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Curtis set to be rewarded for long season in Liverpool Hurdle

| 05.04.2014

At Fishers Cross will arrive at the post with the best recent form and happy memories of his last trip to Merseyside in the Liverpool Hurdle.

AP McCoy’s partner slammed the field by eight lengths last year solidifying a similarly taking performance in the Albert Bartlett a month earlier.

If someone had said then that the Aintree victory would have been Rebecca Curtis’ star’s last it would have been impossible to believe with this season seemingly at the mercy of the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old.

However, jump racing is rarely as straightforward as the racecard suggests and this season had threatened to be a complete disaster.

A 22-length defeat on his reappearance was followed by McCoy being unseated but the11/8 favourite then hinted all was not lost when overcoming Big Buck’s but not shock winner Knockara Beau in the Cleeve Hurdle.

However, it was in the World Hurdle that he finally bore a resemblance to the ante-post hotpot of last term when producing an excellent performance at the Festival, finding only Annie Power and winner More of That  too strong.

That standard justifies his position as market leader, however, there are no shortage of viable alternatives for those not wanting to invest so short.

First of those and next in the betting is Zarkandar, 3/1 who has to be one of the most consistent horses in training.

His trainer Paul Nicholls would certainly say so and the fact he has only finished outside of the frame four times in 19 starts (when fourth twice, fifth once and a faller) is evidence enough.

The seven-year-old was only two lengths behind the jolly in the World Hurdle and has an excellent record at this Festival where he has won twice and fell when going well on his second attempt when favourite.

The last victory appears all the better as the horse left half a length behind that day was The New One, straight from his Neptune victory, form that even his green and gold clad rival can’t match.

The doubters would say he is untested at this distance having spent the rest of his career over shorter distances, however, the impression from the World Hurdle was not a horse that didn’t stay the extra distance but just lacked the class to win like all but one.

There is no doubt that the switch of venue is a positive for the Ditcheat resident and it’s inconvenient the same can be said about At Fishers Cross as it would make the debate about whether the change in scenery would bring about the necessary improvement to turn the Festival tables.

This is by no means a two horse affair though with Jeremy Scott’s Melodic Rendevous(8/1), Seven Barrows’ Whisper(11/2) and Irish challenger Thousand Stars (12/1) all boasting claims of different sorts.

Scott steps his stable star up to unknown territory tackling this distance for the first time after being found out in the Champion Hurdle when a distant seventh.

The eight-year-old fully deserved that chance, however, after setting up the hat-trick opportunity with two Grade 2 victories prior, including a half a length verdict over the second favourite on his penultimate start at Wincanton.

Whisper was responsible for Nicky Henderson’s sole winner at the Festival and appears to have every possibility of following up if handling the extra furlongs.

That is a real doubt, however, as he was desperate for the line as McCoy lunged Get Me Out Of Here and the suspicion is that with everything considered he would at least see one go past him on the run-in.

Finally, Willie Mullins’ Thousand Stars requires consideration despite doing the majority of his best work across the Irish Sea.

The 10-year-old knows exactly what time of day it is and has been an excellent servant to the all-conquering Closutton operation, however, the fact he hasn’t won anywhere for almost two years tells its own story. Those looking for the E/W angle could do a lot worse though considering that on three visits to Aintree he has never been out of the frame.

It’s another in the long list of genuinely intriguing contests this weekend and although there almost certainly won’t be a runaway winner the two at the head of the market have the strongest credentials.

The advice is to keep faith in At Fishers Cross as although he is no longer considered as a world beater he has been improving on every run this year and a continuation of that trajectory would probably be enough to take the honours.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Sam Foster