This Saturday promises to be an informative weekend looking forward to the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. With the current ante-post favourite; Big Buck’s, having worked well at Exeter on Thursday, plenty of his market rivals will want to stake their own claims for Festival glory when they clash in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. Here are my thoughts on the 3m1f Grade 1 Hurdle event.
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The race favourite is the Rebecca Curtis trained AT FISHERS CROSS (11/10 Coral). Unbeaten as a staying novice over hurdles last year, this horse won both the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle and the Sefton Novices Hurdle Grade 1’s with relative ease and looked to all the world to have every chance of continuing that run and remaining unbeaten this season. Unfortunately, the horse was uncharacteristically sloppy in the jumping department on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury and finished some 22 lengths behind Celestial Halo who re-opposes today. Barry Geraghty took the ride for the first time but was unable to get him hurdling with any really fluency at any point and in all honesty it was a surprise to see him still in contention coming down the home straight. He fluffed the second last and we will never know if he would have been able to beat Celestial Halo despite the jockey’s claims that he had the measure of the Paul Nicholls horse. After reviewing that race I was adamant that it was too poor a run to be true and that we shouldn’t be too quick to judge this horse. It is unimaginable to think that he has regressed from the fantastic horse he was last year and I expect that on Saturday we will see him back to something near his best.
Celestial Halo (9/4 bet365) beat the aforementioned horse at Newbury with the added burden of extra weight. They clash off level weights this time and the 9 year-old veteran will be looking to prove he is a worthy Cheltenham contender alongside his owner’s other star, the legendary Big Buck’s. Always a consistent, if not spectacular horse, Celestial Halo has contested Graded races for over 6 years now and looks set to continue with his trainer having a fantastic record with his older horses. Despite finishing placed in variety of top quality races over 2m, Celestial Halo has always looked best over staying trips and with the absence of Big Buck’s in last year’s World Hurdle, this horse put up a gallant show and finished a good second. His victory in the Long Distance Hurdle three weeks ago was impressive as he jumped and travelled well out in front where he was able to control the race. Considering he accounted for half the runners in this field last time out, connections will be optimistic that he can put up another bold show and go close.
Third in the betting comes Reve De Sivola (6/1 Betfred), a horse who thrives in testing conditions where the emphasis is on stamina. Winner of this race last year, when run on desperate ground, he destroyed his field before going on to win the Cleeve Hurdle in similarly testing conditions. Arguably, in both races he didn't face the strongest of opposition but nonetheless, the way in which he deals with heavy ground in particular is a great attribute. This race is going to be far more difficult and I think it would be asking a lot of the horse to turn round a 17 length beating by Celestial Halo let alone to fend off the challenge of a fully primed At Fishers Cross. His chances are more positive depending on the state of the ground and he could well pose a danger if there is continued heavy rainfall.
Of the others, Salubrious (14/1 Stan James) ran well a week ago where he was well held by the progressive Jonjo O’Neill runner, More Of That. Clearly that horse has a lot of class as he’s still unbeaten over hurdles and could well be an outside contender for the World Hurdle. In terms of Salubrious he has at least 7lbs to find with the principles and that might be asking a lot, especially after coming from a hard race at Cheltenham a week ago and encountering testing ground at Ascot.
The other two that make up the field are Time For Rupert (16/1 BetVictor) and Tweedledrum (150/1 Coral). The former has some strong form over the larger obstacles but at the age of 9 and back over hurdles for the first time in 3 years he may well lack the speed necessary to have a say in the finish. Tweedledrum has a massive task at the weights and can duly be written off having only ever dealt with handicap company.
A lot will depend on the weather as is the norm for this time of year. The three horses at the head of the market all go on testing ground with Reve De Sivola the genuine heavy ground specialist out of the three. Unless the ground becomes completely abysmal I’m more than happy to put my faith in AT FISHERS CROSS once more. For me the last run should be ignored and any price above evens looks to be good value. He may well face stiff opposition, especially in the form of Celestial Halo, but he showed his quality and his class last year and if he repeats that form he is the one they all have to beat. From what we have seen in the last few years, age is certainly no barrier to success but I expect the young second season hurdler to have too much class for his rivals and I expect him to win and win well!
AT FISHERS CROSS (11/10 Coral)
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