Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2015 Preview
In this second of a series of ante-post previews (the first looks at the Gold Cup and can be found here), we take in the World Hurdle.
One of two highlights on Day Three of the Festival, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is the stayers' crown and is run over a leg-loosening three miles.
The favourite this year is last year's winner, More Of That, a horse we've only seen once since, and that when a moderate third of six.
It makes for a wide open betting heat and a very attractive ante-post punting proposition.
Let's start with a bit of historical context, via the...
World Hurdle Trends
As ever, a majority of these trends are courtesy of the excellent horseracebase.com, and cover the 17 renewals since 1997 (no race in 2001 due to foot and mouth).
Age: You have to go back to 1986 to find the last double-digit aged winner of the race, Crimson Embers in fact being the only winner older than nine since the event assumed its current format, replacing the Spa Hurdle, in 1972.
Although those winners since 1997 have comprised 82% of the runners, it does make sense to expect younger legs to prevail given the very strong historical precedent.
Talking of younger legs, while none of the 16 five-year-olds to contest the World Hurdle since 1997 has won, six made the frame, making them the highest place strike rate age group. (The old guard finished out the back on this score, too, with just three of 24 runners hitting the board).
Previous Run: A good run coming into the World Hurdle is a pre-requisite. To that end, ten of the last 17 winners also won last time out, and another five were second the last day. The other two winners in the sample finished third and fourth. To further accentuate the point, only one of the 63 runners to finish outside the top four last time out even made the frame.
Days since last run: Although very few come to the World Hurdle off a layoff greater than three months, none has made the frame since at least 1996. That was from 15 to attempt it. By the same token, the small handful wheeling back within a fortnight are 0 from 7 (one place), and it looks worth arbitrarily eliminating both groups.
Distance Form: Seven winners since 1997 had not previously won at the trip, but six of those were yet to race over the three mile distance. Of the 58 to have previously run over the trip, only one prevailed - Anzum, at 40/1 - and he was backing up a silver medal in the race the previous year. That group of losers includes a 9/4 shot, two at 10/3, and runners at 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 12/1.
The message: don't back a horse that has previously raced at three miles without winning!
Course Form: 15 of the 17 World Hurdle winners since 1997 had previously raced at the track. That's from 184 runners (out of 223) so is about right, i.e. it offers no statistical edge.
Other notes: None of the 56 horses to have raced more than half a dozen times in the past year could win, though seven were placed (14% of the places from 25% of the runners)
One key point with regards to the above: multiple winners have been a feature of the World Hurdle in recent times, meaning stats and trends need to be treated with a bit more caution than normal. Baracouda won twice, Inglis Drever won three times, and Big Buck's won four times, all since 2002. That means there have only been seven different winners of the thirteen World Hurdles since then. Will there be an eighth this time around? Let's delve a little deeper and think on...
Ladbrokes World Hurdle Form Preview
It's probably fair to say that the market is clueless at this stage. Default jolly is last year's clear winner, More Of That, at 7/2. Let's make the (dangerous?) assumption that Annie Power will take in the Mares' Hurdle (actually, I don't think it's dangerous as she looked a non-stayer in this, and would surely be a penalty kick if lining up sound in the shorter girls only race).
Looking at last year's result, Annie Power was a length and a half second, with five more back to At Fisher's Cross in third. Zarkandar was another two away in fourth, and it was five and more back to the rest. Let's start with some eliminations, then.
Annie Power, as I've said, is likely to go the shorter route and that's even if she's fit in time. She had an operation in late November, and though back in riding work, she has a lot on to make this gig. I'll take the chance and exclude her.
Zarkandar is another I'm happy to overlook. He's still a relatively young horse aged eight, but he just doesn't seem to be able to finish his races at the top level in Britain. True, he's won a three mile Grade 1 in France, but that was on a pan flat track, and where he may have got the run of the race (French favourite Gemix ran a stone below his best).
More pertinently, he should have won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot recently but was out-battled by Reve De Sivola, a useful but far from top notch stayer these days (25/1 in most lists for the World Hurdle). Further, he could only finish fourth of seven in the Aintree Stayers' Hurdle last April (though that may have been 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' of Cheltenham).
In five races at three miles or beyond, he's won just one, and that was run to suit. I'm happy to believe he will be outstayed by at least one other, though which other remains a tough question to answer. At 8/1, he's not for me, in any case.
Further back in the 2014 World Hurdle were Rule The World, Medinas, Reve De Sivola, and Salubrious. Rule The World and Salubrious have gone chasing, and the other pair look to need soft underfoot to have any chance. Besides which, Reve De Sivola is ten now, and we know that makes things tough. Medinas has not even been entered.
At Fisher's Cross is harder to discount, partly because of his price (25/1), partly because he is a Festival winner, partly because he was third in this last year, and partly because he has credible excuses for two ostensibly poor runs this season.
A little more detail around AFC. Winner of the Albert Bartlett in 2013, he went on to double up in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree a month later. In eight runs since, he's been winless. But that winless streak includes a sequence of three runs last term with a back problem (you need to watch those races to wonder at how he even finished two of them), a bronze in last year's World Hurdle, a silver in the Aintree equivalent, and a bronze in the Punchestown equivalent.
Not only did he take in a lot of Championship racing, but he acquitted himself well throughout. This season, in two starts to date, he was third of three in a Wetherby Grade 2 on ground that would have been quick enough; and he was seven lengths fourth of eight in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The thing is that Rebecca Curtis's horses were in pretty poor form for the first of those runs, and the second was actually quite a good effort. Obviously, the World Hurdle is the target and, if Curtis can maintain the better form her stable is currently in, AFC is over-priced, as an each way option at least.
So that's last year's World Hurdle line up, but what of the many other potential runners in this year's renewal? The squad is headed by Saphir du Rheu, Paul Nicholls' smart hurdler cum failed chaser. In fact, this season, SdR has had three fencing starts, sandwiching a bloodless win between two jumping errors that led to non-completions.
So we go back to last season and a trio of victories, two in Class 2 events, for form clues. He was clearly progressive, and that was best evidenced by a narrow defeat of Whisper, a horse who went on to win the Coral Cup under a big weight and the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle at Aintree, beating At Fisher's Cross et al.
Saphir was giving six pounds to Whisper that day when jockey Harry Derham's claim is accounted for, but it must be said that the runner up there has progressed by more than a stone since. He too may come back to hurdling after a less than spectacular chasing debut - more of that in a minute.
If Saphir Du Rheu can maintain his progressive profile reverting to hurdling, then he has a chance, for sure. But he's priced as though that's a given and, for me, it isn't. It will be instructive to see where, if anywhere, he heads before the Festival.
At 10/1, we have Lieutenant Colonel, a horse that has improved into a dual Grade 1 winner since stepping up in trip. He's beaten the reliable if ten-year-old yardstick, Jetson, on both occasions, and he's done it on ground on the easy side of good. That's the niggle for me about this otherwise likable proposition: in three runs where the going had the word 'good' in it, he's been beaten all three times.
Now, true, two of those were against Vautour, and the other was behind Faugheen (and five others) in the Neptune, so they could be excused. But, with the likelihood of top of the ground in March, he might just be outkicked in the finish. That is also assuming he's not outstayed: his damsire was a sprinter, and it was a steadily run three miler in which he prevailed the last day. Again, there are enough doubts to swerve at the price when there are bigger offers elsewhere in an open race.
Beat That is an interesting contender. Prior to his last day defeat, he'd won back to back Grade 1 staying novice hurdles, at Aintree and Punchestown's Festival meetings. Dropping back in trip and on his first start since May, he was outpaced and, ultimately, disappointing behind Rock On Ruby at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
But he is sure to come on for that run, and his overall form profile - as well as breeding - suggests he needs three miles in a true run race. He'll get that, and I think he's worth a dart at 12/1 NRNB.
Rock On Ruby by contrast, as admirable a lad as he unquestionably is, cannot be bet. He's now ten, and that's probably too old. More pertinently, he may need to use his pensioner's bus pass to stay this far. Despite him being eminently lovable, he's not for me in this one. Not at all.
Into the realms of the 16/1 shots now, and a pair of Irish horses returning from injury. First, Briar Hill, winner of the Champion Bumper in 2013, and a faller when only 2/1 to win the Albert Bartlett last term. Since then he's had just one run, when drifting in the betting as though a leg had come unstuck, and running similarly, trailing in eighth and last. He has an entry in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thursday, and we'll know more should he take up that option.
We'll know still more if the other sick bay returnee, Monksland, also assumes his place in the Galmoy line up. Despite being off for two years to the day prior to facing the starter in the Christmas Hurdle, he finished a mighty fine third to Lieutenant Colonel, beaten less than six lengths. If that race hasn't left its mark, he ought to be favourite for the Galmoy, and if he wins that, he'll be a good bit shorter than 16's for the World Hurdle. This is a horse that was previously third in Simonsig's Neptune (2012), to remind you, and he's still only eight.
It's 20/1 bar those and, before picking anything relevant from that mob, it is high time we returned to the jolly. More Of That looked a monster while running up a sequence of five straight career wins, culminating in World Hurdle glory last March on his first attempt at three miles.
We've seen him just once since then, when a tame-finishing third of six, some 25 lengths behind Medinas. There's little doubt More Of That was 'under cooked' that day. Equally, there's little doubt it was a hugely disappointing run.
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill's stable were under a terrible cloud at the time, and have returned to form more recently, gives credence to the prospect of More Of That improving out of all recognition against that last day effort. That, naturally, is something he'd need to do, and the evidence of one poor run is a concern but far from a knockout blow. Still, I'd rather have a saver on him at shorter, having seen more evidence of his former self, than back him at 7/2 on something of a wing and a prayer.
To be clear, there is nothing in the field that has run to the level of More Of That's World Hurdle win, with the exception of Rock On Ruby (at two miles, two years ago).
Back to the longer shots, and there is one more I reckon that is worth a mention. Blue Fashion may well not run, so non-runner no bet is a must. If he does line up, however, he's a really interesting player who could have a fair bit more to come.
Bought from France in Summer 2013, he's had just the two UK runs, spaced a year apart. On the first of the pair, he ran a two length second in a two and half mile Haydock handicap hurdle, to... More Of That. It should be noted that he was spotting the subsequent World Hurdle winner six pounds, making him theoretically the best horse in the race that day.
Then, in November 2014, he ran just under four lengths second, to... Faugheen! The rest - of an admittedly sub-standard bunch, the third notwithstanding - were five lengths and more back, and Blue Fashion looks a horse capable of outrunning both his odds and his current rating of 152 if allowed to take his chance.
The rest probably need to take a huge step forward to figure.
World Hurdle 2015 Tips
Barring the jolly, it looks a wide open betting heat with a number of horses capable of stepping forward on their existing level of form. There are also plenty who could 'steal' a sub-par renewal.
I do fear the favourite, More Of That, but he can't be bet at 7/2 on what we've seen this season, so I'm happy enough to throw a couple of longer-priced darts, win only and non-runner no bet.
Regular readers will know I've already backed Whisper at 16/1 non-runner money back. The shrewdness of that call is best illustrated by the 20/1 currently available! Nevertheless, on form, he's closely matched with Saphir Du Rheu who is half Whisper's odds.
There's a fair chance Whisper won't wun in the World, but if he does, he's no 20/1 poke. If he doesn't, you'll get your cash back if you wager with totesport or Betfred.
From the same stable, I also like Beat That, who is a lot better than he showed last time over an inadequate trip. Hendo will be desperate to get him to the start in top form for his old mate, Michael Buckley, and he has less to find than most in the field. 12/1 looks a smidge of value.
And, remarkably, from the same Seven Barrows barn for a third time, Blue Fashion is over-priced at 20/1 with the non runner concession. He had smart form in France, and his two runs in Britain have been admirable in defeat. He ought to have plenty of scope to step forward, and it would not take the biggest of strides to place him right in the World Hurdle mix.
Henderson's record in the race is unspectacular, but he did win it in 2000 with Bacchanal, and he's not had too many with genuine chances - Punchestowns aside - in the intervening period.
Away from Chez Nicky, I have to give a shout for At Fisher's Cross. I'll probably back him on the day, because I can't see his price changing that much between now and then, but he does have a case to be made and I think 25/1 is quite a bit too big.
2 pts Beat That 12/1 Paddy Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Whisper 20/1 totesport/Betfred Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Blue Fashion 20/1 Skybet/Paddy Non-Runner No Bet