No need to fish for alternatives
Ben Coley provides a horse-by-horse guide to the bet365 Hurdle and can't see past At Fishers Cross.
- Related Content
ACROSS THE BAY: Out-and-out stayer who gamely made all to beat Trustan Times in receipt of 4lb at Haydock in the spring, his first hurdles start since finishing a 50/1 third behind Big Buck's at Aintree a year earlier. Clearly brings some quality form to the table but all wins on soft or heavy and even an encouraging record fresh isn't an enough to suggest he's up to producing a career-best performance, one he needs to take this.
TIDAL BAY: Once described as a talented rogue but looked to get his act together last season, starting with victory in this before a fine second when switched to fences in the Hennessy and then a superb effort to win the Lexus Chase. Absent since through injury and bare form of last year's renewal hardly sets the pulse racing, but has form figures of 2-1-2-3-1 at the track and is by far and away the chief threat to the favourite assuming all is well physically.
AT FISHERS CROSS: Flag-bearer for rapidly emerging yard who progressed from a novice hurdle defeat to a now 114-rated horse at Ffos Las to an impressive Cheltenham Festival win in almost exactly a year. That victory in the Albert Bartlett came at the expense of a horse Nigel Twiston-Davies considers to be among the best he's trained, and At Fishers Cross then confirmed both his brilliance and untapped potential with a demolition job at Aintree. Considering that his jumping could still improve, here we have a horse who looks a genuine threat to Big Buck's if and when, as is hoped, that superstar makes his return to the track. With that in mind it'll be most disappointing if he can't extend his winning sequence to seven even allowing for this run perhaps being needed, especially with the yard going well.
MEDINAS: Won the Welsh Champion Hurdle (a limited handicap) before springing a 33/1 surprise in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham. Possibly feeling the effects of those two taxing assignments when pulled up in Ireland and has the potential to progress again this season given, like the favourite, he's just six. Has met At Fishers Cross once, and although beaten 10 lengths or so was conceding 9lb, which we now know was an impossible task. Go well.
TRUSTAN TIMES: Trainer wasted no time in sending him over fences but lacked fluency and quickly returned to hurdles, a move which has facilitated rapid progression. Won a handicap hurdle on this card last season off a mark of just 134 but deserves new rating of 149 having followed up at Haydock and gone close behind Across The Bay on his final start of the campaign, with even his distant third at Ascot inbetween a solid enough effort in the circumstances. Every chance there's more to come but there needs to be and unlikely to enhance record of two wins in three starts at Wetherby, although a live player in the battle for second.
CAPTAIN SUNSHINE: Fulfilled promise shown as a novice with a pair of big-field handicap seconds last spring having previously looked like going close in the Lanzarote before falling. With that in mind his reappearance at Cheltenham (3/1 favourite) was most disappointing - jumped poorly and never travelled - and while it's possible he'll build on that as he did last season's reappearance we may again have to wait a while. Even at his best, sights need lowering before a return to the winners' enclosure is possible.
MASTER OF THE SEA: Showed nothing before making handicap debut off just 92 last season, winning that and three more to arrive at the Cheltenham Festival fully 50lb higher in the ratings. Ran well in the Coral Cup behind Medinas and would've finished closer but for a mistake at the last, but was getting 6lb so needs to improve a good deal to trouble Alan King's horse, let alone the favourite who then finished 15 lengths ahead of him (value for more) at Aintree. Up against it.
THE KNOXS: First start for Sue Smith having been in the care first of Howard Johnson and then Paul Nicholls, for whom he won decent handicaps over both hurdles and fences. However, beaten a combined 100 lengths in two starts in graded company and that tells you what he is - a handicapper with races in him but not up to winning this barring accidents.
VERDICT: AT FISHERS CROSS may need the run and could still do with jumping better, but he still rates by far the most likely winner of this and should dominate the staying hurdle division before a possible clash with Big Buck's at Cheltenham. That he's already 7/2 for the March showpiece underlines the impression he created as a novice, and he should edge AP McCoy closer to 4,000 winners. Tidal Bay turned a corner last year and in terms of latent ability is by some distance the biggest threat, although Trustan Times and Medinas may yet have their best days ahead and could step up on past achievements. However, the hope and expectation is that we see an impressive performance from At Fishers Cross.