Racing kicks off an intense festive period with a top race card at Ascot this weekend, with the Ladbroke Hurdle and the grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle taking centre stage.
This time last week the Long Walk Hurdle was looking to be a procession for the seemingly invincible Big Bucks, but news of a tendon injury picked up at his home in Ditcheat, has ruled the five time World Hurdle champion out for the season.
Long Walk Hurdle
The 3m hurdle division has consequently weakened due to Big Bucks dominance in recent years, but this injury blows a window of opportunity for one horse to stamp there authority on an otherwise competitive division. It will be up to the remaining horses left in the Long Walk Hurdle who will be first to make an impression.
Big Bucks’ absence leaves a field of eight and the betting is relatively balanced ranging from 9/4 (Smad Place) to 14/1 (Cucumber Run) with Kayf Aramis propping the market as the 50/1 outsider.
The Alan King trained favourite was third behind Big Bucks and Voler La Verdette in the World Hurdle but was a beaten odds on favourite at Wetherby last month by top chaser Tidal Bay.
Should he wish to take this race he will have to beat off the company of another Wylie owned hopeful in Prospect Wells (6/1).
The Paul Nicholls trained 7-year-old made an impressive seasonal debut when beaten 1/4l by stablemate Zarkandar at Wincanton last month, but was a well beaten 10th in the Racing Post Hurdle the week later.
Reve De Sivola (5/1) and Master of the Hall (8/1) both have claims, but it is Cucumber Run (14/1) holds real each way value.
But it is Trustan Times (10/1) that, for me, holds the biggest threat to the field. Although this is a higher class than his previous runs, he comes into the race off the back of two wins on soft ground.
Latest Best odds for Long Walk Hurdle
The ground will most definitely play a big part in this week’s racing and form on soft or heavy ground will be a good guide in a big handicap race like the Ladbroke Hurdle.
Olofi lapped up the torrential ground at Cheltenham last month when taking the Racing Post Hurdle and despite a 4lb penalty; he is good value at 9/1 to repeat that success.
Olofi’s record on good/soft or soft ground is in stark contrast to firmer ground and a slow pace will definitely suit the Tom George trained six-year-old.
Cash and Go was beaten by Olofi in the Racing Post Hurdle but is the shorter of the two in this, despite given weight to his rival.
The Nicky Henderson trained five-year-old is joint favourite with Balder Succes (7/1) bounced back from defeat to Zarkandar and Wincanton with an odds on victory at Haydock last month.
The four-year-old is one of Alan King’s brightest hopefuls and was impressive in his first season last year before falling in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Ranjaan (10/1) is Paul Nicholls biggest chance with lightly raced four-year-old making his first appearance of the season and could well be the dark horse in a super competitive race.
VERDICT FOR TODAY
Long Walk Hurdle: Trustan Times (3/1) BET365
Ladbroke Hurdle: Olofi (10/1) PADDY POWER