IN the second of his ante-post Cheltenham previews, Graeme Johnston (@GraemeJ_83) looks ahead to the World Hurdle.
World Hurdle | 17th March 2016 | Channel 4
The big race of the season for staying hurdlers and it's been won by some National Hunt superstars during its existence. Baracouda, Inglis Drever and of course Big Bucks head the roll of honour and though it's unlikely we'll see any of these end up ranked with them it's an interesting renewal which looks wide open.
I'm going to start with Thistlecrack who has been one of the stories of the season. He wasn't one of the top novice hurdlers going in to the spring festivals last season but he won the Doom Bar Novice Hurdle at Aintree in good style before going down fighting behind Killutagh Vic at Punchestown in April.
This marked him as a promising young stayer but nobody expected the progress he has shown since. A six length demolition of Deputy Dan in the Long Distance Hurdle was followed up by becoming the first horse to beat Reve De Sivola in the Long Walk Hurdle for four years in sensational style.
Visually he has looked top class so far but he is now a best price of 9/4 to win the World Hurdle and that doesn't interest me one bit. He has so far met rivals on ground that doesn't suit them and beat horses who will be a different proposition in March. While I agree he is the horse to beat here I'm not interested in him at these odds.
There is no shortage of candidates here but most of them have questions to answer before they become backable. Cole Harden won this race last season but has yet to get his head in front since.
He's had a history of breathing problems but is still a serious contender to retain his crown. He will appreciate the better ground in March and it's possible he will turn the tables with Thistlecrack in this. However I don't see him as a trustworthy individual and I'm not backing him either.
Aux Ptits Soins won the Coral Cup last season on his only start for Paul Nichols when he looked like a horse with a huge future. Unfortunately that is still his only outing for the champion trainer and I'm not prepared to back him here without any assurances over his well being, however if he turns up he could be involved in the finish.
Stablemate Saphir Du Rhue is another I'm interested in. After yet another failed chasing career he has been sent hurdling coming well behind Thistlecrack in the Long Walk.
However his stable were struggling for winners then and he's also had a minor breathing operation since. If that has a positive effect on him then I expect him to be involved late on here and at 20/1 I see last year's runner up as a fantastic each way bet.
I desperately want The New One to run in this as it looks tailor made for him. He went agonisingly close to winning the Champion Hurdle two years ago but looks well held by Faugheen now.
He won the Neptune at the festival three years ago and looked strong at the finish that day. Though he has never ran over 3 miles he's won both starts over 2 miles 5 and it's more likely he'd win this than the Champion Hurdle. If anyone knows Nigel Twiston-Davies please advise him to take the World Hurdle route, as he would have a massive chance.
I'm backing two in this race and my second selection comes in the form of Alpha Des Obeaux. In his eight career starts he has only won once, with six seconds and a fall to his name.
Though he is slightly frustrating he is a very talented individual, and bar a fall late on at Aintree was on target to go very close to beating Thistlecrack.
This season he ran a fine race on debut behind Arctic Fire over two and a half miles before coming second in the Christmas Hurdle behind the improving Prince of Scars at Leopardstown.
That was really heavy ground which did not suit him at all and he done well to come second. The better ground at Cheltenham will suit him and he is almost guaranteed to run his race here. The 16/1 on offer here is a great each way bet and I would be very disappointed if neither were involved in the finish here.
World Hurdle 2016 – Saphir Du Rheu each way (20/1 BetVictor)
World Hurdle 2016 – Alpha Des Obeaux each way (16/1 888 Sport)
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