The World Hurdle, the championship race staged over three miles for hurdlers at the Cheltenham festival in March, has attracted 48 hopefuls including five of the first six horses home in the 2015 running – winner Cole Harden, runner-up Saphir Du Rheu, fourth At Fishers Cross, fifth Whisper and sixth Un Temps Pour Tout.
The 2014 hero More Of That (Jonjo O’Neill) has also been given an entry, although both of his starts this season have come in novices’ chases.
Heading the ante-post betting market for the World Hurdle is Thistlecrack, who has been registered two impressive victories on his most recent starts. He got the better of Deputy Dan and Cole Harden in the Grade Two Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on November 28 before moving on to Ascot on December 19, when he was the eight-length winner of the Grade One Long Walk Hurdle.
Another horse to have made an impact in Graded company this season is Camping Ground, who was the impressive 11-length winner of the Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle over an extended two and a half miles at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, with Lil Rockerfeller second and Cole Harden third.
The ex-French six-year-old won five times in his native country; a chase, three hurdles and a Flat race. His only previous British victory from three starts came under top-weight in a Warwick handicap chase over an extended two and a half miles.
Dorset-based trainer Robert Walford, who has yet to saddle a winner at The Festival but partnered the 2000 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase victor Honey Mount, said: “Camping Ground has been very good since his win on New Year’s Day and is in great form.”
“All being well, he will now go for galliardhomes.com Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham at the end of the month (January 30) and then head on to The Festival.”
“Leighton Aspell rang me after he won the Relkeel and said we should also enter him in the Champion Hurdle – he knows pretty well what he is on about so we did. If it came up heavy, he could maybe go for the Champion Hurdle but in my mind he is really a stayer.”
“Camping Ground hasn’t actually won over three miles yet but was going away on heavy ground when he won the Relkeel, so I don’t see the step up in trip being a problem. I would be surprised if he didn’t stay three miles. Better ground should not be a problem as he has won on good ground on the Flat.”
A record Irish-trained entry of 18 includes Annie Power, runner-up to More Of That in 2014 and a faller at the final flight when looking assured of victory in the 2015 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (for which she is also entered in this year).
Willie Mullins, Ireland’s champion Jump trainer who has yet to win the World Hurdle, is also responsible for five more entries. They include another mare, Vroum Vroum Mag, a multiple graded winner over fences who was successful on her return to hurdles at Clonmel last month, plus Briar Hill, Stan James Champion Hurdle hope Nichols Canyon, Renneti and Simenon.
Also among the Irish-trained entries are Prince Of Scars and Alpha Des Obeaux (Mouse Morris), first and second respectively in the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28, plus Martello Tower, third in the same race and winner of the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at The Festival in 2015.
Ianovich Gorbatov has been well backed 1/2 from 4/6 with Paddy Power for the Gain Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown next weekend.
Don Poli (6/4 Paddy Power) will be very hard to beat in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on February 6 and sets a very high standard.
Smad Place will go close at Cheltenham this Saturday in the Betbright Trial Chase.
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