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World Hurdle latest news - Quotes from connections of the fancied Cheltenham runners

Will trainer Paul Nicholls be celebrating another Ladbrokes World Hurdle success on Thursday? (credit: Cheltenhampro.com)

Paul Nicholls hopes either Saphir Du Rheu or Zarkandar can fill the void left by Big Buck's when the Ditcheat duo run in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday.

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Saphir Du Rheu, who carries the same Stewart Family silks as Big Buck's, and Zarkandar are jostling for favouritism (both 5/1 with 888sport) in what is considered the most open renewal for many years.

The former won the Cleeve Hurdle by a neck from Reve de Sivola in January, while Zarkandar finished fourth in last season's World Hurdle but has shown improved form this term.

Nicholls said of Saphir Du Rheu:
“He ended up last season rated 165 over hurdles and went chasing. He parted company with Sam (Twiston-Davies) first time, then won well at Exeter. After that he had a fall at Kempton over Christmas. 
“He's still a young horse so we decided to go hurdling again as the World Hurdle is wide open. 
“Sam thinks he may win a Gold Cup with him. Whereas Big Buck's couldn’t jump a fence, this lad will jump in the future some time as he is a big, scopey horse.”

Nicholls has intentionally targeted Zarkandar at the World Hurdle this term having kept him on ice since the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December.

He added:
“Zarkandar has had a great season, winning the French Champion Hurdle in the autumn very nicely and being beaten a short head in the Long Walk at Ascot when pulling himself up in front. 
“We have kept him fresh for Cheltenham this year on purpose as he is so much better when fresh. He worked very well at Wincanton and looks great. I think he has a fantastic chance.”

Jockey Noel Fehily feels Zarkandar is in a far happier place than 12 months ago.

He said:
“Zarkandar finished fourth in the race last year when probably out of form. He's in much better form this year and hopefully he has a great chance. 
“I think there will be enough pace on that I can follow for as long as I have to, give him a kick and then hopefully he goes on and does it.

Nicky Henderson also has two stabs at World Hurdle glory with Blue Fashion and Whisper.


Nicky Henderson (Getty Images)

Lightly-raced Blue Fashion (16/1 with 888sport) was last seen finishing second to Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot in November - his first outing for a year.

Henderson said:
“Blue Fashion is interesting. His form is outstanding. He has only run twice in two years but both of the runs were exceptionally good.”

Whisper (11/1 with Ladbrokes) claimed Grade One honours at Aintree last season but reverts to hurdling having had just one try over fences at Exeter in January.

“Whisper has not been on the same planet all year,” said Henderson. “He was meant to be in the RSA Chase and without doubt my top novice chaser. 
“We gave him one run over fences in desperation at Exeter where he was beaten by Ceasar Milan and that wasn’t Whisper. 
“We have just struggled all year, but in the last three weeks he has suddenly started to bloom. I would have loved another two weeks with him as it’s starting to happen, but it might be a bit too late for the World Hurdle. But if he runs and improves, there is always Aintree.”

Cole Harden (20/1 with 888sport), winner of the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on November 1, is quietly fancied in some quarters.

Trainer Warren Greatrex hopes a wind operation and faster ground will see him get much closer to Saphir Du Rheu than in the Cleeve Hurdle in which he was fourth.

Greatrex said:
“On soft ground I've been struggling with his wind a bit, so we gave him a wind op after his last run at Cheltenham. 
“He's in great form - the best form I've probably had him. He's fit and ready to go. 
“His best two runs have been on good ground. On good ground, the way he goes about it you'll get a run for your money.”

Lieutenant Colonel (9/1 with 888sport) leads from the front in a seven-strong Irish assault.


Brian Cooper rides Lieutenant Colonel to win the Bar One Racing Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse on November 30 2014 (Getty Images)

Trained in County Kildare by Sandra Hughes and owned by Gigginstown House Stud, the six-year-old has looked a stayer of significant promise this term.

Lieutenant Colonel has won his last two races over hurdles, both at Grade One level, after a chasing career was shelved by his former trainer Dessie Hughes, who died in November.

Sandra Hughes said:
“He's probably the head of the team this year. He goes there with a chance in a very open year. 
“He's won two Grade Ones so certainly deserves to take his chance and I'm not worrying about the travelling. 
“A lot of people said when he won the Hatton's Grace Hurdle it might have been a soft Grade One, but when he won at Christmas he proved he's a Grade One horse.”

Jetson (16/1 with 888sport) has twice chased home Lieutenant Colonel this season but claimed the notable scalp of Quevega at Punchestown last May.

Trainer Jessica Harrington said:
“He sort of suddenly decided he's a Grade One horse at the age of nine, which is very unusual. 
“In the Hatton's Grace he definitely needed the run and Davy Russell felt going to the last he would win. 
“At Christmas I think he was a bit unlucky as he's not very big and he got leant on by the bigger horse and I think he was fairly intimidated, but he ran his heart out.”

Monksland (16/1 with Coral) has had issues - he was sidelined for two years until his return in December - but Noel Meade feels a sound surface at Cheltenham could be the making of him.

“It's been a struggle all year," said the County Meath handler. “If you could train him the way you'd want to train him I'm sure he'd be a hell of a horse. On better ground I'm sure he'll be a better horse. He has a chance.”

Dedigout (25/1 with 888sport) beat Monksland by a short head in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park in January, with trainer Tony Martin hoping for a little cut in the ground.

He said:
“The ground will be lovely, it's just yielding ground, and he won't mind that at all. When he runs on soft ground it just seems to slow the others down more than him, that's all. Hopefully he'll give a good account of himself.”


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World Hurdle latest news - Quotes from connections of the fancied Cheltenham runners

Paul Nicholls hopes either Saphir Du Rheu or Zarkandar can fill the void left by Big Buck's when the Ditcheat duo run in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday.

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