Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Preview, Trends, Tips
With the sad defection of Big Buck's due to injury, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle has become one of the most interesting betting races of the entire 2013 Cheltenham Festival.
The top of the ante-post market is dominated by horses which may or may not run in this race, and that has to open up the prospect of value elsewhere in the bookmakers' lists. Let's start, as tradition dictates, with the trends for the World Hurdle, before looking at the current levels of form for the main contenders, and then finally I'll offer a World Hurdle tip or two. OK?
Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Trends
The first thing to say is that the winner's roster for this race has featured numerous multiple winners. This is mainly because the staying hurdling crown has historically been one of the less sought after prizes at the meeting, with a perception (not wholly unjustified) that this is a place for slow hurdlers and failed chasers. Even the mighty Big Buck's himself would not have taken this route if it wasn't for some shoddy fencing in the Hennessy Gold Cup of 2008.
Nevertheless, it's hardly a bad race, and with the way clear of previous victors, it's a wide open punting affair, with bookies offering 7/1 the field!
Age: Every single winner bar one since 1972 has been aged six to nine. If you like a horse older or younger than that bracket, history is avalanching against you. Indeed, the only nine year olds to win since Gaye Chance in 1984 were repeat winners. In that context, and with no repeat contender this time, I'm inclined to side with those aged six to eight.
That would count against any of Tidal Bay, Solwhit, Quevega and Thousand Stars, who might line up here.
Last time out: All bar two of the World Hurdle winners since Nomadic Way in 1992 finished in the first two on their prior start. As I write (23rd January), there's a good chance of many of the contenders having another run before the Festival. Proceed with caution if they fail to register a gold or silver finish, irrespective of the ground conditions. History is against such beasts.
Indeed, even 40/1 Anzum matched this requirement. (Actually, he was probably one of the biggest 'gimme's' in the history of Cheltenham: second in the race the year before, right age, second last time, and went on the ground. 40/1!!!)
Official rating: Although four of the last fifteen winners were unrated, all bar one of those with a mark were rated 157+. That excludes a lot of potential runners this term and, even in what may turn out to be a moderate renewal, it's hard to fancy the likes of Oscara Dara and Coneygree on what they've done so far, in that context.
Days since a run: Cyborgo in 1996 was the last horse to have been off the track for longer than ninety days prior to winning the World Hurdle. In what was a brilliant training performance, he was having his first run since finishing second in the previous year's running of what was known then as the Stayers' Hurdle.
At this stage, those who need to race soon in order to defy this negative omen are Quevega (though she has an exceptional record fresh, and I wouldn't eliminate her solely on this basis. Saying that, she is also older than ideal); Peddlers Cross (entered on Saturday, but not run since the last Cheltenham Festival); Rite Of Passage (also goes well fresh, but not as reliably as Quevega); and, Wonderful Charm (who is a five year old, in any case).
Class: Nine of the last sixteen winners had previously won a Grade 1 hurdle. Of the other seven, five had won a Grade 2; and five (overlapping but not the same five) had placed second in a Grade 1.
If your fancy hasn't won or run second in a Grade 1 hurdle, it's going to struggle here.
Track form: Thirteen of the last fifteen World Hurdle winners had at least placed previously at Cheltenham. The two exceptions were My Way de Solzen, who ran down the field in the Supreme, but went on to win twice more at the track; and Baracouda, the crack Frenchie, who was having his first sight of the Festival course.
If you like one without a course placing, you're probably barking up the wrong birch.
Form: Fourteen of the last fifteen - exception being Anzum - had won one of their last three starts. Anzum had finished second (and was second in the previous World Hurdle) last time. Although most of the main contenders sail through this, there are a few highly rated horses - Peddlers Cross, Celestial Halo, Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here - who have two strikes to their name and would be a wobbler if losing again before tapes up in March.
Distance: The last fifteen Ladbrokes World Hurdle winners have included ten three mile winners. Of the five who had failed to get their nose in front over the World Hurdle distance, all were unexposed at greater than two and a half miles (four had won from a handful of tries at 2m5f or 2m6f, and Bacchanal was a neck second due to a bad last flight blunder on his only try at 2m6f).
Look for either proven three mile stamina, or a strong indication that three miles is within the horse's range.
World Hurdle Trends Summary: On the basis of recent history, the ideal profile for a World Hurdle winner is a horse aged six to eight; with a run in the three months prior to mid-March; a win in its last three starts (and first or second last time); Grade 1 winner or second place already in the book; placed form at Cheltenham already; officially rated 157+ (or no rating); and, either proven at the trip or unexposed at slightly shorter.
That gives me a shortlist of Oscar Whisky, Monksland, Reve De Sivola, and Get Me Out Of Here (needs a 1-2 finish in Betfair Hurdle on 9th February).
Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Form
The trends are instructive and probably point us well on the way towards the winner. However, this year does look 'non-standard' in a number of respects:
Firstly, the enormously dominant staying hurdler of the past four years will not be competing. His record casts a shadow over plenty of contenders whose Grade 1 second places may well have been first places, were it not for the brutish Big Buck's.
Secondly, the state of the ground for the entire National Hunt season proper has been soft to boggy, and there's no guarantee that Cheltenham will ride so in middle March.
Thirdly, a few of the main form contenders may well take in other races. This means we have to play the non-runner no/free bet (NRNB/NRFB) card, and we may want to take a punt on a big priced horse in the hope that a) it runs, and b) some of the big guns don't!
With that in mind, let's review the current form in the book...
Favourite in most lists is Quevega, despite the fact that she is almost certainly headed for the Mares' Hurdle, a race she's won for the past four years. It is possible that she could take in both races but, given that the Mares' race comes on the Tuesday and the World Hurdle on the Thursday, there's very little recuperation time. She surely couldn't be much shorter even if winning the first named. No, no, no. Not even with non-runner no bet.
Next in is Oscar Whisky. I love this horse. I've lost plenty on him, generally because he goes for different races than I believe he should, but it's impossible for me not to feel affection for such a high class trier as him. He might still go for the Champion Hurdle, and I've backed him for that. But if he turns up here, ignore his poor show last term, and keep him in your wagering thoughts.
Put simply, he's a winning machine, especially on deeper ground. If it comes up soft or worse, I think he'll cruise round and win. On soft or softer ground, his record is 11111, including two Grade 2 contests at the intermediate distances.
He's a dual Grade 1 winner, acts on good (but I think better on soft), and - despite the majority saying he 'flopped' - he was only beaten thirteen lengths in last year's World Hurdle. The first two from that renewal won't run, meaning that Smad Place is the one to beat from last year. I'd bet OW over SP any and every day.
Monksland comes next in the bookie odds at around 8/1, and Noel Meade's second season hurdler has consistent high class form, including when third in last year's Neptune Hurdle at the Festival, when second in a Grade 1 over an inadequate trip, and when winning a three mile Grade 2 last time.
Although it was behind a very high class horse in Simonsig, that Neptune bronze was fairly distant, and was on the fastest ground he's encountered (except for when he ran out on even faster ground in a point-to-point). As such, I suspect he's ground dependant and wants it softish. On form, he has a bit to find with Oscar Whisky, but then so do the rest. And, with improvement likely after just six hurdle starts, he could make the frame though is not too tempting a proposition at the current odds.
We then come to the trio of Tidal Bay, Reve De Sivola, and Peddlers Cross, all at around the 10/1 mark. Tidal Bay will surely go for the Gold Cup, is surely too old, and surely flatters to deceive too often (despite a 'fell in his lap' win in the Lexus Chase last time).
Peddlers Cross hasn't run since bring royally tonked in the Jewson last term. In truth, chasing didn't look natural to him but, that defence aside, there has to be a serious stamina reservation about him staying three miles. He's not won beyond two miles five furlongs, and he's taking in a jumpers' bumper on Friday (25th) rather than the Champion Hurdle Trial, for which he was also entered, on Saturday.
I'm not sure where they're going with him, but it will probably be a shorter trip than the World Hurdle. No thanks, not even with NRNB.
Which brings me to Reve De Sivola. This chap stays. And he goes on any ground. And he's quite high class. He has an entry in the Cleeve Hurdle and seems sure to run well on the prevailing soft turf. In his last five hurdle starts, his form is 12121, a string which includes three Grade 1 successes.
He is perhaps the archetypal example of the failed chaser reverting to staying hurdles (if Big Buck's is not), and I think he's a decent bet for the race.
I'm not really interested in Rite Of Passage, who is older than optimal and has a layoff to overcome; nor do I like Solwhit or Thousand Stars, both of whom are probably better at two and a half miles. Of this trio of Irish nags, Thousand Stars is comfortably the most appealing.
Further down the lists, and into the realms of the speculative, cases of sorts could be made for Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here, Kauto Stone, and Lovcen.
Smad Place was, as I've alluded to, third in last year's World Hurdle. He's very consistent, having been 1-2-3 in nine of his eleven completed hurdle starts. He does seem to have a preference for decent ground and, if it were to firm up a bit between now and seven weeks hence, he'd have place prospects again at around the 20/1 mark.
Get Me Out Of Here is one of the more interesting runners in the race. His Cheltenham record of 26222 marks him down as a one-pacer, but that's harsh. It's fairer to highlight the merit of some of those runs: just failed behind Menorah in the 2010 Supreme Novices Hurdle; mugged on the line in the County Hurdle, carrying 11-7; less than two lengths behind Oscar Whisky in the Relkeel Hurdle; and, second in the Coral Cup lugging top weight of 11-12.
Those are all excellent efforts, and the last two were over two miles and five furlongs. He's a horse at his best on better ground - though he has won on softer - and if he takes the World Hurdle route from a range of options, he could run a fine race on decent ground. Non-runner free/no bet the way forward here, for sure, at around 16/1.
Kauto Stone was last seen when duffed up in the King George at Kempton. Before that, he'd won a weakish Grade 1 chase at Down Royal. All his hurdling form is over shorter trips, but he might stay all right now he's a year and a bit older. Certainly, his stable has to find a successor to Big Buck's, irrespective of whether he returns next season or not, and this chap might match up to the part.
Certainly, French bred horses have done well in this race in recent times, having won seven of the last eleven, and been second in the other four. Kauto Stone is in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday, and that race looks like being instructive with a view to the World Hurdle over (approximately) the same course and distance.
He's the sort to shorten if running well at the weekend, and may appeal to the traders amongst you as a back to lay opportunity.
And finally, Lovcen is a bit of a forgotten horse. Ostensibly for good reason, after four poor runs this term. But, look more closely and you'll note that he was seriously disadvantaged by a pathological dislike of both mud and fences. See that failed chaser theme emerging once more?
Anyway, if you can legitimately excuse a horse a poor run (or a sequence of them), then you can find value, based on the inherent recency bias which afflicts all betting markets (due mainly to the fact that they are closely aligned to weight of money, and human nature is such that we place most weight on what happened most recently, irrespective of the 'bigger picture').
Anyway anyway, all that blah-blah pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo is long hand for me thinking Lovcen has a chance at a big price. He wasn't the most fluent hurdler historically, so it's little surprise that he hated steeplechasing. But he's a Grade 1 winner over the smaller obstacles on good ground, and was doing his best work at the end of the potato race (Albert Bartlett) at last year's Festival.
In short, back over hurdles and on better ground, he can be expected to run a much improved race at a big price. That big price is 66/1 non runner free bet, with BetVictor.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Tips
So those are the trends and form pointers, such as they are to date. But where does that leave us in terms of finding a bet? Well, the horses which interest me at the prices are Oscar Whisky win only at 6/1 Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); Reve De Sivola, win only, who is highly likely to run in this, at 8/1 (Boyle, PP, Lads); and, for those of you who like to tilt at windmills, Get Me Out Of Here at 16/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); and, Lovcen at 66/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor).
Those of you of a trading bent might like to take a back-to-lay chance on Kauto Stone, who will definitely shorten from current odds around 25/1 if running well in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday.
Oscar Whisky 6/1 BetVictor NRFB
Reve De Sivola 8/1 Boylesports, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes
Each Way Alternatives
Get Me Out Of Here 16/1 BetVictor NRFB
Lovcen 66/1 BetVictor NRFB
NB: BetVictor's offer, unsurprisingly, has a few terms, the most high profile of which is probably that there is a £100 cap per race. You can review full chapter and verse here.