World Hurdle: A guide to the entries
Ian Ogg brings us a comprehensive A-Z guide to the 61 entries for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
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Aaim To Prosper
It seems a little unfair to knock a dual Cesarewitch winner but he's like an ageing rugby league player switching to union, with a whole new set of skills to learn. Did okay on his hurdling bow at Newbury over an inadequate trip but this is surely aaiming too high.
Ran a huge race in a handicap hurdle at Aintree before winning at Haydock but that's about as good as it gets. No idea how good the American spin doctors are but even Malcolm Tucker would have his work cut out building a case for this fellow.
Any Given Day
Finished seventh 12 months ago at 66/1 - need I say more?
A glance is all you really need to dismiss the claims of Malcolm Jefferson's on this season's efforts over fences but he was progressive over timber at the end of last season. Worth a second look if he can prove his wellbeing.
Definitely has ability and is probably capable of proving better than his current handicap mark but a World Hurdle success for this eight-year-old would prove a bigger surprise than when his trainer admirably completed the London Marathon.
Back In Focus
Mud, mud, glorious mud - that's what this fellow needs to have any chance of picking up this prize. The drainage at Cheltenham is against him but if there's any season in which he will stand a chance of success in Gloucestershire it must be this one. Let it rain.
Dotted up in an Aintree handicap before coming unstuck in the Lanzarote or rather stuck as the conditions at Kempton appeared to be his undoing. Better than the bare form, should stay three miles and is on the upgrade.
Oh Bensalem, Bensalem, you broke my heart and my Festival both when falling in 2010 and when winning in 2011. Are there some horses you can never get right? The last World Hurdle winner aged older than nine was Crimson Embers in 1986 and that's all that will be left of my betting slip if Alan King's fragile but talented charge is crowned in March.
Not as popular as Overturn but he should be. A winner on the Flat, over hurdles and fences, he's taken his connections to Plumpton and Meydan and why should the journey stop there? No chance of winning though.
Tony Martin runners in Britain used to be feared by bookmakers and adored by punters but just five winners in as many years from over 100 attempts has turned that on its head. This chap is good though, very good. Will he stay? Will he act on quicker ground? What else do the Gigginstown House Stud have in this division? If only I knew the answers.
Time to pay tribute Malcolm Jefferson again who saddled this son of Hernando and Attaglance to win at both Cheltenham and Aintree last season. What a feat. He'll have to surpass that to return to the winner's enclosure with this one though.
One of life's water carriers who just keeps on plugging away at the coalface. Did you know he'd never run over three miles? Seems extraordinary as you'd think he'd be tailormade for it. Likely to give his all but his best days are behind him and he'll need divine intervention to win this prize.
Talented chaser whose jumping is a joy to behold. Connections appear convinced that he'll stay three miles and seem determined to keep running him over the trip until proved right. Surely they'll relent and run him in the Ryanair.
A valiant sixth in the David Nicholson last March when the form book tells me she was just five and a half lengths behind Quevega... surely that flatters her?
One defeat in five starts and an exciting novice who is a full-brother to the popular Carruthers and is said to have more scope. He has room for plenty of progress with time on his side but a second look at the races he's won so far suggest we shouldn't get carried away just yet.
Crack Away Jack
Badly lost his way after injury but he's back on the right road and has run some stormers for his current connections, travelling well, looking every inch the class act... before finding less than expected. At least expectations shouldn't be an issue in March.
Wonderful to see him back to form after a spell in the doldrums when making the unexposed Goulanes pull out all the stops at Cheltenham in November. Let that memory keep you warm in March as he struggles to better last year's seventh.
Duke Of Lucca
Five of his six wins have been achieved in single figure fields, surely the Queen Mother Champion Chase would have been a better bet?
How angry would you be if David Pipe's grey won the World Hurdle after you'd snapped up all the tasty prices about the RSA Chase favourite? It's always good to have a Plan B just in case and this exciting grey has a point to prove in this race having failed to run up to form last season.
Describing this terrier-like competitor as a journeyman seems a little harsh with the negative connotations of that word but it's meant as a compliment. Seems to have been around for ever and has been placed in an Arkle and a Champion Chase - don't expect him to add a World Hurdle to that list.
Both he and Venalmar looked hugely exciting prospects when finishing first and second in the then Ballymore Properties at the 2008 Festival but both have struggled with injuries. What might have been?
Good enough to beat Menorah in April 2010 but has raced just three times since. Not for you? No, nor me.
Get Me Out Of Here
If there is a Sporting God out there (which there isn't) then surely he has to win. Second beaten a head in the Supreme, by a nose in the County and three and a half lengths in the Coral Cup. Maybe best backed to finish second again.
Ran below (my) expectations in a three mile handicap chase at Kempton last Saturday so has his work cut out to get a positive review. Has a mountain to climb on the form book too.
His run in the King George VI (his first after a breathing op) divided opinion and I'm sitting firmly on the fence; the view is better from up there. Connections must be tempted to go down this route but the bookmakers are unlikely to take any chances with him given his popularity.
Has long looked as though a step up to three miles would suit and didn't shape too badly in a Pertemps qualifier at Warwick on Saturday but would be more at home in the final of that race than the World Hurdle.
His form tailed off after a promising start last season and, after winning at Down Royal, he pulled up in the King George VI. Deja vu anyone? Yet to race over hurdles in this country and some doubts remain about his stamina despite that success in Northern Ireland.
Kentford Grey Lady
Second to Quevega in the David Nicholson 12 months ago and has run at least as well in both starts this season. If Quevega's connections reckon it's better to win a Cheltenham Festival race every season than risk losing all in the World, is it also better to finish second?
Pitched into the deep end for his first chase start and then flopped when turned out shortly afterwards. Tough to bounce back from that and produce a career-best effort, which is what would be required.
Make Your Mark
Answered one of my earlier questions in that he's also owned by Gigginstown House Stud. Otherwise poses more questions than answers having not been sighted since being beaten out of sight behind Simonsig in the Neptune. Should relish the step up to three miles as and when he returns to action.
Won a heavy ground Grade One over three miles as a novice and looked in need of a step back up in trip when improving on his chase debut last time. His entry has the look of a safety net in case chasing doesn't work out.
Disappointed in the spring festivals but his form is pretty solid otherwise although it's almost all at around the minimum. Open minded about his ability to stay another mile and he piques my interest.
Started last season brightly before losing his way and this season looks to be going down the same path. Needs more than a GPS to help him get back on track.
Not without a prayer having appreciated the step up in trip to lower the colours of dubious stayer Zaidpour at Leopardstown. Should have more to offer, particularly back on a better surface, and ran well at last year's Festival. Short-listed.
Sold out of Nicky Henderson's yard after a disappointing end to last season. Made a good start for his new team when winning on the second attempt but flopped last time. I was going to dismiss him but he did beat all bar Bob's Worth in the Albert Bartlett of 2011; he couldn't, could he?
Does he stay or doesn't he? For those who thought last year's World Hurdle was conclusive proof, Nicky Henderson has given them food for thought by suggesting that wasn't his true form. He should stay but he travels almost too well unlike Baracouda, Inglis Drever and the sorely missed Big Buck's - if only he'd learn to drop the bit and make his jockey work. Weather permitting, the Cleeve Hurdle will tell us whether he's the one to beat.
Improved massively for the step-up to two and a half miles in the Lanzarote on his handicap bow. Lightly raced and open to further improvement but I didn't back him last weekend and I won't be backing him in March. Bah humbug.
How the mighty have fallen. The world was his oyster when he made the brilliant Hurricane Fly pull out all the stops in the Champion Hurdle but the wheels came off last season. Can the Dapper Don get him back with a spanking new set of tyres? His long absence suggests he's struggling.
Prince De Beauchene
Earmarked for the Grand National so wherever he's lining up in March, he's likely to be having a prep race for Aintree.
Paul Nicholls talked him up before the Long Walk Hurdle and it would be unfair to judge his prospects of developing into a top-stayer on that outing alone. Has yet to impress with his hurdling though and just doesn't capture the imagination.
Connections have suggested that they'll be attempting to win a fifth David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle in two months time. If there was a referendum she'd be lining up in the World Hurdle and this entry has left the door ajar. It's time to start an online petition and try and kick it open - come on Willie, do it in the name of sport.
Red Not Blue
From Red To Blue is a song on Billy Bragg's fifth album William Bloke. Has as much chance of winning as there is of the legendary songsmith opening the next Conservative Party Conference.
Reve De Sivola
Relished the testing ground at Ascot to win the Long Walk Hurdle but handles quicker ground too and acts at Cheltenham. Take his chase form out of the equation and there's an awful lot to like - must be towards the top of the list.
Rite Of Passage
Last seen winning on British Champions' Day at Ascot having already lifted the Group One Gold Cup at the Berkshire venue. Will connections risk sending him back over hurdles? Let's hope they do as this nine-year-old would be a fascinating player if conditions were to dry out over the coming weeks.
Recorded an unbelievable victory in a thrilling renewal of the Ryanair last March and a repeat victory is surely at the top of the agenda after his flop in the King George. Hasn't run over hurdles since 2009.
Made a stunning start for his new connections at Ascot in November but the handicapper took a dim view of that success and brought an end to their fun with a punitive 12lb rise. No chance of winning but was bought as a Saturday horse and will continue to fulfil that role admirably.
Well fancied for the Triumph Hurdle last season, but seemingly no excuses in his sixth and also comfortably held behind Grumeti at Aintree subsequently. Not seen so far this season, but could return in Newbury's Betfair Hurdle and also entered in the Champion Hurdle. Interesting, but a huge amount to prove.
Not beaten far when third in this race 12 months ago and has neither Big Buck's nor Voler la Vedette to worry about this time. However he looked a bit flat when easily held by Reve De Sivola last time out and seems not to be performing at his best this season. Might better ground help?
Popular old chap forced out of the last two Festivals at the eleventh hour but came back from an absence of two and a half years to win at the Punchestown Festival in April. Didn't run well on his only start this season and completely untried at anything like this trip. I can't see it myself.
Lacking miles on the clock but comfortably held all starts at the highest level, including in this race 12 months ago. No match for Zaidpour and Monksland already this season and hard to immediately see why he should reverse the placings.
Fair novice chaser for Nicky Henderson last season who scored first time out over hurdles in France for new connections but well beaten twice since. New stable may be in better form by the time Cheltenham comes around, but even so he can't be fancied.
Returned from nearly two years off when a fair second to Bog Warrior last month. That was a long way short of his best form and he has never even tried three miles before, but his old form was undoubtedly classy and it's not impossible that he could figure here if connections are brave enough to try moving up in trip.
No match for Hurricane Fly (yet again - the poor horse must be sick of the sight of his stable-companion) over Christmas at Leopardstown but rallied quite takingly to dispute second having jumped the last adrift in fourth. Yet to race over further than two and a half miles (like so many of these) but keeps shaping as if this trip might not be a problem.
Enigmatic veteran who has found a new lease of life under Paul Nicholls, running a fine race in the Hennessy before taking the Lexus Chase over Christmas. Needs holding onto and delivering as late as possible but not far off the best of these on his day. Well-held seventh in this back in 2010 but certainly a better horse now and a big player should his trainer choose this rather than the Gold Cup.
Rapid improver during the first half of the season but no match for Reve de Sivola nor Smad Place when stepped up in grade last time no obvious reason to expect him to get much closer here.
Grade One-winning hurdler whose last start over timber came in the 2011 Coral Cup, when held in seventh behind Carlito Brigante. Returned to action in good heart this season and a shade unfortunate to bump into well-treated rivals in a pair of Cheltenham handicap chases, but regardless doesn't look up to this standard and yet to prove he stays. Like the football side whose name springs to mind at the sound of his, may fall short of beating the very best.
Likeable veteran who enjoys making the running, and did so effectively when winning in Grade Two company at Navan last November. Ran another cracker from the front when fourth behind Monksland last time but this trip stretches him and nothing in the form book says he's good enough. I think not.
Classy and prolific on the level and the type of horse John Ferguson has been doing particularly well with. However, although he won well enough in his sole start over hurdles that two-mile Leicester novice contest is a world away from this and entry looks fanciful at best.
Won In The Dark
Dual Grade One winner but close to five years have passed since the most recent of those and time waits for neither man nor beast - just ask my barber. Would be a player on his fine third to Big Buck's at Aintree in 2011 but hasn't reproduced that level of form since and has done all his winning over shorter.
One of just three five-year-olds among the entries and won the Persian War on his first start for Paul Nicholls. That performance bodes well for his future which will lie over this sort of distance, but this is an altogether different task to that which he faced at Chepstow and it's probably one he'll skip.
Gained a first Grade One win in the Hatton's Grace but was beaten fair and square by Monksland when stepped up to this trip on his next start. Potential for further improvement remains but so does a doubt about his stamina despite a previous victory over three miles, one which came in a slowly-run affair. Good ground may well help on that front but Mr Mullins has better options. Hint.
Big Buck's is sorely missed, not least by those trying to sift through the mammoth entry as trainers have seemed to put in anything in their yards with a semblance of a chance (and some without) as they bid to take advantage of his absence.
Reve De Sivola and Monksland are the two solid ones at the head of the market as both appear certain to line up for this race (all being well) and proven at the course and over the trip.
Get Me Out Of Here is the one that really intrigues at a bigger price as he has such a fine record at the Festival and could well relish this sort of test. But there are any number in the field who could also, potentially, improve once faced with a stiffer test.
With time running out, not all of them will get the chance to prove their stamina before March and the picture may not be significantly clearer for punters come the big day.