The Long Walk Hurdle was first run in 1965 and it was initially a handicap race. It became a conditions race in 1971, and it was given Grade One status in 1990. Prior to the redevelopment of Ascot Racecourse (2004-2006) the race was run over 3 miles and 1½ furlongs.
Four winners of the Long Walk Hurdle have gone on to win the World Hurdle in the same season. Derring Rose (1980–81), Baracouda (2001–02), My Way de Solzen (2005–06) and Big Buck’s (2009–10, 2010-11 and 2011-12).
Here is a runner-by-runner guide to Saturday’s big race:
Alex De Larredya
Alex De Larreyda will be the first French runner in the race since Francois Douman sent over Kasbah Bliss in 2007. The six-year-old gelding is trained by Francois Nicolle and owned by Simon Munir. He was last seen out when the impressive seven-length winner of the Group One Grand Prix D’Automne over three miles at Auteuil in early November, when he had Ptit Zig back in third. That was a reversal of form with Ptit Zig having been the two-length runner-up to him in the Group One Grande Course De Haies D’Auteuil back in June. Alex De Larreyda has never raced outside of his native France but will add an interesting dimension to the race. Bookmakers are taking no chances over this unknown quantity and have priced him around the 13/2 mark.
Nigel Twiston-Davies is hoping that last season’s Aintree Grade One Novice winner Ballyoptic can gain compensation for an untimely slip up at the final flight at Wetherby, where he looked the likely winner, and to put a six length defeat by Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury last time behind him. This he will need to do to confirm himself a serious candidate for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. It is interesting that Richard Johnson, a four time winner of this race, has chosen to partner Ballyoptic after being offered the mount on Lil Rockerfeller.
Neil King’s gutsy five-year-old ran his best race of his career when pushing Yanworth close in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot last time. Lil Rockerfeller is as tenacious as they come and may even have a bit more to offer stepped back up to three miles. Lil Rockerfeller finished seventh behind Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle last term, but King is targeting the three-mile World Hurdle this time around.
Ptit Zig was brought back to hurdles this year after jumping errors had blighted his chasing career and what a u-turn it turned out to be when he landed the French Champion Hurdle back in June. Saturday’s conditions at Ascot will be very un-June like but Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old has a pretty decent record at Ascot and has shown decent form around Auteuil over the last few months.
Reve De Sivola
The elder statesman of the party here at eleven-years-old but appears to thrive in this race having won it three times previously and finishing second in last year’s renewal behind Thistlecrack. Two under-par performances this season are probably best ignored as Nick Williams will be sure to have his veteran stable-star primed for this.
Shelford has been racing in France this year. There he won a listed race and came fifth in a Grade Three race four weeks ago. His last race in the UK was the Martin Pipe at the Cheltenham Festival (2015) where he finished fifth. It is very hard to see him being involved in this race unless good fortune falls his way.
Harry Fry’s eight-year-old certainly packs a punch and was one of the top horses of last season taking four victories on the bounce and then winning the Albert Bartlett at the Festival on his final start. He maintained his unbeaten record for Harry Fry on his reappearance (now in the J.P McManus colours), in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury where he never really came off the bridle. Barry Geraghty takes the ride on Saturday and connections believe the horse will be paying for their Christmas. He will certainly be the one they all have to beat.
Un Temps Pour Tout
Un Temps Pour Touts reverts back to hurdles after a disappointing run the Hennessy Gold Cup. Before that Newbury run however, David Pipe’s seven-year-old won a hurdle race at Aintree, beating Mister Miyage, Vyta du Roc and Zarkandar in the process. That was very good form and he could run a big race at a fairly big price.
After running last Saturday at Cheltenham it does not seem likely that he will come to the start here. Second twice behind Wholestone this season and finishing a long way behind Unowhatimeanharry in last season’s Albert Bartlett, he has a mountain to climb here should he arrive.
He made his return after an absence of 16 months at Aintree. He was just behind Un Temps Pour Tout before unseating his rider when going reasonably well. Then two weeks later he came fifth in the Ascot Hurdle where he never got competitive. He hails from a top stable but will have to turn the clock back to his halcyon days to get competitive in this feature race.
Surtee Du Berlais
She has had two decent Kempton wins against her compatriots in Mares’ races on her last two starts but this is entirely a different level to what she has experienced before. It is very unlikely she will be troubling the judge here.
Unowhatimeanharry is a worthy favourite and will have to under perform to give the others any semblance of a chance in this contest.
Lil Rockerfeller usually runs his heart out and has strong form figures against some very talented horses. His previous run behind Yanworth far exceeds anything the other runners in this race can offer up and so makes him a live danger to the favourite.
Recommended bet: Unowhatimeanharry/Lil Rockerfeller r/fc.