Timeform's Ben Fearnley previews the Long Walk Hurdle which is set to take place at Ascot on Saturday, and recommends a bet.
"He looks the bet of the race, with more improvement a distinct possibility given his profile."
There is a case to be made for describing six-time Grade 1 winner Rev de Sivola as one of the most underrated horses of recent seasons. Three times another horse has been preferred by the market for the Long Walk Hurdle, the first Grade 1 race of the season in this division, and three times Rev de Sivola, one way or another, has turned them over. His winning streak began in 2012 with a 14-length victory over Smad Place, and has resulted in odds-on defeats of both At Fishers Cross and Zarkandar in the last two renewals.
Clearly, Rev de Sivola is much more suited to dominating a small field in the trying winter conditions usually on offer in this race, compared to the much different test that is provided by the World Hurdle in March, but should he win the this race for the fourth time in a row, he will surpass Big Buck's, and become the only horse to have won this race on four consecutive occasions. For that, he deserves plenty of respect here, and in a race he has made his own in recent years, he has claims of reversing his narrow defeat by current favourite Saphir du Rheu in last season's Cleeve Hurdle, where he was beaten just a neck whilst giving away 4 lbs.
Though a rematch between last season's 1-2 in the Cleeve Hurdle seemed unlikely at the start of this campaign, Saphir du Rheu has once again reverted back to timber, presumably in order to avoid the red-hot three-mile chasing scene this season. It is worth remembering that he is only six, and although many will question this decision, there is no immediate rush to pursue the Gold Cup route with Saphir du Rheu yet, especially given that he still has something to find with the likes of Coneygree and Don Cossack over fences at the moment time.
Saphir du Rheu was by no means disgraced under top weight in the Hennessy when last seen, and perhaps paid the price for keeping tabs on the impressive winner, Smad Place. He is clearly worth his place back at this level after coming second in last year's World Hurdle, and with the testing ground no problem, should run well. The slight concern at the prices, however, is that this is very much Plan B for Saphir du Rheu, and after a fairly-tough race in the Hennessy, which was just three weeks prior, we can afford to look for an alternative to him betting-wise.
One of the newcomers to the staying hurdle scene is Thistlecrack, who relished the step up to three miles when a big-price winner of the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree last season, and hasn't looked back since. He was probably unlucky not to be a dual Grade 1-winning novice, having been short of room at a crucial point at Punchestown on his final start of the season, but he made the perfect start to his second season over hurdles with six-length success in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury last time. Cole Harden and Whisper, the other Grade 1 winners in the Long Walk field, failed to give their running on the day, so the form is worth treating with some caution, but Thistlecrack still showed that he can play a major role in the best races in this sphere throughout the winter, and after progressing with all three of his starts over this trip, he looks the bet of the race, with more improvement a distinct possibility given his profile.
Of the others, Deputy Dan is worth a mention, having been upsides Thistlecrack at Newbury at the last, but being unable to find as much as the winner in the closing stages. However, although he is open to improvement in this sphere, he still has something to find with the front trio.
More so than in recent renewals, the Long Walk will likely have a big bearing on the World Hurdle market, which is currently a wide-open, and a convincing victory for either Thistlecrack or Saphir du Rheu could see a shake-up at the top. At the prices for Saturday, however, it is Thistlecrack who makes most appeal of the pair, given that he has the scope to improve passed both of his main rivals in this race.
Back Thistlecrack for the Long Walk Hurdle