03/16/2016 8:51AM

Cheltenham: World Hurdle distance favors Thistlecrack


CHELTENHAM, England - Thistlecrack needs about 2 1/2 miles to reach his best in a race.

An 8-year-old gelding, Thistlecrack won 3 of 7 starts at distances of about two miles to 2 1/2 miles early in his career. In the last year, he is 4 for 5 at three miles, including wins in three Grade 1 hurdle races, and has emerged as the top long-distance hurdler in England.

Thistlecrack will be favored to win the richest race of his career in Thursday’s $429,000 World Hurdle at Cheltenham Racecourse.

The race is the first leg of a bonus linked to the Iroquois Steeplechase in Tennessee in May, one of the first major stakes of the American jump racing season. The winner of the World Hurdle would get a $500,000 bonus if the horse can win the Grade 1 Iroquois at three miles.

There are no American-based runners in the World Hurdle. When the bonus was announced in November, promoters hoped it would lead to greater participation in the races from horses on both sides of the Atlantic.

The World Hurdle is the top race on a seven-race program, the third of the four-day National Hunt Festival. The racing week ends on Friday with a program led by the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Thistlecrack, by Kayf Tara, has won 7 of 12 starts. Trained by Colin Tizzard for John and Heather Snook, Thistlecrack will be ridden by his regular rider Tom Scudamore.

The World Hurdle could be one of Thistlecrack’s final starts over hurdles. He is considered a prospect for the tougher steeplechase races next year, Tizzard said in February.

“At the moment, when he races, there doesn’t appear to be a bottom to him,” he said last month. “He just powers away at the end. He looks better than anything else over three miles.

“He looks like a chaser. He may be chasing next season.”

The World Hurdle field includes Cole Harden, who won the 2015 World Hurdle, and Aux Ptit Soins, who won the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle at the 2015 Cheltenham festival.