World Hurdle market rocked by Solwhit blow

Big Buck’s is as short as 6-4 favourite to regain his Ladbrokes World Hurdle crown after the current champion Solwhit was ruled out of the race with injury.

World Hurdle market rocked by Solwhit blow

Trainer Charles Byrnes was forced to draw stumps with the luckless 10-year-old after a fetlock problem which prevented him from making his reappearance at Leopardstown over Christmas failed to show the required improvement.

Big Buck’s, who has not raced since December 2012, is now an even shorter-priced favourite to rack up his fifth win in the race.

The sponsors now make Big Buck’s a 7-4 chance, with Annie Power next best at 3-1.

Ladbrokes’ Hayley O’Connor said: “Although the current champion won’t be defending his title, the return of Big Buck’s and a possible clash with Annie Power still whets the appetite.”

Betfred left Big Buck’s unchanged at 5-2, but trimmed Annie Power into 7-2 from 4-1 and More Of That into 5-1 from 7s.

William Hill are, however, ducking Paul Nicholls’ legendary Big Buck’s at 6-4.

Hills spokesman Jon Ivan-Duke said: “Despite Big Buck’s being off the track for more than a year, his chances of regaining the World Hurdle crown look even stronger with the current champion ruled out.”

Meanwhile Sprinter Sacre features among 26 entries for the BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase on March 12.

Nicky Henderson’s superstar has questions to answer after being diagnosed with a fibrillating heart on his first start of the season when pulled up at Kempton.

While his participation is still in the balance, last year’s winner remains the standout contender.

Henderson has also entered Captain Conan, Kid Cassidy and French Opera.

Paul Nicholls has given King George third Al Ferof the option and has also entered his top-class novices Dodging Bullets and Hinterland.

Sire De Grugy took advantage of Sprinter Sacre’s ailments at Christmas and is a possible for Gary Moore, while former winner Sizing Europe could have another crack for Henry de Bromhead, who has also entered Special Tiara.

Last year’s Arkle runner-up Baily Green, Tony Martin’s Benefficient, Willie Mullins’ pair of Arvika Ligeonniere and Twinlight and John Hanlon’s Hidden Cyclone are all also engaged.

One notable omission is Colin Tizzard’s Betfair Chase winner Cue Card, but he has been entered in the Ryanair Chase.

De Bromhead has also entered the veteran Sizing Europe in the Ryanair and he will now head straight to the Festival after disappointing at Leopardstown over Christmas.

“Hopefully, Sizing Europe will run in either the Queen Mother Champion Chase or the Ryanair Chase. They are provisional entries and we are not leaning either way at this stage,” said De Bromhead.

“He has been fine since his run at Leopardstown. He was a little disappointing and didn’t really attack his fences as he normally does, but there were various reasons, with the ground being the main one. He will go straight to Cheltenham now and hopefully he can bounce back.”

Last year’s winner Cue Card is among 43 entries for the Ryanair Chase on March 13.

Colin Tizzard’s stable star enjoyed a nine-length verdict over First Lieutenant at the 2013 Festival and Mouse Morris’ charge is also entered again.

However, both horses also hold engagements in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Cue Card has tackled longer distances in his last two starts, winning the Betfair Chase at Haydock and then finishing second to Silviniaco Conti in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton.

There is a formidable 20-strong Irish entry, though several horses hold alternative engagements at the Festival.

They include six from the Willie Mullins stable – Arvika Ligeonniere, Boston Bob, Marito, Prince De Beauchene, Rupert Lamb and Twinlight.

Among other Irish possibles are Last Instalment, who is shortly due to return from injury, Benefficient and Hidden Cyclone.

Nicky Henderson’s team includes the 2012 winner Riverside Theatre, Captain Conan, Kid Cassidy and Hunt Ball, a Festival winner in 2012 and back after a spell in America.

The home contingent features other smart sorts such as Al Ferof, Dynaste, Menorah and Rolling Aces.

- Irving is to miss the rearranged Levy Board Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton tomorrow and instead wait for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 8.

Connections of the Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old, winner of all his three starts over hurdles, feel the big handicap is a better fit ahead of the Cheltenham Festival.

“We’ve decided not to run Irving on Saturday in the Tolworth. He’s going for the Betfair at Newbury instead,” said Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom.

“We think he’ll be competitive off that mark (143) and it is probably the right race for him.

“It also gives him a bit more time after his race at Ascot and then it will give him plenty of time before Cheltenham as well.

“The timing works better, really. My Tent Or Yours did it last year – running in the Betfair and then the Supreme (Novices’ Hurdle at the Festival).”

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