FOR the first time in many years, Ireland has a realistic chance of winning the World Hurdle and denying Big Buck’s the title of the greatest-ever long distance hurdler.
Without a victory since Dorans Pride’s heroics in 1995, is this finally our year?
Willie Mullins’ impressive gelding, Thousand Stars, and Colm Murphy’s outstanding mare, Voler La Vedette, lead the Irish challenge for tomorrow’s showpiece event.
The bookmakers have made Thousand Stars the closest rival to Big Buck’s and Sean Dean, of the horse’s Hammer and Trowel syndicate, was bullish about his chances.
“He's absolutely flying and we can't wait to take on Big Buck’s and figure out what Stars is made of,” he told the Evening Herald after Quevega’s runaway success yesterday.
Paul Townend is expected to be on board with Ruby Walsh booked to ride for Paul Nicholls.
If Thousand Stars fails, then Voler La Vedette could swoop in and avail of the seven-pound allowance afforded to fillies and mares who take part in the race.
Having side-stepped a clash with Quevega in yesterday’s mares hurdle, trainer Colm Murphy told the Evening Herald that his thoroughbred is primed for a good showing.
“She seems good, we’re hoping for a very good showing. She's travelled over really well and she has settled in fine,” he said.
“It's going to be a very competitive race but I'd be very hopeful of finishing in the prize money and if she did we'd be over the moon.”
Voler La Vedette has enjoyed a successful campaign so far, winning her first three races of the winter, including the Grade One Hatton's Grace Hurdle before suffering defeat against Zaidpour in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park last month.
“She's kept on improving throughout the year and if she can keep going in that way we would be expecting a nice run,” he added. “I would like to think she has a very realistic each-way shot.”
As with all mares the temptation to go breeding is very strong but Murphy was not going to jump the gun on what direction the horse will take after this season. “I'm not sure (if she’ll go breeding), we'll see how we get on for the rest of the season and we'll make a decision then, I presume, but there are no concrete plans at present,” he said.
Big Buck’s owner Andy Stewart has pinpointed Oscar Whisky as his main threat. “The question is – is Oscar Whisky good enough, and does he stay three miles? He’s a worthy second favourite,” observes Stewart, who has no plans to reschool his man over fences.
“If Big Buck’s hits a couple over hurdles, he’s a big horse and he gets away with it. He can’t get away with it in the Gold Cup.
“He’s been in an environment where there has been an infection, but that has been got rid of.
“As far as we can make out, there’s nothing wrong with him.”
Dynaste, runner-up to Big Buck's in the Cleeve Hurdle in January, and Ladbrokes Boyne Hurdle winner Mourad also take their chance.