After the competitive nature of last season’s World Hurdle, it is good to see the race following in the same way this year. Unfortunately Solwhit won’t be around to defend his title he won so gallantly last March, but Celestial Halo will do battle once again and is the best guide for the form.
The Champion Big Buck’s will once again line up in the World Hurdle, attempting to land the race he has already won four years running before injury curtailed his attempts at a fifth in a row. He went out on his shield in the Cleeve Hurdle and it remains to be seen whether he’ll be as good as years gone by given he is entering the veteran stages of his career – one thing is for certain though, if he isn’t good enough on the big day in two weeks, it won’t be for his want of trying – this old warrior won’t go down without a fight.
A few key stats worth taking into account when evaluating this race;
- No five-year old has ever won the race.
- Horses that finished unplaced in their final outing before the World Hurdle have a poor record in the race, and is always worth siding with a horse in form in this contest.
Looking at this race there looks like being several runners, with quite a few still unconfirmed and some which may instead opt to go down the handicap route so bearing that in mind we may aswell begin right at the top of the market and work our way down.
Cadoudal (FR) (18.0f) — Buck´s (FR) (Le Glorieux (10.1f))
Notes: A four time winner of this race, and an absolute champion over this distance. Had put together a string of 18 straight victories, 10 of those Grade 1’s before meeting with defeat on his comeback from over a year off through injury. His record speaks for itself and really he needs no introduction from me. Many feel he isn’t the force of old but I saw nothing to deter me from thinking he will be back on his ‘A’ game come two weeks’ time, and he’ll be plenty fitter for his comeback run in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Shirocco (GER) (11.7f) — Anno Luce (Old Vic (13.0f))
Notes: Another who needs no introduction, and noises coming from the Ireland is that she is in the same mould as Dawn Run. I’ve seen nothing to deter me from that view, and she has put up two sensational performances on the clock from three outings this campaign. Is unproven over the trip of three miles but both her pedigree and the way she sees her races out suggest that’ll be no problem, and she also has plenty of tactical speed were it to turn into a crawl. She looks the biggest threat to Big Buck’s staying hurdle crown for some time.
At Fishers Cross
Oscar (IRE) (12.6f) — Fermoy Supreme (IRE) (Supreme Leader (12.4f))
Notes: Came into this campaign with high hopes after an impressive novice campaign last season, culminating with victories in both the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at Cheltenham, and then following up in the Aintree equivalent. Hasn’t always impressed with his hurdling and this was exposed on his comeback at Newbury when making a momentum halting mistake two-out, before being allowed to coast home in his own time. He then unseated when beaten at Ascot on his next start, jumping poorly throughout and many thoughts perhaps his head had completely gone. He did however show signs of a rejuvenation on his latest start, a narrow second in the Cleeve Hurdle finishing ahead of Big Buck’s (although in receipt of 4lb), and in the main jumping a lot better than we’d seen this campaign. He’ll no doubt be boosted in confidence for that effort, and is coming back to hand just at the right time, he could well return to his novice form on the big day, and should he reach that level he’ll go very close.
Galileo (IRE) (11.2f) — Pay The Bank (High Top (10.3f))
Notes: Returned as good as ever this season after a summer break to run out a facile winner of the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury. He followed that up with a below-par effort at Haydock when beaten at short odds behind horses he in theory should have been beating. He was reported to have missed three weeks work prior to that which kept him out of the Long Walk at Ascot, and as such he was said to have needed the run at Haydock. He was a gallant second in this race last year behind Solwhit, and that recent effort should put him spot on for this, however he may come up short against the principles here.
More Of That
Beneficial (14.4f) — Guigone (FR) (Esprit Du Nord (USA) (14.1f))
Notes: A lightly-raced improving son of Beneficial who cut a favourable impression when readily accounting for decent opposition in the Relkeel Hurdle at the track. Hasn’t been seen since but is fairly solid on a well-known betting exchange, suggesting this race remains the target. The unknown quantity in the race and it remains interesting to see who McCoy will ride given his retainer also has At Fishers Cross in the race.
Azamour (IRE) (10.6f) — Zarkasha (IRE) (Kahyasi (12.8f))
Notes: Has run with merit all season despite not winning a race, he has continued his admirable consistency throughout which has seen him finished in the first two placing’s on 12 of his 15 starts over hurdles. No match for either Annie Power or The New One over a variety of trips, he has been tried in headgear and without so far and one would expect him to line up in blinkers at The Festival for the first time over such a trip. A good effort when second to Melodic Rendezvous in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on his latest start, he could yet throw a spanner in the works upped in trip to three miles for the first time. Quite whether he is good enough remains to be seen but he poses an interesting puzzle.
Rule The World
Sulamani (IRE) (11.9f) — Elaine Tully (IRE) (Persian Bold (10.4f))
Notes: The chief contender for Ireland outside of the obvious in Annie Power. He cut a favourable impression when chasing home high-class Champion Hurdle prospect The New One in last season’s Neptune. He got injured on his next start at Punchestown which kept him out until August where he won an egg and spoon race on his return. A couple of below-par efforts followed before stepping up impressively to win last time out at Naas to win the Limestone Lad Hurdle. He still poses an unknown quantity element to his form, and could well continue his upward curve. The prospect of better ground is likely to suit him and bring further improvement, and he is one of a few that have to enter calculations.
Salubrious was no match for the less-exposed More Of That the last time these pair met, and has previous ran a gallant second off 149 over course and distance. A winner of the Martin Pipe Conditionals Hurdle at last year’s Festival he looks likely to come up short against this quality of opposition, and he could instead go down the Coral Cup route.
Reve De Sivola has proven to be a high-class operator over this trip in the last few years, and was rejuvenated by the switch back after a failed chasing campaign back in 2011. Admirable sort but appeared to have no excuses behind these in the Cleeve last time, and he usually comes up short on the big day in March so hard to see him winning this – despite a fair fourth last year.
Monksland hasn’t been seen since his Christmas Hurdle victory in December 2012, and it remains questionable whether he’ll line up next month and for that he’ll need to improve on what we’ve seen so far. Noel Meade is capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat, but I can’t see it being Monksland.
A race which on paper looks a match between the proven class and relentless destruction of the mighty Big Buck’s, against the untapped potential of the female flying machine Annie Power.
It is in fact shaping up to be a mouth-watering clash between the pair, and that is before you even factor in last year’s Albert Bartlett winner At Fishers Cross, the unexposed and improving More Of That and the prospect of more to come from Rule The World who is the next best hope hailing from the Emerald Isle.
The Paul Nicholls due of Zarkandar and Celestial Halo will expose any chinks in the armour of the five mentioned above, and both hold very realistic claims of making the places but both seem to lack the required quality needed to win this.
Whilst More Of That needs to prove he stays the longer trip, At Fishers Cross has been there and done it at novice level so he looks the most likely out of the McManus pairing if you are looking for an alternative to the big two. Rule The World is one I like though, and for an each-way option I’d be looking to side with him, especially with the prospect of better ground than he’s encountered all winter over in Ireland.
For me though this race comes down to a duel, can the old legs of Big Buck’s roll back the years and land another unprecedented World Hurdle triumph? Or will the younger Annie Power continue her ascent to the top of the hurdling ranks, downing The Champion in the process?
For me I think it will be the latter. I have seen nothing but brilliance from ANNIE POWER in her campaign so far, and she seems to be improving with each run. Has plenty of stamina in her pedigree being by Shirocco (whose progeny are running well here) so the step-up to three miles shouldn’t pose too many problems. Ruby Walsh has the benefit of riding both Big Buck’s and Annie Power so will know how to ride her to best effect to down Paul Nicholls’ hurdling great.
Although I’ve gone for Annie Power for the purposes of this preview, should Big Buck’s be there with a chance approaching the last (history dictates he will be) there will be part of me rooting for the old boy as they make the climb for home.
Let’s hope the race plays out as we all hope, and we get all horses on the top of their game for this race where we can be assured a great race to help put the staying hurdle division back on the map after a few years in the wilderness (much owed to Big Buck’s dominance).