January 27, 2014 Leave a comment
When Sam Twiston-Davies glanced behind him as he eased Big Buck’s to the front turning for home in the Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham’s Trials Day at the weekend, it appeared that the staying sensation was going to record a victory on his return to racing following a near fourteen month absence and a 19th consecutive win. However, the four-times Ladbrokes World Hurdle winner was swamped by 66/1 outsider Knockara Beau in the final furlong in what was one of the biggest shocks seen at the Gloucestershire track in recent years as Big Buck’s slipped back into third place up the hill.
Although a deathly silence spread around Prestbury Park following the defeat of the Ditcheat stable star, it was Paul Nicholls who was first to announce his joy of Big Buck’s run and that he would return considerably fitter for a tilt at a fifth World Hurdle title when he’s next seen in March and the 11-year-old is certainly the one to beat on day three of the Festival according to the bookmakers with the reaction following Saturday’s result just a slight negative market move with Big Buck’s odds of winning the World Hurdle pushed out to 9/4 from 2/1.
Whilst that could prove to be a massive price about one of the best runners the sport has ever seen come the Festival, he will have his work cut out to regain the Championship crown based on the latest form with At Fishers Cross, who finished second in the race, produced his best display of the season under a superb ride from AP McCoy and last year’s Albert Bartlett winner has to be given respect as he excels around the undulations of Cheltenham and should be thereabouts and won’t be short of backers at 7/1.
There’s also Annie Power to consider in the World Hurdle picture. The Willie Mullins trained mare recorded her third straight victory of the season with a 15 length demolition job in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster. The ante post value has long about the six-year-old, who is now a 3/1 chance to upset the boys in the old Stayers Hurdle but in receipt of 7lbs from her male counterparts and seemingly of a rapid upwards curve, she’s going to be hard to beat if Mullins does opt to run her in the three mile contest and given he’d be cannibalising his and his connections chances was he to run her in the Champion Hurdle or David Nicholson, the World Hurdle looks the logical choice and for my money, Annie Power is definitely the one to be on at this stage.
Elsewhere at Cheltenham, Paul Nicholls went in to the meeting with an embarrassment of riches but the former champion trainer was forced to take a back seat as he was unable to kick the day off in winning fashion as 11/10 favourite, Vicenzo Mio, was comfortably beaten by Nick Williams’s Le Rocher in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial and the winner is now a best price 12/1 chance with Ladbrokes for the Friday curtain-raiser in March. However, I’ll be holding off having an ante post bet in that race until the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton at the end of February, which is my favourite trial for Triumph Hurdle clues.
Another Nicholls runner in the form of Rocky Creek was also sent off the favourite, a 6/4 chance to win the Argento Chase, but eight-year-old was out-sprinted by The Giant Bolster in the closing stages to finish seven lengths back in second and Nicholls is now set to try and head for the Grand National in April and at 25/1 in the latest betting for the Aintree spectacle, Rocky Creek could be worth a speculative bet ahead of the weights being announced for the race in a couple of weeks time.
David Pipe’s Red Sherlock was already a name etched into punter’s notebooks after a couple of eye-catching successes in lower company, but the Pond House inmate emerged as a genuine Neptune Novices’ Hurdle challenger as he held off a spirited effort from Willie Mullins’s Rathvinden in the Classic Novices’ Hurdle and is available at 8/1 with Betfred for the Neptun, whilst the Co. Carlow runner-up is on offer at 20/1 but it is another Mullins runner in Faugheen who looks the one to beat in the opening race of day two in just six weeks time.
On a weekend that also saw Hurricane Fly land his fourth Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, there were festival clues aplenty in the UK & Ireland, but the major positive to emerge from some terrific National Hunt action is that Big Buck’s is back and will be bidding for a fifth World Hurdle and that can only be great news for the sport of jumps racing.