I have had the privilege of witnessing Big Bucks win the last four World Hurdles and he is without doubt the greatest staying hurdler of all time and its a mighty shame that Paul Nicholls stables star will not have the opportunity to win the race for a 5th successive time after suffering a injury in December only weeks after beating the impressive Long Walk Hurdle winner Rene De Sivola in a canter at Newbury but sadly these things happen and fingers crossed he will be back to reclaim his crown in 2014.
In Big Bucks absence we are presented with a record 61 entries in this years World Hurdle and it could well be the most competitive race of the entire festival with several entries who may well not have featured among the entries now having there names thrown into the hat in the absence of the reigning champion.
The anti post favourite thou a unlikely starter is Willie Mullins great mare Quevaga who will most likely attempt to win a incredible 5th straight Mares Hurdle on the Festivals opening day but in the unlikely event she runs then she will certainly be the one to beat.
Paul Nicholls main contender could be the rejuvenated Tidal Bay since in the care of Paul Nicholls has put up career best performances despite his advancing years. He also also a possible for the Gold Cup but early indications are this race is the preference. So far this season he has a grade 2 Hurdle at Wetherby followed by a mighty effort to finish 2nd giving weight to the top class Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, then travelling over to Ireland to take there Christmas highlight The Lexus Chase in a pulsating finish. He is already a course and distance winner and if given the green light to run he must have a leading chance.
Oscar Whisky from the Nicky Henderson may have another crack at this after connections felt despite not looking to see out the trip last year there was something amiss after the race and the way he impressively won over 2m5f at the track in dire ground in December and looking very strong at the finish, this would indicate that staying another 3 furlongs would be within his range. There is also the possibility that he may just miss the Festival thou to try to win a 3rd Aintree Hurdle in April.
Monksland trained by Noel Meade in Ireland certainly appreciated the step up to 3m for the 1st time when soundly defeating the very useful Zaidpour at Leopardstown over Christmas and was 3rd behind the brilliant Simonsig in last seasons Neptune Investment Hurdle at The Festival. He is lightly raced with the potential of more improvement to come must have very sound claims.
Rene De Sivola was a grade 1 winning novice hurdler before embarking on a career over fences and despite some showing some useful form over fences he never quite lived up to his excellent hurdles form and despite being thrashed by Big Bucks in his seasonal debut he followed up with a very impressive success in the grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle in very heavy ground at Ascot. He has shown a high level of form around Cheltenham in the past and will be well worth his place in the line up.
A very interesting entry but is Dermot Weld's former Ascot Gold Cup winner Rite Of Passage. He returned from a long lay off to win the Long Distance Cup on Champions Day and there are no better stayer's on the flat. He was 3rd in the 2010 Supreme Novice Hurdle behind Peddlers Cross tho the big question mark is will he run but if he does he would take the world of beating if transferring his top class flat form to hurdles.
There are several entries that have other engagements at The Festival most notably perhaps Grands Crus who was beaten less than 2 lengths behind Big Bucks in the 2011 World Hurdle. He has since began a career over fences but would be a formidable contender if reverting back to hurdles here.
Others notable entries are Get Me Out Of Here who has finished 2nd at the last three Festivals, Zaidpout and Thousand Stars from the Willie Mullins year, Coneygree still only a novice but a impressive all the way winner at the course in December and last but not least Peddlers Cross who after a disappointing in novice chases last season is due to return to the smaller obstacles very soon.
If allowed to take his chance Rite Of Passage would be a confident selection but there is a huge question mark over his participation but none the less this will be one of the most competitive races of the entire NH season.