Cheltenham Festival day three preview: Which hurdler will be top of the World? (From Gazette & Herald)
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Cheltenham Festival day three preview: Which hurdler will be top of the World?
THE WORLD Hurdle may have lost its star performer, but the absence of Big Buck's has given the 14 runners in the feature race on day three of the Cheltenham Festival a chance to stamp their mark on the staying division.
Since Paul Nicholls’ star, the winner of this three mile race (3.20pm) for the last four years, was ruled out through injury it has become an intriguing puzzle for punters to solve.
Heading the market is trainer Nicky Henderson’s mercurial Oscar Whisky, who will be looking to reverse the form of the Cleeve Hurdle with Reve de Sivola.
He’ll be helped by drying ground as he tries to overcome a hugely negative trend – that no winner of the World Hurdle since 1981 has finished out of the first two in the previous year’s contest.
Oscar Whisky was fifth that day, more than 13 lengths behind Big Buck’s, but his jockey, Barry Geraghty, felt that he wasn’t on his best form and didn’t finish off his race.
Cheltenham form is no worry for Oscar Whisky, he’s won four times at the track although never at the Festival, and connections seem to feel that three miles won’t be an issue.
Reve de Sivola, on the other hand, has already beaten Oscar Whisky – there was a neck between them in the Cleeve following a terrific duel on heavy ground.
There’s no question that he is a strong stayer, the issue here is whether he will be able to hold off some speedier types if it comes down to a sprint finish.
His jockey, Richard Johnson, reckons better ground will suit his horse even more and there is no doubt he is full of heart and battle.
Peddlers Cross is a horse with Festival questions to answer himself after flopping badly in last year’s Jewson when he was a 73 length eighth to Sir Des Champs, one of this year’s leading Gold Cup contenders.
Having switched back to hurdles following that disastrous venture into the chasing arena, it remains to be seen whether he will have the appetite to justify the hype that surrounded him after he won his first eight races.
The evergreen Albertas Run will be looking to have one last day out in the Cheltenham sun in the Ryanair Chase (2.40pm).
Jonjo O’Neill’s 12-year-old has made this race his own in recent years and only narrowly failed to bring up a hat-trick of successes when he finished just behind Riverside Theatre last time.
Watch him if the ground continues to dry. On a good surface he has never been out of the first three in 15 starts but time is not on his side and this looks a hot renewal.
For a start Riverside Theatre re-opposes and he won 12 months ago despite Geraghty having to niggle him along, and being off the bridle, for most of the two miles and five furlongs of the contest.
It was a courageous performance but did not extinguish the burning issue of whether he truly handles the track and he will likely need all of that drive again to see off the likes of Cue Card, Champion Court, First Lieutenant and Menorah.
North Yorkshire hopes rest on the shoulders of West Witton trainer Ferdy Murphy and Divers in the Byrne Group Plate (4pm).
The nine-year-old won the Centenary Novices’ Handicap Chase at the Festival two years ago after Murphy told a succession of preview night audiences that he was his best bet of the meeting.
Once feared in the handicaps, Murphy’s pickings have been slim this year but Divers has crept in towards the bottom off the pile at 10 stone 4lbs and it has all the signs of being another plot in the making.
It will have to be because Divers hasn’t won since taking Festival glory – a total of nine runnings ago.
Those looking for positives can point to his fourth place in his race 12 months ago and to a victory record that proves he can still pop in a shock when least expected.
He will need to be at his best in a super-strong field with the likes of Poquelin, Walkon, Zaynar, Tartak and last season’s hugely impressive handicap performer Hunt Ball.
Loose Preformer, meanwhile, trained by David O’Meara at Nawton, goes for the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup but will have to improve on figures of pulled up, fallen and pulled up in his last three races.
Having avoided yesterday’s RSA Chase, Dynaste will be a warm order in the Jewson Novices’ Chase, which kicks off the third day of the Festival at 1.30pm.
The Kauto Star Feltham Novices’ Chase winner has a high cruising speed and a rating, in the 160s, to match.
A consummate performer, he’s also an excellent jumper, shouldn't be inconvenienced by dropping back in trip, and it should be an excellent contest with Captain Conan, whose trainer Nicky Henderson has described his work as exceptional in recent weeks.