Friday 23 February 2018

Williams argues World Hurdle is not a two-horse race

Keith Hamer

TRAINER Nick Williams believes Thursday's Ladbrokes World Hurdle is far from a two-horse race.

With three-time winner Big Buck's sidelined by injury, the stayers' championship is an open affair this term, although Williams' Reve De Sivola and the Nicky Henderson-trained Oscar Whisky top the market.


The pair fought out a great finish to the Cleeve Hurdle on this course in January, with Reve De Sivola edging out Oscar Whisky by just a neck.


Williams' eight-year-old had only returned to action after a year off the previous month when chasing home Big Buck's at Newbury before landing the Long Walk at Ascot in impressive fashion.


Williams said: "It's a big, open race, it's certainly not a two-horse race, and the Festival has not been a lucky place for us so far.


"I don't worry too much about the opposition, I just want to get my horse there in one piece.


"I rushed him over fences, really because there aren't the options for the staying hurdlers if you are the third or fourth best and you want to win races. But with hindsight, I should have kept him over hurdles."


Richard Johnson has a 100% record on the eight-year-old so far having ridden him in his last two starts and his first ever Festival winner came in this race on Anzum in 1999.


"I was very lucky to pick up the ride on him just before Christmas and we've won the Long Walk and the Cleeve," he said.


"He looks like my best chance of the week."


Oscar Whisky was sent off second favourite behind Big Buck's 12 months ago but disappointed in fifth place.


Henderson is convinced Dai Walter's horse was not right that day, though he believes Oscar Whisky is better over slightly shorter.


"Two and a half is his optimum trip but he has to try to do this. We were going to miss Cheltenham altogether but the absence of Big Buck's has opened it up for everybody," he said.


"I don't think he was right last year, he was very distressed after the race and he wouldn't have won over two and a half, which was very odd.


"We're not worried about the ground, he's won on soft ground over two and a half, and I'm not so worried about stamina. Barry can be more aggressive this time, but I think it's a wide-open race."


Henderson also saddles Oscar Dara, who flopped in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las last time after a good win in the Lanzarote Handicap Hurdle at Kempton.


"Oscara Dara would have had top weight in the Coral Cup, but he was very impressive in the Lanzarote and technically he will be 4lb better off with Wonderful Charm," said the Seven Barrows handler.

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