The week before Christmas and the build-up to the Festive Season’s racing extravaganza has particular bearing on the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in March.
With Big Bucks limbering up for his racing comeback with a spin around Exeter on Thursday, the form of the recent Newbury long distance hurdle comes under scrutiny in Saturday’s prestigious Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot.
The winner last month was Celestial Halo, who sadly now misses the Ascot race due to a poisoned foot.
At Newbury, Reve De Sivola – who won the Long Walk last season, finished third – having been behind Celestial Halo at Cheltenham last March. Meanwhile, last season’s champion staying novice hurdler, At Fishers Cross, was in contention when making a horrible mistake at Newbury, seemingly twisting his back in mid-air. That error cost him all chance and he finished fourth in the end. Saturday will tell us whether he has fully recovered from that error both mentally and physically.
Salubrious is an interesting sole runner now for the Paul Nicholls team, having run so well when just denied by More Of That in a typical Cheltenham finish last Saturday. The winner of that encounter is extremely progressive but it is hard to pinpoint the exact strength of that form compared to the established class of At Fishers Cross and Reve De Sivola.
Time For Rupert is a fascinating runner, making his comeback after a life saving operation to remove a growth “the size of a tennis ball” situated close to the brain that if undetected would probably have caused blindness to the nine-year-old.
Paul Webber’s star was a top class staying hurdler in his time, finishing second and giving Big Bucks a real run for his money in the 2010 World Hurdle, before embarking on a successful chasing career. At his best Time For Rupert ran well to finish fifth in the 2012 Gold Cup and was last seen when fourth to Silviniaco Conti in the 2012 Charlie Hall Chase.
After such a lengthy absence it will just be a delight to see Time For Rupert back on a racecourse and he is surely likely to need the run on Saturday, with the Grand National reported as a possible long-term target.
Tweedledrum is an admirable mare who in her time has won at Kempton Park on Boxing Day and also won a big mares’ hurdle race at Doncaster last spring. However, her overall form falls a million miles short of what is normally needed to win the Long Walk Hurdle or to beat these established stars.
The Long Walk Hurdle will tell us a lot more about At Fishers Cross and whether he is a real threat to the leading stayers.