only to understandably get tired in the final stages. The problem is what beat him. Knockara Beau is talented but rated a full 29lbs below Big Buck's at the time, albeit receiving 8lbs. Whilst he was entitled to get tired, he should have been able to brush him aside allowing for the lack of fitness. At Fishers Cross (9/1) was second that day and was also returning from a slight injury himself. He reportedly needed the run that day too, meaning he should also improve.

You have to take a decision with Big Buck's; Will he improve back to his prior level of form? Yes, he will go very close, No, then he won’t beat some of these with only slight improvement. At 4/1 I wouldn’t like to chance it that he will be back to that level. Along with Annie Power (6/4), he sets up the market for the rest if you take the view he isn’t back to best.

At Fishers Cross was a good winner of a poor Albert Bartlett novice hurdle at last year’s Festival. He was disappointing when he fell when beaten, in my opinion, behind Celestial Halo. He was then beaten convincingly by Reve de Sivola. After some treatment he lost by a nose in the above mentioned Cleeve hurdle. AFC is the choice of Tony McCoy over the unbeaten More of That which has to be seen as a positive. I just don’t think anything he has shown is good enough to win this, so you’d be banking on future improvement.

More of That (10/1) is the other unknown in the race, along with Annie Power. They are both unbeaten over hurdles. More of That must be thought a lot of by connections to be running here as the owner already has a contender. His latest win, at Cheltenham, was visually very impressive beating Glen’s Melody and Salubrious, with GM franking the form behind Quevega on Tuesday. You are taking a punt that he will have improved again between that January win and now, however it is highly likely given his considerable improvement between runs this season. The question is how much. It will need to be a considerable amount to get involved here. The other slight doubt is his stamina, as I will explain later on, this will be a stamina test and he is yet to prove he stays 3m. I couldn’t back a horse without proven stamina given the way this race is certain to be run. An interesting contender with a huge future, but this is probably too much, too soon.

Annie Power (6/4), what a machine of a mare. She receives 7lbs from all of her competitors, which could prove crucial. She could not have been more impressive winning all of her 10 races under rules. Mullins has taken the bold move to bring her over to England three times this season, proving she travels over well. She has destroyed the champion Hurdle fourth, Zarkandar, at Ascot and then Cheltenham however, I question the substance of that form as Zarkandar seems to have regressed this year and doesn’t look the horse he was, albeit she has destroyed him both times.

She could be anything and has never really come off the bridle meaning we can only estimate how good she actually is.

The doubt or worry people have over Annie Power is her stamina. Nicholls has made it clear that this race is going to run at a furious pace to set the race up for Big Buck's, to make it as big a stamina test as possible due to Big Buck's staying and staying and staying. Annie Power has never raced over further than 2m5f and connections are confident without being overly bullish that she will stay. The doubt I have is that Mullins didn’t want to run her against Hurricane Fly in the Champion hurdle (two miles) nor the Mares race (2m5f) against Quevega and he didn’t have a runner in the World Hurdle so it seemed the right race for him rather than the horse. I get the feeling they are hopeful rather than certain she will stay. Adding to that, how quick the race is going to be run? I could not be backing her at 6/4 for this high-quality race with the stamina doubt over her.

The ability to win? Probably.
The stamina to win? Probably.
However 6/4 about two ‘probably’ answers to those questions? Not for me, having said that she’s the most likely winner.

My selection for the race does come from the Emerald Isle, Rule the World (10/1). Mouse Morris has gained the reputation of doing very well with his festival runners and only brings them over when he thinks they have a big chance.

Rule the World has fantastic novice form from last season. He ended up finishing an impressive second to this year’s unlucky Champion Hurdle 3rd, The New One, in the Neptune novice hurdle at last season’s festival. The third was the Irish banker of that meeting but unfortunately is injured so we haven’t seen how he progressed. We know how good a run that must have been to come such a close second to the winner though, with the New One running such a good race in the Champion Hurdle. He jumped very well that day, travelled well but just couldn’t quite quicken with the winner. That is fantastic form.

He has gone the staying route now and has made a promising start to his second season over hurdles without being spectacular. He has come on for each run though, something I always look for when you want a horse to be primed for the biggest day of the season, the Festival. He hasn’t had a hard season and has been kept in Ireland unlike Annie Power. When horses travel over to England several times in a season it can take a lot out of them and I love the freshness angle with Rule the World, especially with his trainer being a master of getting them right for the big day.

He has shaped like a stayer in all his races and has proved he can perform at the festival, both big positives.

Selection: Rule the World each-way at 10/1


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