Matt Tombs / Wednesday 14th January 2015 / 16:12
If he turns up in the same form as when winning the World Hurdle last season, it’ll take a huge performance to beat More Of That (4/1), but with talk of a wind operation after he bombed at Newbury he’s not an ante-post proposition. 7/2 NRNB is tempting as they’re unlikely to risk him unless he’s bounced back, but the vibes aren’t great and I’m keen to find some value to take him on with.
When I look at the World Hurdle every year I remind myself of two things. Firstly, the race is often won by a horse that hasn’t run over 3m yet – half of the eight horses to have won the race this century, More Of That, Solwhit, Inglis Drever and Bacchanal hadn’t run beyond 2m5½f. Looking for an unexposed horse that’ll relish the step up in trip is often a source of value.
Secondly, the trials, (in start contrast to the Champion Hurdle), are an excellent guide to the prospects of those who have been campaigning at 3m. This century horses that have won the World Hurdle contested 16 of key 3m trials between them the seasons they won, winning 14. Only Baracouda, (who won his other two trials,) went down by 1l to the top class Deeno’s Beano under an awful ride in the Long Walk, and Inglis Drever, (who won his other three trials,) got stuck in the mud in the Cleeve, (came out the best horse in the race at level weights,) were beaten.
The trials are run at the same steady gallop as the World Hurdle itself and given the division often has less depth than the other championship races, it’s logical that the form works out so well. Similarly, only Iris’s Gift this century has won this after being beaten in the race, (and he was 2nd as a novice.) I therefore don’t like backing horses that keep getting beaten in these sorts of races – that makes it easy to oppose all the British horses that’ve run in trials this season.
Zarkandar (10/1) was 8½l 4th in this last season and just got worried out of it by course specialist Reve De Sivola (25/1) in the Long Walk at Ascot, (Aubusson (33/1) looking outclassed 23l behind the winner.) He won a 3m Grade 1 at Auteuil in November but the crawl-sprint nature of those French races is very different – the likes of Thousand Stars and Reve De Sivola have won several, but never cut any ice in the World Hurdle. He looks one to oppose, as does Reve De Sivola who was only 4th on his favoured soft ground in 2013 and was well beaten last season.
Cole Harden (20/1) and Medinas (50/1) have locked horns in two of the trials this season. Cole Harden came out on top by 8l at Wetherby on good ground, before Medinas reversed the places when getting 8lb at Newbury on softer going. Medinas was disappointing behind Reve De Sivola at Ascot and Cole Harden was a solid 2¾l 3rd to Rock On Ruby when dropped back to an extended 2½m at Cheltenham. Both look vulnerable here.
Lieutenant Colonel (10/1) has picked up two weak Grade 1s in Ireland following his chasing defeat at the start of November. He proved his stamina in the 2nd of them over 3m at Leopardstown at Christmas, and he has a turn of foot. They look pretty weak affairs though and I suspect the Irish form is a fair bit weaker than the British form, (as is often the case - Solwhit is the only Irish trained winner this century).
Lieutenant Colonel’s victim in both races was Jetson (25/1). Now 10, he created an upset in May, beating Quevega, (past her best by then), in the Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival and has run two fine races to chase Lieutenant Colonel home this season. The context is that less than a year ago he was rated 139 and he was 5th off 144 in last season’s Pertemps. I just can’t see a horse of his age and experience, (he’s run in 26 hurdles,) having improved enough to be a championship contender.
That leaves Lieutenant Colonel with masses to find. He clearly has scope for improvement – but the prices imply he has less to find than I think is the case. I was a fan of Monksland (16/1) a couple of seasons back and after 2 years off he ran a good race to be 5¾l 3rd to Lieutenant Colonel at Christmas. He’s probably the one to take out of the race, but I’d want to see him step up on that before backing him. At Fishers Cross (25/1) contested that race as well but seems to have lost the appetite for racing and looks one to avoid.
The obvious one to back is Beat That (12/1) who thumped Albert Bartlett 3rd Champagne West by 10l on his hurdling debut and then threw away a Grade 2 at Sandown when getting the last all wrong. Stepped up to 3m in the spring he won Grade 1s at Aintree, (beating Cole Harden by 4l,) and Punchestown, (beating Don Poli by ¾l.) He was slow coming to hand in the autumn and blew up on his comeback in Rock On Ruby’s race on New Year’s Day. Nicky Henderson is a genius at peaking horses with issues at the Festival, and he rates the most likely winner if More Of That doesn’t come back to his best. My only concern is a nagging doubt about whether he’ll be quite quick enough.
Early in the season Briar Hill (16/1) was Willie Mullins’ horse for this. He was unbeaten under rules and the Mullins camp’s nap of the Festival last season, when falling early on in the Albert Bartlett. The vibes have been terrible and he duly blew up badly in Lieutenant Colonel’s race at Leopardstown on his belated comeback at Christmas. He’d be one to keep an eye nearer the time if the vibes get better.
Of those to have run at 3m, Whisper (20/1) is the most interesting. He was going novice chasing but only got to the track on New Year’s Day when beaten at 2/5 in a beginners at Exeter. He’s only 7 so could revert to hurdling and was impressive in the spring, winning the Coral Cup off 153, (the highest mark defied at the Festival this century,) and then the 3m Grade 1 at Aintree. If he lines up on a sound surface he’d have a decent chance and the 20/1 is NRNB.
Of those not to have run at 3m so far, Rock On Ruby (12/1) bids to become the first Champion Hurdler to win the race for several decades, (and only the second horse aged 10 or older to win one of the four championship races this century.) He’s game and loves Cheltenham but I doubt he’ll stay and it’s highly likely younger legs will improve past him if he does, so I’m keen to oppose him.
Pont Alexandre (14/1) was going novice chasing but it’s a bit late for a horse to get enough experience for a tough race like the RSA now, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him turn up here. He has to prove he retains his ability and that he can handle the likely sound surface, so is easy to oppose.
If Mullins is to pull a rabbit out of the hat I think it’s most likely to be Clondaw Court (25/1). He’s fragile, now being 8 and having only run 5 times. He’s unbeaten though and in his last win in November, he had a race fit Mount Colah, (who received 15lb including claims,) 5¼l behind him – back over fences Mount Colah won a handicap off 142 and then a listed race. He’s run at 2m6f and stamina wouldn’t look to be an issue. Given how fragile he is, and the fact he’s only run on testing ground, (though breeding suggests he’d handle a sound surface,) he’s a doubtful runner – but if he does line up then he looks to have the class of a potential winner.
Blue Fashion (20/1) was giving More Of That 6lb when only beaten 2l by him in a 2½m handicap, (off 143), at Haydock in November 2013. On his first run for a year he was 3¾l 2nd to Faugheen, (who gave 4lb,) without getting him off the bridle at Ascot. He’s an unknown quantity and has apparently been frequently lame and had his wind done. It’s impossible to know what’s he capable of, but he’s highly regarded and if he lines up he’s a realistic winner.
The other similarly unexposed type stepping up in trip is Un Temps Pour Tout (20/1) who is due to make his comeback in the Cleeve later in the month, with the World Hurdle the target. He was bought for a huge sum from France and was a good second to the now 156 rated Zamdy Man over 2m on his British debut. He then thrashed Cole Harden by 16l in February, (though heavy ground was probably an excuse for the runner up.) He finished the season by running at the Punchestown Festival off 150 and was a fine 7l 3rd in a valuable 25 runner event over 2m4f. By Robin Des Champs he looks well worth trying over 3m and is a fascinating contender.
Unless More Of That bounces back, it’s wide open. Beat That has a solid profile but I want to side with the sort of unexposed horse stepping up in trip that does so well in the World Hurdle, and Un Temps Pour Tout fits the bill perfectly. He has the advantage of being an intended runner, but there are a few who are less likely to line up, that are far too big NRNB. Clondaw Court and Blue Fashion are tempting, but I’m saving on Whisper whose form from the spring makes him a single figure price for this if lining up.
1pt Un Temps Pour Tout to win the World Hurdle @ 20/1
1pt Whisper to win the World Hurdle @ 20/1 NRNB