Cole Harden has each-way claims in highlight

Bill Esdaile
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Warren Greatrex’s runner is the value

THE LADBROKES World Hurdle (3.20pm) without Big Buck’s is a bit like a cheese sandwich without pickle, but Paul Nicholls still has the joint-favourites in Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu. Zarkandar won the Triumph Hurdle four years ago, but he has only won one of his last six visits to Prestbury Park and there is a nagging doubt that he doesn’t quite stay a stiff three miles.

He looked all over the winner in the Long Walk at Ascot on his last start, but he pulled himself up when hitting the front and if Sam Twiston-Davies could have ridden that race again he would have bided his time a little longer.

Noel Fehily takes over in the saddle this afternoon as Twiston-Davies has opted to ride the Stewart family-owned Saphir Du Rheu, who many have compared with the great Big Buck’s.

The six-year-old has an awful long way to go to be spoken of in the same breath as the four-time World Hurdle winner, but he was an impressive winner of the Cleeve Hurdle in January and should run well at 5/1 with Paddy Power.

However, this race is very open and I’m not willing to chance anything at such a price as there are questions marks about all of the runners.

Lieutenant Colonel is next in following two decent wins this season, but I’m not convinced about the form of the Irish staying hurdlers and he is opposed. For that reason I’m also keen to take on Monksland and Jetson.

Whisper won last year’s Coral Cup and apparently worked well at Kempton a couple of weeks ago. That said, he’s had an interrupted preparation and it would be a tremendous achievement to win a race of this quality on only his second start of the campaign.

That same issue applies to Un Temps Pour Tout, who was promising in the Cleeve. He does interest me at around the 12/1 mark, but the one I will be backing is Warren Greatrex’s COLE HARDEN at 20/1 with Paddy Power.

The son of Westerner won on his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby, before running solid races at Newbury and here at Cheltenham. Yes, he was disappointing in the Cleeve last time out, but it was soft ground that day and he has since had his wind done.

There is no doubt that Cole Harden is a far better horse on a decent surface, as he showed when finishing second to Beat That at Aintree last season. He hasn’t had the opportunity to race on good ground many times in his career so let’s hope there isn’t too much rain.

In addition to Whisper, Nicky Henderson also runs Blue Fashion, who was second to Faugheen on his only start this term in the Ascot Hurdle. He is very unexposed, but Barry Geraghty prefers Whisper.

It would be wonderful if Reve De Sivola could win at the Festival for the first time, but he is much better at Ascot and also when the ground is genuinely soft. The surface is likely to be just a little too quick for Nick Williams’ runner.

Dedigout needs the heavens to open, as does Seeyouatmidnight, while I wouldn’t back At Fishers Cross with stolen money in his current form, even though AP McCoy will be in the saddle.

It’s a very open race and Cole Harden looks to have a solid chance of hitting the frame.

■ Pointers…
COLE HARDEN e/w 3.20pm Cheltenham