The staying hurdle division sometimes gets stick for lacking strength in depth, with it perhaps seen as a fall-back for horses too slow for the Champion Hurdle or lacking the scope to jump a fence, however this season’s bunch could yet throw up a cracker at the Festival.
One look at Ladbrokes’ market for the World Hurdle shows that there is plenty of class about the current crop.
Of the top 15 horses in the betting for the three-mile contest, 11 have already tasted success at Grade 1 level.
Granted, it is unlikely that all of them will line up at Prestbury Park come March 17, but there is still time yet for other top-level performers to enter the fray.
Comparing that ratio of proven contenders to recent years paints a picture.
The 2015 running of the race saw nine Grade 1 winners in the 16-strong field, 56 per cent of the line-up, the highest in the last five years.
And with 73 per cent of the top 15 in this season’s market winning at the highest rung of racing it could be a vintage year.
Of course stats and figures don’t maketh a race.
Not only is there quality in the potential field, but the fact that they approach the winter with plenty of variable backgrounds makes it even more intriguing.
At the head of the market you have this year’s winner Cole Harden at 8/1, who stepped up on his previous form when taking the contest in March to land a first Grade 1.
Warren Greatrex’s horse was well-beaten on return to action at Newbury last week, but with better ground can be expected to put up a fight when defending his crown.
His conqueror in the Long Distance Hurdle, Thistlecrack (8/1) already has a novice Grade 1 success to his name, but is yet to win at the very highest level in open company.
Colin Tizzard’s horse looks a star in the making in the staying contests and although is likely to go over fences in future, looks tailor-made for a crack at this race first.
Alongside the aforementioned pair at the top of the betting is Aux Ptis Soins (8/1), another horse that will be seeking a first big win. He was an impressive winner of the Coral Cup on just his first start for Paul Nicholls since arriving from France.
His handler described him as an ‘exciting prospect’ and the 8/1 chance could be open to plenty more improvement in the months to come.
Others that will be looking to step out of novice company are the likes of Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner and runner-up Windsor Park (10/1) and Nichols Canyon (14/1) – though the latter is more likely for the Champion Hurdle – and Albert Bartlett winner Martello Tower (16/1).
Big Buck’s showed in 2009 that just because a horse has embarked on a chasing career doesn’t mean it can’t revert to the smaller obstacles with aplomb.
The great hurdler may be in another league, but the same connections have opted for a similar try with Saphir Du Rheu (10/1) after a disappointing fifth when well fancied for the Hennessy Gold Cup.
Paul Nicholls sees the grey as future Cheltenham Gold Cup horse but opted to aim him at going one better than his second at Cheltenham in this race next time round.
Bobs Worth (25/1) could be another that reverts to the small obstacles with his penchant for jumping a fence seemingly fizzling out.
In truth, there isn’t an easy way to filter horses out of the reckoning based on their back story, with previous winners coming from a variety of angles.
The last two victors were improving second-season hurdlers, while Solwhit (2013) and My Way De Solzen (2006) were both stepping up in trip having both competed at two miles for much of their previous careers.
With Big Buck’s’ final three wins (2010-2012) in the race and Inglis Drever’s second and third successes (2007-2008) proving that class is permanent, there is not always a need to seek out an improving type though, making narrowing down the field all the more tricky.
Separating the contenders will be tough, but one thing is for sure there is nothing weak about this season’s World Hurdle division, and the staying contest promises a fascinating encounter at the Festival.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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