Matt Tombs / Thursday 20th December 2012 / 13:50
1pt Trustan Times to win the World Hurdle @ 16/1
1pt Trustan Times to win the Long Walk Hurdle @ 3/1
The absence of Big Buck’s from the staying hurdling division leaves the biggest of holes. Looking at the reformed World Hurdle market, layers have understandably taken few chances given the uncertainties, pricing up a lot of horses pretty short. Most won’t run though, so if we can sift through them there’s a decent chance of some value, as much less analysis will have been done on this market.
Quevega (6/1) has the best form at 3m of those that remain, having won the Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival for the last 3 years. I’d previously wondered whether Ruby Walsh had told connections she couldn’t beat Big Buck’s. However, even with him out of the way, they seem adamant that she’ll run in the egg and spoon mares race, (the chances of her lining up in both look remote.) It’s hard to imagine a more disappointing attitude but in the absence of any proper non runner, no bet prices, she can’t be backed now.
The other top class horse in the market is Oscar Whisky (7/1). He’s the best around 2½m but looked a blatant non-stayer in this last season. Nicky Henderson had been wondering whether he wasn’t right that day and seemed to be considering another crack at this even before Big Buck’s got injured. Whilst my guess is the ground will be good come March, the water table can hardly ever have been higher and any rain in the run up to the race would make this a slog, which wouldn’t suit. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the Champion instead so I can’t back him at a shortish price now.
The next 4 in the market are all fairly easy to oppose. Rite of Passage (10/1) hasn’t run over jumps for nearly 3 years and has hardly run on the level either. He’s very fragile and hard to fancy. Peddlers Cross (10/1) has looked a 2 miler to me so far and is under an injury cloud so can’t be fancied either. Voler La Vedette (12/1) has better claims in that she ran a stormer to be a clear 2nd last season and it might be she needs good ground now. However, she’s been a huge disappointment on both runs this season and it looks like those hard races last season may have taken their toll. You’d want to see a return to form before backing her. Grands Crus (12/1) is highly likely to stay chasing and is another under a cloud so is opposable at this stage.
In the absence of Quevega, Willie Mullins still has 3 realistic contenders. Zaidpour (12/1) is much the most likely winner. He was a good winner of the Hattons Grace over 2m4f last time and is unexposed at 3m. He apparently didn’t take to French obstacles in the summer but has won his 2 races in Ireland around the trip, (including beating Voler La Vedette in January), though neither tested his stamina properly. He might run in the 3m Grade 2 at Leopardstown over Christmas, which will tell us more. Given he also has shown a marked preference for really soft ground, there are too many doubts to back him at this stage, though he’s one to keep in mind for nearer the race.
Thousand Stars (20/1) tanked his way through the race last season and didn’t get home. Mullins has said he will miss the Festival, as he wants him fresh for the Aintree Hurdle (2m4f,) in which he’s been a close 2nd for the last two seasons. If he settled better I’d give him a chance in this but I can’t back him given that he’s unlikely to run.
I backed So Young (25/1) in the race last season where he failed to give his running. Interestingly, after working them both, Ruby wanted to ride him in the Hatton’s Grace but Willie Mullins talked him into choosing Zaidpour. So Young was going well into the straight at Fairyhouse but after getting the 2nd last all wrong he folded tamely. He might be a weak finisher, but I’m still open-minded. Arguably his best form is at 2m and I’m not sure he wants a test of stamina. He’s one to keep an eye on.
It’ll be interesting to see what Paul Nicholls runs in Big Buck’s absence. If he was trained by anyone else, I wouldn’t give Tidal Bay (16/1) any chance rising 12. Nicholls has sweetened him up beautifully and he was a good winner of the Grade 2 at Wetherby at the start of the season. However, he ran so well over fences when 2nd off top weight in the Hennessy, I think its more likely he’ll stay chasing so he can’t be backed now. Zarkandar (20/1) looks firmly headed for the Champion Hurdle. Wonderful Charm (20/1) won a strong looking Grade 2 novice hurdle in October over 2m4f and now has to move into open company. He’s a cracking prospect (highly regarded) but has a lot to prove on both form and stamina, and 5 year olds have a shocking record. Prospect Wells (25/1) is looking exposed as a decent handicapper and whilst well worth a try at 3m, doesn’t look likely to get the trip.
Get Me Out Of Here (16/1) is an interesting contender. He’s at his best in the spring and was an excellent 2nd off 155 in the Coral Cup last season. He was also 2nd off the same mark over 2m in the Betfair Hurdle and it wouldn’t surprise me if he proved best in a fast run race at 2m. Whilst he looks to still be improving rising 9, he doesn’t have the obvious sort of profile for this and given the stamina doubts I’m going to watch and wait.
It feels like a season where an unexposed young horse is going to show the big improvement required. There are 4 I’ve got my eye on at this stage. I backed Monksland (20/1) for the Neptune last season and was a bit disappointed to see him get outpaced so easily coming down the hill. He won a minor race over 2m on his comeback and then was 2½l 2nd to the much more experienced Zaidpour in the Hatton’s Grace. That was his first real race in open company and he could improve past the winner, especially on better ground (which Noel Meade was adamant last season he’d improve for.) He has plenty of options, (entered for the Istabraq over 2m at Christmas,) but if connections decide to give 3m a try he could easily make up a contender for this.
The second is Bear’s Affair, (20/1). He was well thought of before not seeming to take to chasing last season. Returned to hurdles he’s won both his starts in handicaps, bolting up over 2m4f at Ascot off 140 earlier in the month. He’s not tried further as yet and could easily be given another try over fences. He’d be worth considering if it looked like he was going to be campaigned as a 3m hurdler.
The other two are engaged in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle on Saturday, Smad Place and Trustan Times. Prior to his Wetherby flop, Smad Place (12/1) would have been the obvious one for this. He was a really progressive 5 year old last season, winning off 144 and a good 2nd off 151, both over 2½m. He was then 8¾l 3rd to Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle. He was still going nicely at Aintree when coming to grief. He was really disappointing behind Tidal Bay last time though and I’d want to see him bounce back before backing him.
By contrast, Trustan Times (16/1) has been in great form, winning the Grade 3 fixed brush hurdle off 142 on his last run, (3m, soft). It’s hard to know the strength of that form yet but it’s usually a really hot contest – and he won off a higher mark than Grands Crus and Dynaste, albeit not as easily. He’s a really unexposed, progressive 6 year old and whilst he has to keep improving, he has loads of scope to do so.
The Long Walk looks a really weak Grade 1 unless Smad Place bounces back and 3/1 looks too big, albeit there’s a slight concern Trustan Times might be better gling left handed. He’ll be a lot shorter for the World Hurdle if he wins again at Ascot so he’s worth a small bet now and we can reassess the race again nearer the time