- O’Brien is surprised to see his runner at the head of betting for Saturday’s race
- Crambo caught the eye while running twice in Grade One company last season
Fergal O’Brien says this season’s improved form from Crambo justifies a step up into the Grade One Howden Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot — but he is under no illusions about how tough it will be to overcome the established staying hurdlers.
The three-mile hurdling division is crying out for new blood. Saturday’s race gives the six-year-old Crambo and year-older West Balboa, who are disputing favouritism, as well as Botox Has and Blueking D’oroux, the opportunity to show that they are the future of staying hurdling.
But given the credentials of 11-year-old, three-time race winner Paisley Park, 10-year-old 2021 winner Champ and fellow 10-year-old Dashel Drasher, winner of last month’s Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, O’Brien is surprised to see his runner at the head of the betting.
Crambo ran twice in Grade One company last season, being pulled up in Newbury’s Challow Hurdle and finishing seventh in the Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree, as well as winning the prestigious Betfair National Hunt Novices’ Handicap Hurdle at Sandown.
He won on his comeback at Aintree in October but the run which raised attention was his fast-finishing third under 11st 10lb in the Betfair Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle at Haydock, where Saturday’s opponent Gowel Road was two lengths behind.
Crambo ran twice in Grade One company last season, being pulled up in Newbury’s Challow Hurdle
Seven-year-old West Balboa will run alongside Crambo, where they will have the opportunity to show that they are the future of staying hurdling
O’Brien, who secured his 75th win of the season with Accidental Legend at Uttoxeter yesterday, said: ‘We have always thought the world of Crambo and he did very well at Sandown.
‘We feel he has improved a bit this year and, after he ran well at Haydock, the only way you find out more about them is by running them.
‘But these older horses aren’t going to give it up very easily. They are battle-hardened professionals and I don’t like to hear people writing them off. They have been there and got the T-shirt, so Crambo is going to have to up his game again.
‘I don’t follow the betting that much but I am surprised he is as short a price as he is and hopefully the bookmakers are right.’
Dan Skelton-trained West Balboa, who beat solid yardstick Brewin’upastorm at Aintree last time out, is bidding to become a rare mare to win the Long Walk Hurdle while Paul Nicholls-trained Blueking D’oroux would become only the third four-year-old to win the race. He won the 2m 3f Grade Two Coral Hurdle at the track last month and Nicholls said: ‘It is quite a tough task but four-year-olds have won the race, so why not roll the dice and see how we get on? I have no doubt next year he will be running in all the big staying hurdles and be right in there.
‘The question is whether he has the stamina at four years old but if he stays he will go very well.’
The sentimental vote will definitely go to Paisley Park, beaten a head by Dashel Drasher at Newbury on his comeback. His three wins, including last season when the race had to be rescheduled to Kempton on Boxing Day after Saturday’s card was frosted off, equal what was achieved by Big Buck’s and Reve De Sivola, both greats of the division.
If Emma Lavelle’s gelding can win for a fourth time, he will equal the record of Francois Doumen-trained Baracouda, who won the race in 2000, 2001, 2003 and 2004.
Lavelle said: ‘It would be an extraordinary achievement. He has been the most remarkable horse for us. He certainly seems to be enjoying his racing the same as ever.’