The World Hurdle, dear reader, is the leading staying hurdle race in Europe, and is run on the Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival over a trip of three miles and two furlongs.
Formerly known as the Stayers' Hurdle, for obvious reasons, the race has a very high class role of honour, with Big Buck's prevailing last year. I've taken my customary ante-post trends look of the race, with a view to finding some value in the betting.
So, let's take a look at the trends...
|Year||Winner||Best to End Dec||Best Prev Year|
|2009||Big Buck's||1st Cl2 Hcap Hdle||1st G2 Nov Chs|
|2008||Inglis Drever||1st G2 Long Distance H||1st World Hurdle|
|2007||Inglis Drever||1st G2 Long Distance H||1st G2 Long Distance H|
|2006||My Way De Solzen||1st G1 Long Walk H||2nd Aintree G2 H|
|2005||Inglis Drever||2nd G1 Fighting Fifth H||1st 2xG2 Nov H|
|2004||Iris's Gift||No run in season||2nd World Hurdle|
|2003||Baracouda||2nd G1 Long Walk H||1st World Hurdle|
|2002||Baracouda||1st G1 Long Walk H||1st Sandown G1 H|
|2001||No race||No race||No race|
|2000||Bacchanal||1st G2 Gerry Feilden H||1st Cl2 Nov H|
|2006||My Way De Solzen||157||6||8.00||UK|
Here's what we can note from those past nine runnings. Firstly, the age range is 6-9 years old, with the average being 7. However, factor into this the fact that only the exceptional pair of Baracouda and Inglis Drever have triumphed aged 8+, and you're probably looking for a 6yo or an exceptional horse.
Baracouda didn't have a British handicap rating, but the other seven winners ranged from 157 to 172, with the average smack bang in the middle at 164. I'd be reluctant to consider anything rated lower than 157.
The World Hurdle is not a race won by outsiders in recent years. The array of starting prices has ranged from 11/8 to just 8/1, with the average being around 7/2.
Seven of the last nine winners had won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race, or finished second in a Grade 1, by the end of December in their World Hurdle-winning season.
Moreover, eight of nine winners had finished either first or second in a Grade 1 or 2 race the previous season. So we're not looking for something to suddenly arrive on the scene here.
The key races are the Long Walk and the Long Distance Hurdle - five of the last nine winners took either a gold or silver medal in one or other of these two contests.
Finally, aside from Baracouda's two triumphs from a base in France, all the other seven winners were UK-trained. Indeed, Ireland has not won the Stayers Hurdle since the beloved Dorans Pride way back in 1995.
So, what does that mean in the context of this season's contenders?
|Odds||Winner||Best to End Dec||Best Prev Year|
|4/6||Big Buck's||1st Long Dist /Long Wlk||1st World Hurdle|
|10/1||Karabak||2nd Long Walk||2nd G1 Nov H (Chelt)|
|12/1||Diamond Harry||3rd Long Walk||1st G1|
|16/1||Sentry Duty||1st Cl2 Chelt H (1/1/10)||1st Listed H'cap H|
|25/1||Lie Forrit||1st Listed H'cap H||1st Cl4 Nov H|
|25/1||Katchit||2nd Cl2 Chelt H (1/1/10)||6th Champion Hurdle|
|25/1||Mr Thriller||1st Listed H'cap H||6th G3 Fred Winter|
|33/1||Powerstation||1st G2 Hurdle||3rd World Hurdle|
|33/1||Whiteoak||1st Listed H'cap H||2nd G2|
|33/1||Mighty Man||1st Cl3 Nov Chase||5th World Hurdle|
|33/1||Time For Rupert||1st cl2 H'cap H (Chelt)||1st Listed H'cap H|
|33/1||Fair Along||1st G2 Hurdle||3rdx2 G2 (Chelt/Ain)|
|33/1||Cousin Vinny||2nd Nov Chase||2nd G1 Hurdle (Punch)|
|Odds||Winner||OR||Age||1-2 G1, 1 G2?||1-2 G1/2 last yr?||Train?|
|33/1||Time For Rupert||145||6||No||No||UK|
What is striking is that Big Buck's looks an absolute cast iron, rock solid, nailed on, lay down, certainty!
Winner of BOTH the key prep races; rated at the top end of the ratings bracket; the prime age; winner of Grade 1's in both of the last two seasons (including this race last year - repeat wins are a feature of the World Hurdle roll of honour); and trained in the UK by the Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls.
It's not often you'll read an odds-on tip from me, but on all known form, Big Buck's should probably be around a 1/3 shot (and may be on the day!).
He is highly likely to win, and there's nothing in the field with even a remotely challenging profile. However, let's take a squint at the remainder and see where the most likely place players come from.
Firstly, I'm massively against Sentry Duty, who has a cross in just about every trend box. According to history, he cannot possibly win.
Karabak is second in the betting, and got closest to Big Buck's last time in the Long Walk. He is rated 163 after that run, which puts him on the average. He'll be ridden by a certain AP McCoy, and has ticks in the other boxes. Although I cannot see him beating Big Buck's, he is definitely the most worthy opponent, and has Cheltenham form with a win and second (in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March) to his name from two tries. 10/1 each way looks very fair. (Stop press: since I researched this article last week, he's been backed into a best price 7/1 - less tempting but still reasonable value).
Diamond Harry has the same rating as Karabak, but looks to me like a horse who can bully lesser horses, but just finds it a little tough at the very top level.
Of the remainder, it's hard to make a robust case for any of them. Two who might give runs for a small speculative each way tickle are Katchit and Powerstation.
Katchit won the Champion Hurdle just two seasons ago, and was only beaten less than six lengths in last year's renewal. Forget his 2nd to Sentry Duty in a farcical three runner race last time. He'll finish in front of that one in March, if he takes the World Hurdle route.
Indeed, Katchit's record at Cheltenham is exemplary: FIVE wins (including the Triumph and Champion Hurdles), two second places, and that sixth in last season's Champion Hurdle.
The other wildman's poke at the race is Powerstation. He's ten now, which is waaaaay too old to be seriously entertained as the winner of the race... And yet, he was nine last season when finishing a meritorious third. He's unlikely to be getting any quicker, but he's probably going to run his race and looks good for the first five. It's around 8/1 he makes the first three, so on that basis he might reward a small place investment.
So that's it. To my eye, the most 'open and shut' case of the entire Cheltenham Festival. If he turns up on the day fit and well, it's Big Buck's bar a fall. Like I say, not an inspirational selection, but the profile of this horse is the very epitome of what you'd be looking for in a World Hurdle contender. If you've got big balls, you could do worse than go 'all in' on Big Buck's!
Selection: Big Buck's
Best Each Way: Karabak
Best Outsider: Katchit
What do you think? Can anything get close to Big Buck's? Leave a comment below with your take on the race.