Time to get stuck into one of the Championship races. The World Hurdle has seen the last 14 or so winners come from the top
4 in the betting but, there again, trends for the race are somewhat unreliable given the unprecedented dominance of Big Buck's.
Last year was an exceptionally strong renewal with 2 unbeaten youngsters fighting out the finish who were obviously well found
in the market. This year looks a little more open at this stage though, and I'm hoping something at a bigger price can get
Monksland - 1pt e/w @ 16/1
Looking at the market currently, Saphir De Rheu and Zarkandar are vying for favouritism with the latter just edging it. There's
little to suggest he will better his performance last year but, there again, he may not have to as this looks an inferior
renewal. A soft palate operation in the summer may have eked out improvement but that Long Walk defeat doesn't inspire confidence,
certainly not as market leader. Saphir De Rheu will have Big Buck's comparisons and, whilst he is a long way off that, he
would be clear preference of the top 2. However, it's interesting that Nicholls has said he thinks, for all the Cleeve winner
will improve for that run, Zarkandar would be his more likely idea of the winner. If Saphir De Rheu isn't considered ahead
of last year's 8 and a half length 4th at home, I'm not sure he can be backed at a best pried 11/2.
Would it be a complete shock if More Of That actually turned up and won? Not really. But the wind-op after his Newbury hammering
and subsequent bleed are too much of a worry, even NRNB. For what it's worth I think he'd win head in chest if on song. Rock
On Ruby is next and, whilst he clearly loves the course at this time of year, he is yet to prove he stays the trip and doesn't
have age on his side. See this site's Road To Cheltenham blog as to why he isn't really a betting proposition as a 10 year old, not at 8/1 anyway. Annie Power is going mares,
and now the market interest hots up.
Lieutenant Colonel has improved a great deal this term and, having won a sub standard Grade 1 at Fairyhouse, he won a more
impressive looking contest at Leopardstown, his first go at 3 miles. However, whilst the form looks good, my slight niggle
about the race is that a fair few were having their first runs of the season, a couple back from lengthy absences. He deserves
his place at 10/1 but bigger prices lurk with greater appeal. None more so than the next 3 in the market. Un Temps Pour Tout
looks a super bet and, if the ground on the day is good to soft or easier I'm certain I'll back him. He ran a lovely trial
for this in the Cleeve, conceding race fitness, and looks a silly price up against Saphir De Rheu. He'll be 2lb worse off
but a fitter horse. I've missed the boat a touch however, and he may not be that much shorter than 12's on Thursday morning.
Whisper beat At Fishers Cross (who hasn't?) in Grade 1 company at Aintree and I like the angle here of previous festival winners.
The worry is a less than ideal prep having been beaten over fences last time and the trip at Cheltenham could just stretch
him. Either way he still looks an enticing proposition.
Not as enticing as Monksland. He reminds me a little of Solwhit who took this a few years ago. 2 years off before coming
back with this as the aim. Monksland had his setbacks a year earlier in his career but that is more a positive than anything
and his preparation for Cheltenham has been a short head from perfect. The key difference is that Solwhit was a proven Grade
1 performer, and over shorter, but Monksland did win the subsequently upgraded Grade 2 Christmas Hurdle before his absence,
and it didn't look shy of a Grade 1 winning performance. He ran very well on return where coming back sound would have been
the main aim and then bumped into mud loving, battling, Bog Warrior reincarnate Dedigout at Gowran Park. He did everything
right but win that day and, though in receipt of 5lb, he would very likely reverse that form off levels on better ground and
the form is solid. Dedigout subsequently won in Grade 2 company - a race where I fancy he'd have beaten Briar Hill without
the latter coming down at the last.
Noel Meade, who could have a very good week in March, maintains Monksland will come on for better ground, as does Paul Carberry
who will likely be back on for the World Hurdle. They have a super record together. This horse has never been out of the places
in 9 starts under rules, was a short head from having about the best piece of Irish staying hurdle form under his belt, would
have finished far closer than an 18 length 3rd to Simonsig in the 2012 Neptune but for getting hampered 2 out, and can be
backed at 16/1. That's too big, especially with a little NRNB safety given he's not the soundest of sorts.