When the Colin Tizzard-trained THISTLECRACK finished fifth in last year’s Imperial Cup, even his connections would have thought you mad for suggesting he would be favourite 12 months on for tomorrow’s Ryanair World Hurdle (3.30pm).
Grade One wins at Aintree last season and Ascot in December have followed and the eight-year-old has improved at an extraordinary rate of knots.
His latest win on Trials Day here in January proved without debate that he’s the best staying hurdler on these shores and he can be backed at 5/4 with Betway.
If there is one negative with my selection, it’s the drying ground, as all of his best form this season has come on a bottomless surface.
That said, it wasn’t soft at Aintree last season when he won the Sefton Novices’ Hurdle, so it wouldn’t be enough to put me off.
His biggest danger looks to be Irish-raider Alpha Des Obeaux, who fell at the last in that Aintree race when challenging Thistlecrack.
The drying ground will certainly bolster his chances and I’ve got the most enormous respect for anything his shrewd trainer Mouse Morris runs at this meeting.
However, his form is quite simply not as good as Thistlecrack's and he was certainly coming off second best when he fell at Liverpool.
Last year’s winner Cole Harden hasn’t been in any form so far this campaign, but his trainer Warren Greatrex is adamant that better ground is key to him.
He was benefiting from a recent wind operation 12 months ago and I’ve also got it in my mind that he was given a soft lead.
At a much bigger price, I can see Paul Nicholls’ Aux Ptits Soins going well, at around 16/1, but won’t desert Thistlecrack on his biggest day.
Thistlecrack 3.30pm Cheltenham