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World Hurdle preview

The staying hurdler trophy of the week is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Maybe not quite as sexy as the Champion Hurdle, but a field of 17 and 11/2 the field in a Grade 1 race is a beautiful and rare thing.

Tasked with the preview for this appealing engagement is Adam Webb, @adamwebb121.


Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Three miles, Grade 1
1520 GMT

The picture of the 2015 Ladbrokes World Hurdle has been an unclear one for the majority of the season with many twists and turns regarding potential leading contenders, some of whom have fallen by the wayside. Firstly More Of That, last year’s impressive winner who looked to have the world at his feet. We saw him at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting in the Long Distance Hurdle where he looked on paddock appearance to be carrying some condition.

On unfavourable testing ground, he struggled home when third behind Medinas and Cole Harden. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill was quick to suggest he needed a wind operation but ever since, the vibes coming from those close to the horse were mixed, including at one stage what appeared to be a false alarm when originally declared unlikely to run. Eventually, connections had to admit defeat in getting him back in time for the Festival.

Another prominent candidate that has failed to make the race is Nicky Henderson’s Beat That, who was another only seen once on the track on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, where he travelled well before looking to blow up behind Rock On Ruby, who was also announced a non runner sadly on Saturday having worked poorly and then scoping badly.

Add Annie Power to the list as she was always going to go to the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle after missing a month of training in December where she looked to have the race won only for falling dramatically at the final flight. Overall, this doesn’t look the strongest renewal although one horse stands out a clear mile from his opposition.

Paul Nicholls undoubtedly holds the key to the race with the experience of Zarkandar and the youth of Saphir Du Rheu heading the market.

Zarkandar has been to the Cheltenham Festival and got the t-shirt having won the Triumph Hurdle back in 2011. Since then, things haven’t always gone his way as he was a sick horse the following season when trying to win the Champion Hurdle for the first time when fifth behind Rock On Ruby. On the back of that run, the choice to go for the Aintree Hurdle looked the right move but he took a heavy fall at the sixth which ended Ruby Walsh’s season.

The following season he tried again but even with a better preparation, he was outpaced coming down the hill and was beaten the exact same distance by Hurricane Fly as he was in 2012. He ended that season when stepping back up to two and a half miles at Aintree where he beat The New One in tenacious style.

Last season looks now on reflection a write-off, especially the second half of the season. He wasn’t disgraced in any of his efforts. Trying to give seven pounds to Annie Power on two occasions was always going to be difficult and trying to beat The New One over a course and distance where he is pretty much unbeatable in the International Hurdle. After the Kingwell when runner up to Melodic Rendezvous stable jockey at the time Daryl Jacob was jocked due to owner Chris Giles not being happy with the ride administered. The irony of that being the horse getting two rides from Noel Fehily that had plenty more questionable elements to them.

In the World Hurdle, he was dropped out last and ridden like a suspect stayer which at Grade One level, you cannot do. You have to ride with the utmost confidence that your horse will see out the distance, regardless if they haven’t tried it before. He was never put in a position to challenge but stayed on up the hill to finish fourth behind More Of That. On that basis, they went to Aintree and changed the tactics completely where him and At Fisher’s Cross ended up cutting each other’s throats with some brain-dead riding from both Fehily and Tony McCoy which allowed Whisper to pick up the pieces.

Once freshened up after two low key efforts at Auteuil, he was really impressive in the Grand Prix d’Automne where he slammed Gemix by five lengths with rider Vincent Cheminaud who doesn’t speak much English describing him as ‘un machine’. With the long term aim to go back to Cheltenham, we last saw him in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot where he travelled by far the best he has in a very long time but just idled after the last allowing Reve De Sivola another bite of the cherry. Once he went past, Zarkandar battled back but was just denied by the hattrick seeking winner.

His genuineness was questioned but that’s the least of my worries with the horse. On form, he deserves to be at the head of the market and potentially shorter considering most of his opposition have far more questions to answer. He will definitely be in the frame but the one he has to beat is his stablemate SAPHIR DU RHEU whose season plans changed markedly at Christmas time.

The son of Al Namix took a bit of time to come to hand in England which included a disappointing effort in the Fred Winter two years ago which he deserves forgiving for having landed awkwardly at the third flight which ended any chance he had. He confirmed the promise his trainer had in him when bolting up in a Pertemps Qualifier at Sandown back in December 2013 before racking up two other big handicap successes. The first coming at Kempton in the Lanzarote and the second in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las where he gave six pounds and a beating to future Grade One winner Whisper. His final run in the National Spirit was a sign of a horse needing a break after a long enough season.

Novice chasing was always going to be the aim this season and he was sent off favourite on his debut in the Berkshire Novices Chase at Newbury with Nicholls indicating that he would need the run as he had done the previous season. He jumped well enough until getting in too close to the seventh giving Sam Twiston-Davies no chance to recover. Next time out at Exeter, he made amends for it with one of the most impressive performances seen by a novice chaser when beating a fair field under a confident Nick Scholfield before going to Kempton for the Feltham where he was sent off a warm favourite. Sadly, the old trait of Newbury set in and he made a similar error which gave Twiston-Davies no option but to jump off as he skidded on landing.

Connections' initial comments were to get plenty of schooling into him over fences but the decision changed when it was announced he would head to the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January. Unlike Kempton, Saphir Du Rheu was weak in the market on the day with Un Temps Pour Tout going off favourite but he got his season back on track with a battling performance to see off Reve De Sivola. Since the decision to go back hurdling, the comparisons have flown out with Big Buck's who also went hurdling after unseating in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup. There’s only two comparisons that can be made.

1) Both horses are owned by Andy Stewart.

2) Both horses have been in the hands of Paul Nicholls.

Both horses are completely different so the media building him up to be another Big Buck's is a complete load of rubbish. Nicholls himself made the best comment on the pair. On Trials Day, he said that Big Bucks was ‘gutless’ at a fence compared to Saphir Du Rheu who is more ‘brave’ and he will definitely go back chasing, the long term aim being the 2016 Gold Cup. Whilst this is an unorthodox method to get there, this route will have likely done the horse’s confidence the world of good. Whilst he is the top rated horse based on his three handicap wins last season, he most certainly didn’t run to that in the Cleeve. But, let’s not forget it was effectively his second full run of the season having not had hard races at either Newbury or Kempton so there will be plenty of improvement to come, especially on better ground. The only slight concern I have is that he likes to take a liberty at a hurdle or two but with the most scope for improvement, he is the one to beat and my banker of the whole week.

Behind the top two in the market, plenty of them have had interrupted preparations. Both of Nicky Henderson’s runners Whisper and Blue Fashion are prime examples. The former has only had one start this season which came on New Year’s Day when comprehensively beaten by Caesar Milan at Exeter on his only start over fences. The latter has only raced twice and ironically on the same day on the calendar. The first time was when he gave weight to last year’s World Hurdle winner More Of That before missing the rest of the season due to reasons not disclosed. His only run this season saw him bump into Faugheen in the Ascot Hurdle recieving four pounds. With both not having ideal preparations they are easily looked over.

Similar comments apply to one of Willie Mullins’s contenders Abbyssial who fell on his last outing which doesn’t sit comfortably with me so they also can be taken off the list. He has also had an interrupted preparation so is best left as is Zaidpour who isn’t good enough.

Un Temps Pour Tout was an expensive purchase and looked a very smart prospect when slamming Cole Harden in February last year at Ascot. Before that he had found two miles too short for him on his British debut at Haydock when second to Zamdy Man and ended his season when third to Deep Trouble in a competitive handicap hurdle at Punchestown. His only start this season was in the Cleeve where he was well backed but looked to blow up when third behind Saphir Du Rheu. Whilst he should improve for the run, better ground is a question mark as his best form has come on really testing ground as as I argued above, I believe Saphir Du Rheu has yet more to come.

Lieutenant Colonel would be one of the results of the week were he to succeed for Sandra Hughes and has definitely improved from the shell of a horse we saw in last season’s Neptune. Like Saphir Du Rheu, he came back hurdling but he only had one start over fences when beaten at odds on by Sizing Granite at Naas. He then went onto win the Hatton’s Grace beating Jetson before confirming that form in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown when stepping up to three miles, although Jetson was closer on that occasion. Both will need to step up on that, the former would have place claims whilst the latter struggled to win the Pertemps Final twice so I can’t see how he can win a World Hurdle.

Monksland was third behind the pair mentioned above on his comeback after two years off the track with it being a more than satisfactory effort before finishing a short head second to Dedigout at Gowran. Quite a few have made a case for Monksland but with how fragile he is, surely softer ground is paramount. As for Dedigout, he improved from Christmas to win at Gowran and then went on to Navan where he won again. He is another that needs soft ground to be at his best. Gigginstown also run last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll who is worth forgiving his starts over two miles as he clearly wants further but would probably have been better off in the Coral Cup off his handicap mark.

There is an argument that Reve De Sivola should be much shorter than he is on formlines through Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu, one who he beat when winning his third Long Walk at Ascot and the other who beat him when giving away weight in the Cleeve. Although he has won at Cheltenham, his form at the track is best described as being like a barcode and jockey Daryl Jacob alluded to this after winning at Ascot. He said that he tends to need a breather which you cannot give a horse coming into a championship. He would also need testing ground to figure. Aubusson was third beaten twenty three lengths and the drying ground is surely a concern plus Lizzie Kelly isn’t able to claim.

Cole Harden is a tough and hugely likeable horse who has made a fair step up in improvement from his novice form. His second at Aintree to Beat That was an excellent front running performance and he matched strides with Faugheen in the Neptune coming down the hill. He was impressive on his return at Wetherby when beating Medinas and At Fishers Cross comprehensively. As mentioned at the beginning, he then faced More Of That where he went off far too quick on ground too soft for him and Medinas who was given a canny ride by Richard Johnson was able to pick up the pieces.

His last two efforts have come at Cheltenham. The first on New Year’s Day where he chased home Rock On Ruby and Vaniteux after getting outpaced. The step back up in trip was sure to suit in the Cleeve but he didn’t perform on the day. It transpired that he had a problem with his wind which has since been rectified. For an each way selection, he would certainly give you a run for your money as he will be staying on when plenty of these have cried enough.

The final two in the field are Seeyouatmidnight and At Fishers Cross. They met last time out at Haydock where the latter’s issues with his jumping came to the fore and he was well beaten. The former was reappearing for the first time since the Sefton behind Beat That and Cole Harden and wasn’t disgraced at all under a penalty. Softer ground might be what he requires though. At Fishers Cross has first time blinkers which could book up his ideas however he hasn’t had one good run this season compared to last when placing in the Cleeve. It looks a difficult task for Tony McCoy to attempt to win his first World Hurdle at his last go.


Paul Nicholls has the aces in the pack with Zarkandar and SAPHIR DU RHEU but the latter appeals more for win purposes as he looks to still have more potential improvement to come, especially after his narrow win in the Cleeve Hurdle. I will suggest a forecast with the pair as they look to be a fair way clear of the rest. As there still seems to be some juice in the price of Saphir Du Rheu at 5s, why go looking for value when it’s smacking you right in the face? As mentioned above, the potential each way play in the race would be Cole Harden at 20s who is well worth a play as you are guaranteed a run and will be staying on right to the line.


Saphir Du Rheu - 5/1 (Various Bookmakers)
Saphir Du Rheu/Zarkandar Forecast


  1. first three all mentioned in the summary, quite a juicy tricast!

  2. Well done Adam.


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