Road to Cheltenham

Bill Esdaile
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WE HAVE been treated to some wonderful winners of the World Hurdle since the turn of the millennium – the record-breaking Big Buck’s, the incredibly gutsy Inglis Drever and the supremely talented Baracouda.

It looked as though another staying star was born last year when More Of That got the better of Annie Power but, in all likelihood, Jonjo O’Neill’s runner isn’t going to defend his crown after suffering a setback.

That leaves this year’s race wide open and, with doubts about those at the head of the market, I’m going to look for a bigger-priced each-way option.

Zarkandar, despite winning the Triumph four years ago, doesn’t really convince up the Cheltenham hill, while his stablemate Saphir Du Rheu is already priced up as the new Big Buck’s.

Rock On Ruby is far from certain to get home and I just don’t really rate the Irish staying form which rules out Lieutenant Colonel, Monksland and Jetson.

Nicky Henderson has Whisper, Beat That and Blue Fashion, but all of them have plenty to prove having run just four times between them this campaign.

The one who I think is still over-priced is COLE HARDEN at 33/1. He was just a 9/2 shot in last month’s Cleeve Hurdle, but ran disappointingly. However, Warren Greatrex’s yard was badly out of form at the time and the selection has had a breathing operation since.

He is a much better horse on decent ground, so conditions should be more up his street on the Thursday of the Festival. The yard is back in top form now and, although he might not have the class to win, I can see him being sent off nearer 16/1 on the day.

■ Pointers…

COLE HARDEN (33/1) World Hurdle