Sad to see end of World domination
Richard Dunwoody previews Saturday's Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot and looks at some of the key trends.
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Firstly, like so many of us, I was sad to hear about the double injury blow the Paul Nicholls camp had earlier this week with both Al Ferof and Big Buck's.
The pair look like being out for the season now meaning no King George on Boxing Day or Cheltenham for Al Ferof and, of course, Big Buck's absence means that the World Hurdle, a race he's won for the past four seasons, has been thrown wide open.
No one likes to see these big names missing from the main festivals as that's what racing is all about but some will now say that without Big Buck's at least we'll have a more competitive World Hurdle to look forward to. However, we all love champions and, for me, it's a shame we won't be seeing him winning his customary festival race in 2013.
Let's just be thankful their respective injuries were not life threatening and there is a good chance Big Buck's should still have some big days ahead of him, while with Al Ferof just seven-years-old then he's at least got a bit more time on his side to bounce back.
Al Ferof's absence, in the already competitive King George on Boxing Day, did see a few of those at the head of the market contract in price - most notably Long Run and Cue Card, but the race still looks wide open with Riverside Theatre, Grands Crus, Kauto Stone and Captain Chris all still possibles at this stage, while without Al Ferof I guess there could be an outside chance that Willie Mullins might be re-thinking sending over his Sir Des Champs, who is also engaged in the Lexus Chase over Christmas.
With just over a week to go a lot can still happen - the last few days have been proof of that - but although last year's runner-up Long Run has had his knockers in recent runs I still think he's the one to beat. Yes, there is probably a bit of unnecessary pressure growing on his jockey Sam Waley-Cohen to deliver his supporters another big race win, but let's not forget this combination have already won a King George and a Gold Cup, while his seasonal debut second in last month's Betfair Chase should have him spot-on and despite coming second was another solid effort.
That said, I'm not sure if we'll ever see him hit the heights that saw his rating soar well into the 180s, but even so, at his current mark of 178 he's still the clear highest-rated in the field and that has to be respected.
Onto the World Hurdle and with Big Buck's having scared the opposition away for the best part of four years all of a sudden, the race will start to appeal to certain horses and trainers.
Oscar Whisky, who seemingly didn't stay this trip in the race 12 months ago (fifth), has made an effortless start to his season so far with two easy wins and many feel he's a leading player being second favourite with most firms, while the former Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage is another that's in single figures in the betting.
Last year's runner-up Voler La Vedette will certainly appeal to plenty at around 12/1, especially after the way she cruised up to Big Buck's in last season's race, but she'll need to put a few below-par runs behind her between now and March for me.
It is, however, another mare that most firms have now installed as the market leader - Quevega. Like Big Buck's had dominated the World Hurdle scene for the past four seasons Willie Mullins' charge has done exactly the same in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle. For many season's punters have been urging the Mullins camp to take on Big Buck's, but in a recent interview prior to the Big Buck's injury news her trainer openly stated that she'd be avoiding him again - saying why run in a Cheltenham race where we'll most likely finish second or third when we know we have a horse that has proven winning form in the mares' race?
It's hard to argue with that really, but now that Big Buck's is sadly injured then Mullins might have a re-think, and the bookmakers are certainly not taking any chances with some having her as short as 3/1 for the World Hurdle.
I suspect Mullins will have a few sleepless nights pondering things now, but if I were a backer - Big Buck's, or no Big Buck's - I'd still be thinking back to that interview with Willie and the fact he's got a virtual penalty-kick with Quevega in the mares' race with a Cheltenham win almost guaranteed. Knowing Willie I suspect connections might stick to the original plan - we'll see!
Onto this week and the ultra-competitive Ladbroke Hurdle is the weekend's feature contest at Ascot. At this stage there are still too many runners entered to have a firm view, but it's a race that the Henderson and Pipe stables, with three wins each in the last 8 runnings, like to target so anything they send to post should be respected. While if you're looking for a profile of horse that the winner has fallen into for each of the last eight winners then you might want to focus on horses aged between 5-7 that have won between 1-3 times over hurdles before.
Have a good week!
Ladbroke Hurdle Trends
8/8 - Won over at least 2m (hurdles) previously
8/8 - Won by a horse aged between 5-7 years-old
8/8 - Won between 1-3 times over hurdles previously
6/8 - Officially rated between 127 and 136
6/8 - Raced within the last 8 weeks
6/8 - Favourites unplaced
5/8 - Carried 10-11 or more in weight
5/8 - Returned 12/1 or bigger
5/8 - Won by a horse aged 5 years-old
5/8 - Favourites unplaced
4/8 - Won their last race
4/8 - Won by an Irish bred horse
3/8 - Trained by Nicky Henderson
3/8 - Trained by the Pipe stable
3/8 - Raced at Cheltenham last time out
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