Cheltenham 2016 – World Hurdle Ante Post Preview

Ceebee looks ahead to the World Hurdle and looks for alternatives to Thistlecrack now that Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag are unlikely runners.

I debated whether to write this ante-post or wait until the day. There’s pretty much no more World Hurdle trials so waiting is an option. However I think the Thistlecrack hype is at its highest (more on this below). More of That, Annie Power, Nichols Canyon and Camping Ground are all going to line up elsewhere. You can probably add Vroum Vroum Mag to that list now also. Aux Ptit Soins, Kilcooley, Whisper and Prince of Scars are uncertain to make Cheltenham at all. This race will cut up to leave roughly 12 runners and 7 with a realistic chance. With Non Runner No Net in generally in place it’s worth taking the fancy e/w prices about this duo now.

Martello Tower needs to improve drastically on what he has shown so far this season, but there’s plenty in the form book already to suggest he’s overpriced here at 33/1.

He was late back in this summer and didn’t return to the track until Christmas. Conceding plenty in the fitness stakes he ran well enough when 3rd to Prince of Scars and Alpha des Obeaux. It wasn’t great but it was a funny sort of race in testing conditions. Both Martello and Alpha got into a battle quite early allowing Prince of Scars to swallow them both up late.

He went to Gowran next and clashed with Alpha des Obeaux again. Martello should have been much closer to peak fitness this time around, but he was still found wanting to the tune of 13L. In his defence he was conceding 7lbs to Alpha and MT made a dreadful mistake 4 out. Now Mags Mullins is also telling us he may have needed the run as it is taking her time to get him fit.

Narrowly ahead of MT in Gowran was At Fishers Cross, also receiving 7lbs. He’s an inconsistent sort, but when last seen, he was 4th beaten 7L in the World Hurdle, so it gives the Gowran form a little boost.

At last year’s Festival Martello Tower won the G1 Albert Bartlett hurdle over C&D. Back in 3rd was the now RSA favourite No More Heroes, whilst the 4th home, Arbre de Vie, gave the form a solid look with an unlucky handicap effort at Punchestown next time. Prior to Cheltenham, Martello Tower found only Outlander (receiving 5lbs) too good at Leopardstown. In behind that day were Killultagh Vic, Windsor Park and No More Heroes. The time before this he beat Outlander (receiving 6lbs) over 3miles at Limerick. All the form stacks up as a top class staying novice hurdler. He hasn’t delivered on it yet this year, but perhaps Mags is being 100% honest and he just hasn’t been fit enough to do so.

He will be suited by how the World Hurdle is run. Cole Harden will go a good clip and unlike last year, his rivals will follow him closely. This will ensure a strong end to end gallop and a real proper test of stamina. I fancied MT for this race all season, but having re-watched the Albert Bartlett numerous times I just thought he may be a little slow. He was off the bridle early enough last year but stayed on strongly in teak-tough style. The 2016 World Hurdle should suit these attributes.

Saphir Du Rheu went off favourite for last year’s World Hurdle. He found one horse, Cole Harden, 3L too good for him. Now almost 12mts later despite not winning since, Cole Harden is 12pts shorter in the betting (Saphir won 2 chases). Whilst it was no fluke last year there’s certainly an argument that Cole Harden got the run of the race with an uncontested lead. That won’t happen twice.

I’ve heard (knowledgeable) people dismiss Saphir on the basis of his last effort at Ascot. If you really think finishing behind Deputy Dan and Karezak is as good as he is I worry for you? Paul Nicholls was not happy with him and sent him for a wind-op after that. He’s only 7 yrs old and we all know the possible improvement a wind-op can bring. He’s heading straight to the Festival now.

I thought his Hennessey run before Ascot wasn’t too bad. 3m2f on soft may have been a little further than ideal. He finished 5th off a lofty mark of 163. Trying to concede 8lbs to Smad Place in hindsight looks like some task.

Saphir was a flawless winner of an Aintree G1 Novice Chase after Cheltenham last season. Before Cheltenham he won the G2 Cleeve Hurdle. The same trial Thistlecrack won last weekend. There’s enough form in his book to put him bang there in the World Hurdle again this year. With a favourite I’m eager to take on (more on this below) this fella makes plenty of e/w appeal at 20/1.

Both Martello Tower and Saphir Du Rheu have won 3m hurdle races at Cheltenham. Both have strong festival form and both have Grade 1 form in their locker. Unfortunately both come in off the back of disappointing efforts, but that’s driving the silly prices - just like Cole Harden last yr. Their respective trainers have offered excuses and both are believable, and more importantly, rectifiable by March 17th.

Advised Bets:

1 point each way Martello Tower at 33/1 with William Hill

1 point each way Saphir Du Rheu at 20/1 with Betfred and Totesport

The anti-Thistlecrack piece.

This may not be a very popular view, but he’s 5/4 (evens in a place) so we are entitled to pick holes in his form where possible. I’m not saying he’s useless, far from it. Perhaps just a little overrated with an OR of 168 (high enough to win 2 of the last 3 World Hurdles)

What has he truly beaten? Let’s work backwards from his last outing.

The Cleeve Hurdle fell apart. Camping Ground blatantly didn’t stay, Knockara Beau is no threat as a 13yo and Ptit Zig is a failed chaser with his own stamina question-mark at this trip. Rate the race around the 3rd The Romford Pele. He’s no superstar, he was rated 136 over hurdles and 146 over fences prior to this effort. Yes he was put in his place easily but that wouldn’t be difficult for any 160+ hurdler.

At Ascot, the real coming of age day for Thistlecrack, his main rival Saphir Du Rheu didn’t run his race and has since had a wind operation. Reve de Sivola chased home the favourite instead. He turned 11 2wks later and was beaten off 139 over fences next time out. Ok he’s never made much of a chaser, but he still should’ve made a better impression. Deputy Dan was 3rd but he has shown on more than one occasion that an extended 3mile trip is not for him.

At Newbury Thistlecrack again beat Deputy Dan who didn’t quite get home after travelling well. Cole Harden was 3rd but connections stressed afterwards he wasn’t fit enough for much more. The presence of Aqalim beaten 7L into 4th suggests Cole Harden certainly wasn’t at his best and the form is questionable.

Thistlecrack improved enormously in the spring of his novice campaign. However I always treat wide margin Aintree winners with a degree of caution. Especially those who hadn’t been to Cheltenham. When he was beaten at Punchestown it turned out to be a weak race. Shaneshill didn’t stay and a few of the better Giggi horses didn’t run their races.

So plenty of hope for those backing each way against Thistlecrack.