It's a Smad World
The Ladbrokes World Hurdle reign of Big Buck's is over, for now, with 61 pretenders to his throne at the initial entry stage.
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Sifting through the 61 many can be filed under 'probably won't run' or 'won't stay' or 'not good enough' or 'why on earth is that entered?'
It seems like any horse rated over 130 that might stay three miles is in there, whether they have been campaigned over timber or not and the picture is muddied to say the least.
The betting isn't a helpful guide either with the top two in the market not certain, or even likely to run.
Willie Mullins has made it clear it will take exceptional circumstances for Quevega to take her chance and we can put a line through her, while you couldn't be certain Oscar Whisky will line up either.
He didn't stay in last year's renewal, I think that's crystal clear, and whether you think he's worth another chance at the trip depends on if you can forgive him that run.
It is limited evidence, but it's enough for me to dismiss him at 7/1 and though the vibes are he'll end up in this race it wouldn't be so much of a surprise if he flopped in the Cleeve and was rerouted to the Champion Hurdle.
Tidal Bay is next in the market in some lists and though it seems like Ruby Walsh is keen on him returning to timber his presence among the Irish Hennessy entries suggests to me connections are thinking Gold Cup.
He's probably 50-50 for the race at present and you could conclude that he needs a bit further anyway these days. At 8/1 he makes little appeal.
Peddlers Cross, Rite Of Passage and Grands Crus are all between 10/1 and 12/1 but I'd be surprised if more than one of that trio made it to the final line-up.
Peddlers Cross has plenty to prove after his Jewson disaster and the fact he hasn't been seen since makes him impossible to recommend at such a short price, while Rite Of Passage hasn't run over hurdles for three years and Grands Crus will in all likelihood stick to chasing.
It means that from the top eight in the betting only two look guaranteed starters barring any setbacks and that duo are Reve De Sivola and Monksland who are both priced up at 8/1.
If I'm right about their market rivals failing to turn up both will be going off a lot shorter than 8s but I'm not convinced by either horses credentials.
Noel Meade's Monksland was well beaten in third in last year's Neptune and that's by far the most important piece of form in his repertoire as far as the World Hurdle goes.
He looked good over three miles at Leopardstown last time but all his form in Ireland has come on soft ground and he just reminds me of stablemate Pandorama who is top-class at home but has never excelled in the UK.
Reve De Sivola, too, is better with plenty of give in the ground.
He clearly handles heavy turf very well - he won the Grade One Challow Hurdle in similar conditions as a novice - but he's been exposed as a 140s horse several times on better ground.
I thought he was hugely flattered in the Long Walk too. He jumped well but there wasn't another horse anywhere near him throughout and he got the run of the race, Kayf Aramis pulling him away from the main pack allowing Richard Johnson to get a lengthy breather into him.
I think that might be a freak piece of form and I wouldn't be surprised to see SMAD PLACE, a lightly-raced six-year-old who has only had ten starts in the UK, reverse it at the Festival.
Alan King's horse burst onto the World Hurdle scene this time last year with two excellent efforts in Ascot handicaps and he rewarded each-way support at Cheltenham by placing third behind Big Buck's and Voler La Vedette at 20/1.
That's the price you can get about him for this year's renewal, a weaker renewal, and with Big Buck's and Voler La Vedette absent it looks a decent bit of business.
He stayed on well up the hill that day for third and wasn't beaten far, pulling three lengths clear of Thousand Stars and four-and-a-half in front of Oscar Whisky, two potential rivals again this time around.
This campaign he was disappointing on his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby but I thought there was plenty to like about his effort behind Reve De Sivola at Ascot last time.
He travelled well in his customary position towards the back of the main pack and moved through smoothly to challenge before the cannily-ridden Reve De Sivola kicked on again.
The heavy ground magnified Reve De Sivola's dominance that day and back at Cheltenham in better conditions I think we'll get a very different result.
The National Spirit at Fontwell next month is his next port of call and a good effort there will see his World Hurdle odds shorten.
The Cleeve Hurdle, if it beats the weather, will highlight the World Hurdle claims of one but it could end the hopes of several. With that in mind, now seems a good time to take the 20s about Smad Place.