Tidal Bay: leads Paul Nicholls team in the absence of champion Big Buck'sPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
World Hurdle draws 61 in absence of Big Buck's
A RECORD 61 entries have been received for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, which will this year be without four-time champion Big Buck's.
The absence of the Paul Nicholls-trained superstar, who is out injured for the season, has left the race wide open and trainers have responded with a bumper entry.
The revitalised Tidal Bay leads a six-strong team from Paul Nicholls, who has also entered Kauto Stone and Wonderful Charm as he seeks to win a fifth consecutive World Hurdle.
Oscar Whisky, one of seven entries for Nicky Henderson, was fifth in the race last year and holds leading claims after dominant wins in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle and Relkeel so far this season.
Quevega, the ante-post favourite for the race, heads a strong Irish contingent that also includes Thousand Stars, Zaidpour, Rite Of Passage and Monksland.
Noel Meade, trainer of 8-1 shot Monksland, confirmed on Thursday he was an intended runner: "All is well with him at the moment and the plan is to run Monksland in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle," Meade said. "I am just giving him an easy time - a bit of break - and then we will start building him up for Cheltenham.
"We were hopeful he would get the three miles at Leopardstown because he was staying on well in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle but maybe the way the race was run suited us. The leader went off at a hell of a gallop and perhaps the favourite followed him sooner than he should have, but Paul [Carberry] was very good on Monksland.
"With Big Buck's out of it, the World Hurdle has opened up. Monskland obviously stays well but he isn't a slow horse and has the speed to win over two miles.
"The plan is not to run him before Cheltenham and we are hoping there could be a bit more improvement to come from him. We have been purposely easy on him, as he is a very clear winded horse and doesn't take a lot of work to get fit. We are hoping by keeping him fresh that we will be able to prolong his longevity."
Full card to follow...