Colin Tizzard is setting his sights on Cheltenham Festival glory. The softly spoken Dorset farmer has an outstanding team of entries which includes Cue Card and a potential superstar staying hurdler in the shape of Thistlecrack. The 8 year old has notched up three eye-catching victories on the bounce this season by respective margins of five, eight and 12 lengths. His victory in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last autumn, beating some decent rivals including the classy Reve De Sivola, was particularly impressive. He jumps fluently and travels elegantly. Worthy of short priced favouritism (11/10 best with Betfred, Paddy Power and Betfair) and the one to beat in this year’s World Hurdle on Day Three of The Cheltenham Festival. I’ve been so impressed with the way this horse has improved that I’m going to put my neck on the line with this advice: if you’re looking for a short-priced banker for the Cheltenham week, this is it. It’s very difficult to see where a serious threat to Thistlecrack is going to come from. But of course, one can always rely on a Mr W Mullins to come up with a potential spanner in the works: Annie Power is still an unconfirmed, although unlikely, participant.
The Irish Challenge
It seems almost certain that Annie Power will now fill the gaps left by Faugheen and Arctic Fire by competing for Willie Mullins in the Champion Hurdle. However, the mare is a handy 4/1 in the World Hurdle with Betfred, Stan James and William Hill. She was second in the race 2 years ago. Fans of Thistlecrack will hope she’ll stay away!
Alpha Des Obeaux has not put a foot wrong all season. He certainly stamped his claim with an emphatic 11 length defeat of At Fisher’s Cross at Gowran Park in January. His trainer, Mouse Morris, has always insisted that he’s a good ground horse which hints there is more to come. Whether he can compete with Thistlecrack remains to be seen, however. He is best priced at 6/1 with Betfred, William Hill and Ladbrokes.
Nicky Henderson to pour on Different Gravey?
There has been some speculation that Nicky Henderson might enter Different Gravey for The World Hurdle after an impressive 16 length victory after a long absence in a high value handicap at Ascot two Saturdays ago. He is sure to improve on this effort and is attractively priced at 12/1 (Bet 365, SkyBet and Stan James). His entry is still under consideration although it is more likely, according to the trainer, that he will be primed for the 3 mile Liverpool Hurdle event at Aintree in April.
Saphir Du Rheu with a spring in his step?
After bolting up at Aintree in the 3 mile novice chase event last April, connections felt that Saphir Du Rheu would enjoy a successful follow-up season over the bigger obstacles. Unfortunately, it hasn’t gone completely to plan. Installed as 9/2 favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury last November, he disappointed finishing 22 lengths behind eventual winner Smad Place. This was followed up with a 30 length defeat behind Thistlecrack on his return to hurdling at Ascot. However, Paul Nicholls has always believed that his 7 year old much prefers the better fast ground in the spring that is likely to be the case for The Festival. We should also not forget that Saphir was a close second in last year’s World Hurdle, narrowly beaten by Cole Harden in the dying strides. Sam Twiston-Davies has confirmed he will be riding Saphir Du Rheu who represents superb each-way value at 12/1 with Betfair.
Cole Harden, last year’s winner of the race, is set to line up. His last outing was a 6 length defeat to Thistlecrack: he should improve on that but whether he is as good as last year is a different matter. He is available at 8/1 with Paddy Power.
Nichols Canyon is an interesting entry. He is best remembered for putting his mighty stable mate Faugheen to the sword last November. Tackling 3 miles for the first time, he might be the one to spring a surprise at 14/1 with SkyBet and Stan James.
The ground is clearly an issue with a couple of these hurdlers. If fast ground comes up by Day 3 of The Festival, we may have a race on our hands. Otherwise on soft to heavy, this is a Thistlecracker of a banker which should be pounced on with a fair degree of confidence.