World Hurdle Preview: More to come from the champion?

Jessie Harrington trains big-price fancy Jetson
Jessie Harrington trains big-price fancy Jetson

Tony McFadden tackles the World Hurdle, putting up an each-way bet at a big price...

Jetson has no realistic prospect of overturning an on-song More of That, but he's not far behind the chasing pack, and looks a far more solid proposition than the likes of Rock on Ruby (stamina) or Beat That (wellbeing).

Rather like the Champion Chase and the Gold Cup, the World Hurdle market is headed by a horse that is much the best in terms of ability but has a question to answer. More of That was an impressive winner of last year's renewal as he gave Annie Power 7 lb and a one-and-a-half length beating, with a further five lengths back to At Fishers Cross in third. There can be no doubt that More of That's victory in the World Hurdle represents top-class form, while the fact he managed to produce such a big performance on just his fifth career start reflects well on the horse.

The problem, however, is that More of That flopped badly on his only subsequent start, finishing a well-beaten third behind Medinas and Cole Harden at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance in the Long Distance Hurdle. Cole Harden set out to really test More of That's fitness, forcing a searching gallop in the soft conditions, and the World Hurdle winner surrendered his unbeaten record in tame fashion, finding little when asked for his effort. The fact that he was so weak in the betting beforehand and had been fitted with a tongue strap for the first time adds a further puzzling element to the performance.

Clearly, More of That has some sort of question to answer on the back of such a poor return, but, in mitigation, it's worth noting that the stable were struggling at the time, and Jonjo O'Neill - whose runners are going better now -has a proven history of getting horses to peak at the Festival. Also, nothing has really emerged in More of That's absence. Yes, Saphir du Rheu showed a nice attitude to win the Cleeve Hurdle, but the bare form achieved on the day was in the region of 10lb inferior to the level More of That ran to when winning last season's World Hurdle. The Betfair Sportsbook's price of 3/1 Non Runner No Bet about More of That seem perfectly fair, though you have to wonder whether you may even get bigger on the day should More of That not take in a prep run en route to the Festival.

Saphir du Rheu - representing the connections who enjoyed such remarkable success with Big Buck's - stamped his World Hurdle credentials with a gutsy win in the Cleeve Hurdle, knuckling down well to overhaul Reve de Sivola. Saphir du Rheu was getting weight from Reve de Sivola in the Cleeve, so he didn't strictly improve upon the form that he showed when giving Whisper weight and a beating at Ffos Las last season, though it was clearly an encouraging success and his career is now firmly back on track following an eventful, short-lived spell over fences. His best form has come with plenty of give in the ground, but he ought to prove as effective on a sound surface, his speed an asset against the staying types.

Reve de Sivola is a six-time Grade 1 winner and perhaps hasn't always got the credit he deserves, but it's difficult to see him reversing the form with Saphir du Rheu on the likely better ground, even though he will be 4 lb better off at the weights. Un Temps Pour Tout looked interesting ahead of the Cleeve, mindful of the smart level he showed last season and his unexposed profile as a stayer, but he was slightly disappointing in the event, unable to keep tabs on Saphir du Rheu and Reve de Sivola having held every chance at the last. That's perhaps a harsh assessment as Un Temps Pour Tout was making his belated return, however fitness is rarely an issue for a Pipe runner, particularly when they are so well backed, and he was favoured by the conditions of the race, receiving weight from the pair who beat him. He's lightly raced for his current yard, so it's possible there's more to come, especially back on a sound surface, but others make greater appeal.

The leading Irish contender according to the market is Lieutenant Colonel. Lieutenant Colonel was a smart novice hurdler last season - finished sixth to Faugheen in the Neptune at last season's Festival - and he's taken his form to another level this term, winning on both starts over hurdles. He proved his stamina for three miles when again getting the better of Jetson at Leopardstown (Monksland and the Dedigout finished further back) and the return to better ground won't be a problem. The major issue, however, is simple: is Lieutenant Colonel good enough? If More of That turns up in top form the answer is almost certainly not. Even if More of That completely bombs out Lieutenant Colonel looks no better placed to capitalise than a number of other contenders at a similar price. If anything, a strong case can be made to suggest that, of the Irish contingent, it is Jetson who offers the greatest value. He's been beaten by Lieutenant Colonel on both starts this season, but there was less than a length separating the pair last time, and Jetson is twice the price. He's also run well at the Festival twice before and is a thorough stayer, so looks likely to give his running. He has no realistic prospect of overturning an on-song More of That, but he's not far behind the chasing pack, and looks a far more solid proposition than the likes of Rock on Ruby (stamina) or Beat That (wellbeing).

A horse with rock-solid credentials towards the head of the market, to my mind at least, is Zarkandar. Zarkandar may have been well beaten in last year's renewal, but he was aggressively campaigned over a variety of trips throughout the season and endured a hard race on heavy ground in the Kingwell just a month before the Festival. He is likely to prove a different proposition this time having had the race as his primary target all season. Confidence is tempered somewhat by his antics late on at Ascot, where he appeared to idle markedly and let Reve de Sivola back in, but his rider will be aware of that quirk and he is likely to be played later.

The race essentially revolves around Jonjo O'Neill's ability to get More of That back to the kind of form he was in when beating Annie Power last season. If he's close to his best he will win and 7/2 looks good value, though there's probably no need to act on that price before the Festival unless it's announced he's having a run beforehand. Should More of That fail it's unclear who will pick up the pieces as a number of horses are rated closely, and it's probably worth backing Jetson each-way as he's a likeable horse with proven Festival form who's more reliable than most.

Recommended Bet:
Back Jetson win and place in the World Hurdle

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