Ante-Post Preview of the World Hurdle and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – In recent years; the highlight of the third day of the Festival has been the World Hurdle and the reappearance of the ‘invincible’ Big Buck’s. Sadly, he suffered an injury at the start of last season which curtailed his campaign. With his first racecourse gallop planned for Exeter on Thursday many will be wondering if the four-times World Hurdle winner retains his ability? With that in mind we take an early look at the World Hurdle markets to uncover any ante-post value.
Despite a 12 month absence Big Buck’s (3/1 Betfred) is the current market favourite for the World Hurdle. He appeared only once last season in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury where he destroyed a small field and won comfortably by nine lengths. Like many of his races over hurdles he travelled with the greatest of ease and simply outclassed his rivals (rivals which included Reve De Sivola who went on to win multiple graded races including the Long Walk Hurdle). A winner of his last 18 stars over hurdles he looked destined to win an unprecedented fifth World Hurdle before his unfortunate injury. Since then he has been in the best of care at Ditcheat and in a recent video for Betfair, cameras were allowed to see Big Buck’s first schooling session since winning at Newbury in 2012. At times a little keen, he jumped well and looked to be really enjoying himself back over hurdles. His chances for Cheltenham glory will rest on both his, and Paul Nicholls’ ability, to rekindle his love for the smaller obstacles. Realistically, it is difficult what to make of his chances considering his time away from a racecourse and his age; however, his trainer boasts a fantastic record with his older horses (Celestial Halo winning the Long Distance Hurdle a fortnight ago at the age of 9), so this horse finds himself in the best of hands and could well pick up where he left off last season.
The markets suggest that his biggest challengers come from the 2013 Albert Bartlett winner, AT FISHERS CROSS (6/1 Coral); and the 2013 World Hurdle winner, Solwhit. The former finished last on his seasonal reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle where he lost out to Celestial Halo. He made numerous jumping errors that day and didn’t look at all like the horse that won so well last season at Cheltenham. Encouragingly though, despite fluffing his lines over many of the hurdles he managed to loom up menacingly in the home straight before his wayward jumping finally took its toll and he made a huge error at the second last. That mistake ended his race and also ended the hopes of the odds-on favourite backers. He reappears this weekend in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot where he is likely to re-oppose his conqueror Celestial Halo. I truly believe that his last race has be ignored as that clearly wasn’t his running and I fully expect him to stamp his authority on Saturday’s field and fully outline his World Hurdle credentials. If any horse is going to have a realistic chance of beating Big Buck’s they will need to travel and jump just as well as the Paul Nicholls superstar. At Fishers Cross showed great potential as a novice last year and could well be the horse to keep on improving this year and pose the biggest threat.
Last year’s World Hurdle winner Solwhit (7/1 Stan James), showed that victory was no fluke as he went on to Aintree and also won the Liverpool Hurdle comprehensively. A 9 year-old who has seemingly thrived since contesting races over 3 miles he is still relatively unexposed and has the potential to continue to improve. Winner of 8 Grade 1’s he certainly is a very smart horse but for me there remains a feeling that despite taking full advantage of Big Buck’s absence, had Big Buck’s contested the same races his ability and class would have proved too stern a test for Solwhit. Time will tell as to his true potential but I wouldn’t be tempted by his price at this moment.
Of the others, Big Buck’s stablemates Celestial Halo (16/1 Stan James) and Zarkandar (8/1 Ladbrokes) are two interesting contenders. The former faces At Fishers Cross this Saturday at Ascot and if he were to beat him for a second time in the space of less than a month the 16/1 odds currently on offer could look very generous. As for Zarkander, he was beaten by The New One in the International over 2m on Saturday and could well have to be stepped up in trip for his next success over hurdles. A definitive battler who always gives it his all, he looks a little short of speed for the Champion Hurdle and could now be campaigned with the World Hurdle as his aim instead.
It would be foolish to back Big Buck’s before his reappearance on a racecourse and after Thursday we should get a much better idea of his general wellbeing. The plan then is to run him in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham on January 25th before aiming him at the World Hurdle at the Festival. I do believe that he will prove a very tough nut to crack if back to his best, but I would be reluctant to back him prior to the run up to the Cleeve Hurdle. Instead I think that the smart bet at this stage would be AT FISHERS CROSS. Providing he has recoverd from his last run I believe that he will go on to win on Saturday and win well! If he does so, then his price will undoubtedly shorten and he could be vying for favouritism for the World Hurdle come Saturday evening.
AT FISHERS CROSS (WIN) (6/1 Coral)
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