Rule The World to deny Annie Power in World Hurdle
Big Buck’s is back to his best form, but the Paul Nicholls-trained gelding is getting on in age
Rule The World winning at Naas in January. His trainer, Mouse Morris, feels the gelding is back to his best and he’ll need to be if he’s to win today’s World Hurdle.
Sentiment will be all over Big Buck’s and his ‘drive-for-five’ in today’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle, while Cheltenham will be awash with Irish enthusiasm for the unbeaten Annie Power: but it’s not just because he’s in possession of the perfect headline-friendly name for the race that encourages belief in Rule The World’s chance to upset the big-two.
The Mouse Morris-trained star isn’t without a sentimental angle himself since it’s less than a year that he was taken away from Punchestown with a fractured pelvis that initially looked like ending his life, never mind his career. That he returns to Cheltenham with a live chance is tribute to his own resilience and the team around him. And it’s the return to Cheltenham that could be crucial.
Because a valid argument can be made that it’s not the staying legend Big Buck’s or the hugely exciting mare Annie Power who boasts the single most outstanding piece of form in the day three festival feature but in fact Rule The World who finished runner-up in last year’s Neptune.
Finishing just four lengths off The New One looked a superior piece of form at the time but now it looks outstanding given The New One’s heroics in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle. Every replay of that third-flight disaster only deepens the conviction that the Twiston-Davies horse performed a near-miracle to be just over two lengths off Jezki.
Literal form-readings can be dangerous sometimes but neither is it wise to overlook festival form when everything is 100 per cent fit and last year Rule The World was only confirming the sky-high regard Morris has always had for him with that Neptune effort.
The horse has had four runs this season, winning twice, including at Naas in January last time, but a return to the scene of his greatest performance has always been the ultimate goal and Morris’s ability to get his horses cherry ripe for the festival is renowned.
“Rule The World goes on any ground and the form of his last win has been boosted,” Morris reported. “But there’s not just Big Buck’s to beat, there’s Annie Power too. It’s a hell of a good race.”
Most Irish focus today will undoubtedly be on Annie Power, the mare that has provoked comparisons to Dawn Run and whose pre-festival lists of options indicated the range of her versatility and ultimate potential.
What she might have done if given her chance in the Champion Hurdle is conjecture but it appears a long-term view she may be Gold Cup material ultimately decided on today’s three-mile route.
It will be Annie Power’s first attempt at the trip but more relevant could be that it will be her first attempt at tackling ground this quick. The good to soft she beat Zarkandar on at Ascot in November is the fastest she’s run on to date. Her best form largely revolves around beating Zarkandar twice this season and in a race which is fundamentally a test of stamina, Annie Power’s generous running style could mitigate against her.
“It’s a first time at three miles but we’re hoping she will stay,” Willie Mullins reassured yesterday.
“I don’t expect her to have any problem with the drying conditions.”
Tested to full
Big Buck’s boasts the greatest World Hurdle profile of all and after the flak he endured for his first spin on the Paul Nicholls superstar on his reappearance Sam Twiston-Davies’s nerve will be tested to the full today.
Even during his pomp the suspicion remains that Big Buck’s never ran into opposition quite as classy as some of these and it surely stretches sentiment to the limit to suggest he can return from a serious leg injury and be better than ever at 11.
Paul Nicholls admitted as much yesterday when he said: “He’ll love the ground but he’s 11 now and as we saw with Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle, can they be what they were? How you see him is what he is: I can’t get him any better. I’m not saying he’s better than before. The only way we will know is when he runs.”
At Fishers Cross has spent much of his career being written off as a mudlark who jumps sketchily and while there is plenty of evidence in terms of the latter, it is worth remembering his most visually impressive display during an unbeaten novice season came on better ground at Aintree.