Henderson’s Oscar Whiskey to prove World Hurdle distance no trouble

Main threat may come from Solwhit

Barry Geraghty and Oscar Whiskey team up for the  World Hurdle at Cheltenham.  Photograph:  Julian Herbert/Getty Images

Barry Geraghty and Oscar Whiskey team up for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photograph: Julian Herbert/Getty Images

 

If this race was run at two and a half miles, even two and three-quarter miles, there’s a good chance Oscar Whiskey would be almost an odds-on shot for the Day Three feature. And that would be because he’s the class act of the contest.

A dual-winner of the Aintree Hurdle, and third to Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, Oscar Whiskey is often presented as an argument for introducing yet another intermediate distance championship race to the festival.

The merits of such a move are dubious considering the dilution of some existing races already, as evidenced by consistently low fields in many of the championship events, but Oscar Whiskey looks more than capable of looking after himself anyway and not falling between the proverbial two-stools.

What his 13 declared opponents will be hoping for is that his career blank at three miles lets them in with a real shout. However, it could be a delusional hope.

For one thing, it looks unfair to judge Nicky Henderson ’s star on last year’s World Hurdle when he finished a distant fifth behind the legendary Big Buck’s, but exhausted enough to suggest it wasn’t just the trip that beat him.

Stamina
The only other time Oscar Whiskey has tackled three miles was here last month when coming up a neck short of Reve De Sivola.

He was beaten but Barry Geraghty emerged from it convinced of the horse’s stamina and determined to ride a more decisive race next time.

It’s easy to see where the Irishman is coming from. In the Cleeve he rode the sort of “wait-and-see-what-happens” race that is unavoidable when a jockey is unsure. Fearful of the stamina question, Geraghty had to sit for longer than he liked.

That won’t be an issue now. Neither will the ground. The New course might be a stiffer test than the Old track, and the ground might still be gluey, but it has been noticeable how the race-times have held up compared to 2012.

So on the basis that while stamina will always be a World Hurdle basis, it still isn’t going to turn into an absolute slogging match, it is hard to see Reve de Sivola confirming form with a more confidently ridden Oscar Whiskey.

“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,” Henderson said yesterday.

“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.”

Principal opposition
Since the rest of the home team contains smart but hardly earth-shattering talent such as Wonderful Charm, and an enigmatic presence in Peddlers Cross, the principal opposition to Oscar Whiskey could come from Ireland.

With conditions drying out somewhat, it looks significant that Bog Warrior has been declared for tomorrow’s Gold Cup, a race his trainer Tony Martin appears keen to target anyway.

Ruby Walsh’s call to stick with Wonderful Charm instead of the Willie Mullins duo, Zaidpour and So Young, can’t be ignored, but neither can the claims of a rejuvenated Solwhit.

Like Oscar Whiskey, a former Aintree Hurdle winner, and good enough at two miles to once beat Hurricane Fly, the Charles Byrnes -trained star is returning from long-term injury and is even more of an unknown quantity here.

At his best, Solwhit would be a major player, but after so long on the sidelines, it will be a major feather in Byrnes’s cap if he can bring the horse back to a peak.

Step up significantly
In contrast Oscar Whiskey is expected to step up significantly on what he did in the Cleeve, and while he has yet to score at the festival, it is important to remember he is unbeaten in four other starts around this course.

Since there was enough in that Cleeve performance to suggest any stamina doubts may well be redundant, then any sort of improvement can leave this opposition gasping.