The Ladbrokes World Hurdle looks to be a wide-open race this year. Annie Power is rumoured to be heading to the Mares Hurdle, while defending champion More Of That is a non-runner.
Thanks to those developments, and a late change of plans for one of his own horses, Paul Nicholls finds himself with the two leading players in the ante-post betting for Thursday’s showpiece.
The sponsor can’t separate Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu, tying the pair at odds of 4/1 to hand Nicholls a first taste of World Hurdle success since Big Buck’s was a dominant winner between 2009 and 2012.
Like the imposing Big Buck’s, Saphir Du Rheu went chasing at the start of this season, but found it tough going.
After unseating Sam Twiston-Davies at Newbury on his debut over fences, he won at Exeter. However, a fall at Kempton on Boxing Day convinced Nicholls to switch the six-year-old back to the smaller obstacles.
Running on strongly to win the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham last time out, beating fellow World Hurdle entrants Un Temps Pour Tout, Reve De Sivola and Cole Harden, the 165-rated gelding earns favouritism at Prestbury Park.
Interestingly, it’s Saphir Du Rheu that Twiston-Davies has picked to ride, with Zarkandar likely to be mounted by Noel Fehily despite the latter’s superior course form.
The French Champion Hurdle victor has only been outside the first four once in seven runs at the course. A four-run span without victory blotches that copy book somewhat though.
Reve De Sivola bested Zarkandar in the eight-year-old’s last start, giving the edge to Saphir Du Rheu in the pair’s tale of the tape, but it is that French win that propels the former Triumph Hurdle champion to the head of the betting.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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