Commanding victories in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury and the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot have resulted in Thistlecrack being pushed into a price as short as 5/2 for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
As impressive as his seasonal victories have been, doubts remain over how well he will cope with a more undulating track like Cheltenham and the uphill finish that will greet all runners in the World Hurdle.
After all, Thistlecrack did finish seventh on his only previous run at the track.
A muddling picture is painted further back in the betting, with no obvious cast of challengers to the favourite. Annie Power is likely to win the Mares’ Hurdle at a canter, Cole Harden has been below his best this season and Vroom Vroom Mag has other likely engagements.
This does look a race where horses at a crossroads in their careers could at worst finish among the places, whether they are stepped up in trip from shorter hurdles races or they return to the smaller obstacles after poor chasing results.
Here are three horses that could make the World Hurdle frame if connections decide to give them a shot.
The New One
After being emphatically put in his place by Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day, it seems a waste of time to persist with running The New One over 2m.
Considering he is out of King’s Theatre and sprinted up the hill impressively when winning the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle over 2m5f at the 2013 Festival, there is no reason to believe that The New One won’t stay 3m.
Good performances from this former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner have been in short supply in the past two years, except for when triumphing in the Betfred Hurdle at Aintree earlier this season as the rank outsider in the field.
This remains Bobs Worth’s only hurdles outing since winning the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle over 3m at the 2011 Festival and it seems fairly clear now that the 10-year-old will no longer be competitive in the leading chase contests.
Willie Mullins has at least half a dozen talented darts he could throw at the World Hurdle, but for whatever reason it remains a Cheltenham race that he doesn’t seem to take that seriously compared to others.
In fact, Irish trainers in general prefer to send their best stamina-full novice hurdlers chasing, rather than targeting them at the World Hurdle prize.
One potential superstar that has stuck to the smaller obstacles is Briar Hill, who has only run three times since falling when favourite for the Albert Bartlett at the 2014 Festival.
He has since taken a heavy fall again when last seen in February, where at the time Mullins was talking him up as a live World Hurdle challenger.
Assuming he has recovered confidence from that fall, he will only be eight by the time of the next Festival and remains a horse that is likely that we are still to see the best of.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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